Concerning the current situation in Sudan and the issues it presents for asylum review
Eric Reeves, August 1, 2019 | Northampton, Massachusetts
General observations I believe pertain to asylum cases of Sudanese nationals:
I believe it is essential in assessing any asylum appeal at the present time to understand in some detail what is occurring in Sudan as a result of a country-wide civilian uprising that began on December 19, 2018—now over half a year ago. Non-violent protestors, who grew quickly in number and geographic distribution, have been consistently met with violence—by the regime of Omar al-Bashir until the deposing of al-Bashir in mid-April 2019, and subsequently by the “Transitional Military Council” (TMC), which in the early morning of June 3, 2019 ordered a massive and extremely violent assault on civilians at a protest sit-in near Army Headquarters. The attack was carried out largely by the militia forces known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), commanded by Lt. General Hamdan Daglo, more commonly known as “Hemeti.” More than 100 people were killed; many hundreds were wounded; more than 70 men and women were raped by RSF militia forces; tear gas was used, as it had been on many occasions during the half-year uprising, in ways that violate international law (including use of tear gas inside hospitals). Prior to the June 3 assault, more than 100 people had already been killed, many by regime snipers who targeted young men in the protests, killing them with deliberate shots to the head.
The violence had reached a level that the UN ordered its non-Sudanese staff to evacuate; the families of most diplomats were evacuated; British nationals were evacuated. Currently, negotiations between the civilian opposition and the TMC are making only slow and fitful progress, in part because the TMC shut down the Internet for an extended period of time, paralyzing communications via social media; future shut-downs are a clear possibility. The situation is chaotic, subject to rapid change, and extends far beyond the greater Khartoum urban area. The head of UN Peacekeeping Operations on June 14 ordered that withdrawal of the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur halt its scheduled deployment out of bases in the region in the wake of extremely serious violence in Darfur and RSF expropriation of UNAMID operating bases.
Notably, at the very beginning of the civilian uprising, the al-Bashir regime attempted to make scapegoats of Darfuris, arresting a number of them in Wad Madani in Gezira State and charging them with fomenting the uprising. So absurd and outrageous was this scapegoating campaign that Sudanese demonstrators everywhere began chanting, “We are all Darfuris!”—meaning to highlight what has been the extraordinary solidarity of the uprising, which crosses all lines: ethnic, geographic, tribal, and professional. This is an historic moment for Sudan: never before has there been such a sustained, powerful, united civilian campaign for freedom, peace, and justice—all of which are envisioned as the products of civilian governance after 30 years of essentially military rule by al-Bashir (a general in the Army who came to power in June 1989 by military coup).
The implications for Darfuris, other marginalized peoples, and indeed all Sudanese asylum seekers with a political profile (such as having relatives who have worked for the International Criminal Court), are of extraordinary significance. Should the TMC prevail—and at present this seems to me the most likely outcome, despite international pressure to give way to civilian rule—they will exact a terrible vengeance on perceived “enemies.” This prospect is especially dangerous for Darfuris and those involved in efforts at rendering international justice, given the make-up of the TMC: its deputy head—and in the view of many the most powerful man in Sudan today—is Lt. General “Hemeti,” who has been authoritatively established by human rights research as the architect of the massive atrocity crimes that have defined Darfur since the creation of the RSF in 2013, with Hemeti as its leader. I believe from my experience in dealing with the ICC on multiple occasions that any connection to the Court creates intolerable risks for many classes of Sudanese, particularly those who haves sought asylum abroad—and who have worked for, or who have relatives who work for, an institution (the ICC) perceived as profoundly inimical to the survival of the TMC and Hemeti in particular.
The RSF comprises primarily former janjaweed militia fighters, mostly from Darfur’s Arab tribes, but increasingly frequently from Chad (where Hemeti has his roots) and Niger. The animosity toward non-Arab Darfuris and perceived political enemies of the TMC has been conspicuous in the violence we have seen in Khartoum since the June 3 crackdown, and even before. Although information cannot be gathered systematically and fully authoritatively, I have devoted hours every day since December 19, 2018 tracking developments through Sudanese social media, Sudanese news organizations in the diaspora, Darfuri and Sudanese research colleagues, and confidential contacts, including within the U.S. State Department.
Particularly ominous was the recent (July 29, 2019) massacre of school children in El Obeid, capital of North Darfur, again carried out by the RSF. Sudanese social media has captured the moment in which a vehicle-mounted Dushka machine-gun began to fire voluminous rounds of heavy ordnance. In addition to the five students killed, at least 62 people were wounded, some critically. That such an attack would occur on the very even of resumed negotiation between the TMC and civilian leadership makes all too clear that the TMC will continue to use violence, whatever agreement it may sign to appease the international community.
This makes the present an especially dangerous time for the forcible repatriation of Sudanese nationals. The RSF and National Intelligence and Security Forces (NISS) are completely unconstrained, and NISS retains all records from prior years, including reports from abroad, where the al-Bashir regime had deployed a great number of informants, charged mainly with tracking Sudanese who had fled the country.
Given my more than 20 years of research and analysis of the political and military realities in Sudan, I feel I’m particularly well-positioned to make as much sense as possible of what is emerging. Even during the Internet shutdown, I was able to access a great deal of intelligence from the ground in Sudan (additionally, I work with a small group of technical specialists who advise me on how to assess TMC activities designed to mislead and divide the civilian opposition through manipulation of social media accounts and other intrusive behaviors).
My largest conclusion is that given the circumstances that presently prevail in Sudan—and will continue to prevail if the TMC proves unyielding in negotiations with the civilian leadership, or signs an agreement in bad faith—the risk to forcibly repatriated non-Arab Darfuris and Sudanese with significant political profiles will increase dramatically
The situation in Sudan is now extremely perilous, and may grow even more chaotic and violent in the coming days and weeks, especially if Hemeti continues his bid to become the de facto head of state in Sudan. His RSF is not within the regular chain of command of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), and is in effect a separate army within the country, with perhaps 50,000 men under arms. Made up of militia forces without conventional military training—or any understanding of how international law governs the conduct of war—the RSF is the terror all Sudanese fear the most. And yet the desperation of the generals of the TMC may well lead them to accept Hemeti’s leadership, this rather than square off against him in what would be an unfathomably destructive and violent confrontation between regular army and RSF militia forces.
Hemeti has signaled explicitly that he has very little use for “politics,” and has committed atrocity crimes on a scale that ensures he will be served an arrest warrant by the ICC if there is any chance of bringing him to The Hague. Quite simply, he has more Sudanese blood on his hands than any other man in Sudan. He believes he either will succeed as leader of Sudan—or sooner or later he will lose all power and be extradited to The Hague.
Such a man with command of the vast armed forces of Sudan—not just the SAF and RSF, but the National Intelligence and Security Services, Islamist militias in Khartoum, and even the police—put all Sudanese at greatly heightened risk, but particularly non-Arab Darfuris, whom Hemeti has been pursuing with genocidal violence since at least 2004, if most intensively in the period following creation of the RSF in 2013, with the explicit purpose of ending the insurgency in Darfur by destroying what was perceived as the civilian base of support for the remaining rebel groups. An arrest warrant for former president Al-Bashir has been issued by the ICC, making clear that the Court regards Darfur as the site of genocide. Many besides Al-Bashir are guilty, a fact well know to Hemeti.
No consideration of an asylum plea or appeal can justifiably ignore these realities.