Widespread Rape And Atrocities Escalate As Sudan Falls Into 'Abyss'

Hundreds of rapes and murders, and an internet blackout, mark a brutal crackdown on civilian protesters in Sudan, as leaders of a military coup suppress citizens following weeks-long protests.

Military and civilian leaders are battling to shape the future leadership of the African nation, as the country negotiates a power vacuum following the ousting of a former dictator.

Human rights agencies are aghast at reports from Sudan -- sandwiched between Egypt, Ethiopia and Chad, in the continent's north -- where more than 100 people were killed and hundreds more injured when military forces attacked a peaceful protest camp last week in the capital Khartoum. Dozens of cases of rape have also been reported by doctors, but internet has been cut off and journalists' offices raided, making communication difficult.

Sudanese forces deployed around Khartoum's army headquarters on June 3. Photo: Getty

Amnesty International condemned the "despicable brutality" against civilians, while the United Nations called the crackdown a "clear violation of international law".

This is what you need to know.

What led to the Sudan crisis?

In April, President Omar Al Bashir was removed in a military coup orchestrated by Sudanese Armed Forces, following months of civilian protests. He was labelled a dictator, having seized office in 1989 in his own coup, and retained office amid allegations of electoral fraud. Al Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009, on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, over human rights abuses in Darfur.

Sudanese citizens rally in support of civilian rule at Khartoum airport on May 27. Photo: Getty

Sudan's Transitional Military Council (TMC), representing the armed forces, seized power -- with an opposition group, the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DCFC), protesting for civilian voices to have a say in deciding Sudan's future and pushing for democratic elections.

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Protests had continued peacefully, with the TMC and DCFC negotiating a new transitional council. A major protest sit-in camp was erected outside military headquarters, effectively acting as a blockade, choking city streets.

Sudanese soldiers guard a street in Khartoum on June 9, 2019. Photo: Getty

However, a sudden military raid on the camp in early June -- featuring the notorious Rapid Support Forces, infamous for its role in atrocities in Darfur -- left more than 100 dead.

"The two-month-old sit-in had become the symbol of resistance and the uprising... the military council was not going to permit this any longer," Eric Reeves, a senior fellow at Harvard University, told al-Jazeera.

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Some drowned after jumping in the Nile river; others were said to have found in the water, weighed down with concrete.

"Reports that bodies have been dumped in the river demonstrate the utter depravity of these so-called security forces," said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty's Africa Director.

What did the Sudanese military crackdown involve?

Al-Jazeera reported on May 31 its office in Khartoum had been ordered to close, as other media outlets were also shut down by the TMC. A day earlier, the military leader of the Khartoum region claimed the protest camp had "become unsafe" and was a "danger" to national security.

On June 3, police and officials surrounded the camp.

Protesters burn tyres and set up barricades outside army headquarters on June 3, after the military attacked their camp. Photo: Getty

"The forces opened fire and shot teargas at the site, dispersing protesters and burning many of their tents," Human Rights Watch reported, saying military were seen "beating unarmed people".

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More than 100 have been confirmed killed, but that number may be far higher. Reports of injuries varied, between 400 to 700, according to different medical staff groups. The Guardian said 70 cases of rape had also been reported. Activists and protesters were said to have been imprisoned. Military leaders later justified the operation by claiming the blockades had constituted a crime.

Pro-military groups march in support of the Transitional Military Council on May 31. Photo: Getty

Also on June 3, internet service disruptions were reported.

The African Union suspended Sudan's membership in the wake of the violence, calling for an "immediate and transparent investigation".

Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International, decried the "despicable brutality" on June 11, calling for the RSF to be immediately withdrawn from law enforcement in Sudan.

What has been the response to the crackdown?

United Nations human rights experts warned Sudan could be slipping into a "human rights abyss", calling for the UN to investigate the violence against peaceful protesters.

"As instructed by the African Union, the TMC must promptly hand over power to a civilian authority," experts said.

People walk in front of closed shops in Khartoum on June 10, 2019, the second day of a nationwide civil disobedience campaign. Photo: Getty

Earlier this week, Amnesty also claimed Sudanese government forces, including the RSF, had continued atrocities in Darfur, destroying dozens of villages and deploying widespread sexual violence.

On Sunday, the SPA enacted a nationwide general strike, with professionals including pilots, doctors, engineers and bankers walking off the job in support of the DCFC. Military forces have attempted to break the strike, and several opposition leaders have reportedly been deported from Sudan.

What happens next in Sudan?

Human Rights Watch and the UN have both demanded the Sudanese government reconnect internet services in Khartoum.

“These shutdowns blatantly repress the rights of the people the military council claims it wants to have a dialogue with," said Priyanka Motaparthy, acting emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, claiming the shutdown puts lives at risk.

"Without internet access, we can't be warned, as used to be the case, on what streets to avoid and what are the safest routes," HRW reported a 27-year-old Khartoum man as saying.

Foreign officials are now trying to salvage the transition agreement between military and civilian forces, with the senior American diplomat for Africa flying to Khartoum to push for a resumption of talks.