“I am worried that political compromises [by the military] would lead to a situation of, ‘Let’s move on,’ ” he told me. “Every single one of us here at the sit-in has a story with [the Bashir regime], and their stories must be heard. They have to see justice served.”
Months later, the question of justice in Sudan remains.
Tensions were already rising fast in May, with military leaders trying to break up the sit-in and deploying the feared Rapid Support Forces, who shot live ammunition at protesters. On June 3, they attacked the sit-in and dispersed all the protesters. On that bloody day and the ones that followed, more than 120 people were killed, hundreds injured and many raped.
The protesters continued to demonstrate for civilian rule, despite another violent crackdown on June 30. Finally, on Aug. 17, military and civilian leaders agreed on a transitional power-sharing government for three years, followed by elections. Though far from perfect, the agreement made it seem that the protesters’ demands had been heard.
But the families of victims and rights groups have rightly raised concerns about the long delays in setting up the committee, its limited mandate, its independence and the members’ lack of expertise, especially regarding sexual violence cases. It remains to be seen whether this committee will get the expertise, legal powers and independence it needs to function in line with basic international standards.
Sudan’s transitional government faces many challenges. The power-sharing agreement does not dismantle the power structures inherited from the old regime. The same military and national security institutions that were once Bashir’s tools of oppression still exist. And the agreement puts the military members in control for the first 21 months, including Rapid Support Forces leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, or “Hemedti.”
The Troika countries — the United States, Britain and Norway, which helped with the power-sharing deal — along with the European Union and the African Union, all sent strong messages condemning the June 3 attack and stressed the importance of holding those responsible to account.
Yet, almost five months on, the transitional government has made little concrete progress and the international community — especially donor governments — has gone quiet. They should urgently throw support behind justice and accountability, the cornerstone for the envisioned transition. To this end, they should adopt human rights benchmarks in their dealings with Sudan’s new rulers and find every opportunity to remind the government, especially its military component, of what is at stake.
Meanwhile, victims’ families continue to demand justice. If the transitional government wants to keep its promises, it should revise the investigation committee’s mandate, ensure its independence, listen to the families’ concerns and seek international and regional expertise. To do otherwise will just confirm my young friend’s worst fears: that the country’s leaders will say “let’s move on” and leave old wounds to fester. That’s not an outcome Sudan and its international partners should allow.