A PRECIOUS chance to introduce democracy into Sudan, a nation of 43 million people at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East, is being snatched away. No amount of sympathy and tut-tutting will do in the aftermath of Monday’s reported massacre by security forces of 100 people among the demonstrators for civilian rule, and the injuring of hundreds more. When it ordered its paramilitary gunmen to open fire, the Transitional Military Council made a decisive bid to perpetuate the despotism that months of mass protests sought to sweep away. The West must speak up strongly for the demonstrators, force the military junta to relinquish power, and impose sanction on those who carried out the carnage.
Reports from Khartoum say security forces opened fire not only at a massive sit-in staged in front of military headquarters but also elsewhere in the city, including in hospitals where the wounded were seeking treatment, and beyond. A group of doctors reports that, in addition to the 60 killed in the massacre, 40 bodies were pulled from the Nile River and disposed of by the security forces. The shooting came amid stalled negotiations between the military council, which took power after deposing Sudan’s long-serving strongman Omar Hassan al-Bashir on April 11, and the protesters, who are riding a wave of disenchantment that began in December over rising food prices and miserable living conditions.
The military council must be told, loud and clear, that the rest of the world will not recognize a leadership that seized power at the point of a gun. They must be informed that internatonal finance will not be provided to a Sudan helmed by generals on the same ruinous course as Mr. Bashir’s three-decade-long kleptocracy. Sanctions must be imposed on those who led the Khartoum massacre. A place to start is the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group led by Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti, who commanded the feared Janjaweed militias that have terrorized the Darfur region, as well as other provinces, carrying out wanton burning and pillaging of villages.
In the past five years, Mr. Bashir had brought Mr. Dagalo and his force to Khartoum and given them stature within his formal military structure. Mr. Dagalo, now No. 2 in the military council, probably realized that if civilian rule comes to Sudan and democracy takes hold, he could be subject to an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for atrocities in Darfur. Mr. Bashir is already wanted by the ICC for accusations of crimes against humanity.
The negotiations for civilian rule now appear smashed at the hands of the paramilitary force. Its leaders have taken succor from autocratic rulers in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt. The model of dictatorial generals and tyrannical monarchs must not be replicated anew in Sudan.
President Trump’s silence about Sudan is deafening and telling. The United States, Britain and Norway issued a joint statement condemning the massacre and urging a transition to civilian rule, and national security adviser John Bolton tweeted that the unprovoked shooting was “abhorrent.” But they said nothing about sanctions against the military junta if it holds on to power. While the protesters have proved resilient, they cannot succeed alone. Their hopes for democracy must not be extinguished by complacency and indifference elsewhere.