Following the suspension of Sudan from the African Union after the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led the horrific slaughter of more than 100 peaceful protestors over the past three days, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said: “The Transitional Military Council of Sudan must immediately withdraw all members of the Rapid Support Forces from policing and law enforcement anywhere in Sudan and especially in Khartoum.”
“What we have witnessed in the past three days is horrific and barbaric. The senseless killing of protestors must be stopped immediately, and those responsible for the bloodbath, including at command level, must be held fully accountable for their dreadful actions,” said Kumi Naidoo.
Since June 3 crackdown, Sudan’s RSF has also cut internet too.
According to the Central Committee of Medical Doctors, more than 100 people have been killed and hundreds more injured.
The security forces tried to conceal their acts by dumping dead bodies weighted with bricks in the River Nile, 40 of which are reported to have floated back to the surface, according to the doctors’ committee.
Hundreds of people have been arrested and detained in the past three days, including recently returned opposition leader Yassir Saeed Arman, whose whereabouts are unknown.
Yassir, who is the deputy chairperson of Sudan’s People Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) and was one of the SPLM lead negotiators during the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the war between the north and south of Sudan in 2005, has an unwarranted death sentence hanging over his head. He must be released immediately and unconditionally.
Rapid Support Forces
Residents said the soldiers, dressed in tan fatigues, were part of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – the paramilitary group accused of violently dispersing a weeks-long protest camp outside the military headquarters in Khartoum on Monday.
For some protesters, the RSF’s assault at dawn came as a surprise.
Weeks before the attack, the RSF’s commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti, said he had refused an order by Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, to open fire on the thousands of protesters who had been demonstrating against his three-decade authoritarian rule since December.
Disobeying al-Bashir, the military sided with the protesters and removed him from power in April.
But protesters remained on the square outside the military headquarters, demanding the 10-member Transitional Military Council (TMC) that replaced al-Bashir cede power to a civilian-led authority.
The TMC, in which Hemeti serves as deputy head, denies trying to clear the protest camp and has launched a probe into the violence.
In the immediate aftermath of the crackdown, the body also cancelled all prior agreements reached with protest leaders and said it would elections within nine months – a plan rejected by protesters.
But as global condemnation over the violence grew, the TMC’s head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan offered to resume talks. However, that call was also rejected by protesters, who said the military could not be trusted.
The paramilitary force grew out of the Janjaweed militias which rights groups accuse of committing war crimes – including killings, rapes and torture of civilians – in Sudan’s western region of Darfur after the outbreak of conflict there in 2003. The force was established in 2013 to fight armed rebel groups in Sudan. Hemeti was appointed its commander.
Jerome Tubiana, a researcher on Sudan, Chad and the Horn of Africa who met Hemeti in 2009, wrote in a Foreign Policy report that the general was in his 40s and hailed from a Chadian Arab clan.
Born into an impoverished family that settled in Darfur in the 1980s,
Hemeti grew up in a Chadian Arab clan, fleeing war to live in Darfur in the 1980s.
War in Darfur broke out in 2003, when marginalised black African clansmen in the region formed a rebel movement against the government.
The army fought back, joined by paramilitary forces including the infamous Janjaweed, who were accused of riding their camels and horses into villages, killing the men, raping the women and stealing whatever they could find.
Rapid Support Forces are accused of widespread atrocities in Darfur
Since 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been investigating allegations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. The case involves a range of Sudanese government officials, and both Janjaweed and rebel leaders.
Hemeti’s uncle is Juma Dongolo, a chief of one of the Arab groups which span the Chad-Sudan border.
Hemeti himself dropped out of primary school to trade camels and also offered security to commercial convoys in Darfur during the conflict. He was a savvy businessman and soon became rich.
In 2003, as the Darfur rebellion began to gather momentum, Hemeti helped mobilise clansmen to fight alongside government forces. This earned him the support of President Bashir.
He became leader of the Border Guards, a group of Darfur militias supporting the government.
In 2013, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) was formed to help regular forces fight rebels in Darfur. A year later, the group was recognised by the government as a “regular force”, but critics say it is merely a reincarnation of the Janjaweed.
In a 2015 report, Human Rights Watch described them as “men with no mercy”.
Third pole of power
In 2015, the group was granted the status of a “regular force” and two years later was brought under the Sudanese army reporting directly to the president. The RSF became al-Bashir’s “praetorian guard”, tasked with protecting the president from any coup attempt by the army, according to Tubiana.
Thus, the RSF became a “third pole of power” within Sudan’s security apparatus, and a rival to the army and intelligence bodies. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy estimated there are 30,000 troops under Hemeti’s command in the RSF.
The group’s influence also grew when Sudan joined the Saudi-UAE-led military intervention in Yemen’s war in 2015. Members of the RSF were deployed in Yemen and received support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, including money and weapons.
When mass protests broke out against al-Bashir’s rule in December, Hemeti said the protesters’ demands were “legitimate”.
And when the military removed al-Bashir on April 11 and protesters demanded the generals cede power to civilians, Hemeti issued a statement saying the RSF would not “accept any solutions rejected by the Sudanese people” and urged dialogue between the military and the protesters.
On April 13, al-Burhan replaced the TMC’s then-head General Awad Ibn Auf and appointed Hemeti as his deputy – and today many see the RSF commander, not al-Burhan, as the key player in Sudan’s politics.
Since his appointment, Hemeti has been in the public eye, meeting diplomats, making speeches and lobbying for support from regional powers.
$1b in bank
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy cited Hemeti claiming in April that he deposited about $1bn to the Sudanese Central Bank, sourced from the salaries of his men’s participation in the Yemen war and the trading of gold.
The TMC has the backing of both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which have pledged $3bn in aid to Sudan. In late May, Hemeti travelled to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to meet the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and vowed to back Riyadh against “all threats and attacks” from its arch-foe, Iran.
He also pledged to continue to deploy Sudanese forces in Yemen.
But despite Hemeti’s growing political clout, the RSF’s deadly crackdown on protesters could trigger a backlash from elites in Khartoum as well as sections of the army, Tubiana said, noting that some soldiers were recorded on video saying they were disarmed before Monday’s violence.
The RSF’s “targets in Khartoum are not the usual non-Arab marginalised people from the peripheries, but include urban, middle-class, educated people, with connections to the elite and the al-Bashir regime”, he explained.
“One could still expect the army, or some in the army, to oppose Hemeti’s repression against the protesters,” Tubiana said.
In such a scenario, Hemeti could lose the support of the RSF, he said, adding: “They remain an essentially mercenary forces. For now, they seem to follow Hemeti in the hope of getting power or money, but their loyalty would decrease if they meet strong obstacles or find other opportunities.”
On Wednesday, Hemeti told his troops the military had no intention of governing the country.
“We’re the guarantors of the revolution in the absence of a government,” he insisted, but warned against “chaos”.
(With inputs from different news portals)