Clashes in Sudan

Amidst Deadly Armed Clashes, Targeted Sanctions Must Be Imposed against Sudan’s Coup Leaders

As Sudan enters its fourth day of deadly armed conflict and with no clear end in sight, REDRESS re-iterates its call for UK, US and EU officials to impose targeted sanctions on the military leaders responsible. 

Since Saturday, at least 144 civilians have been killed and more than 1,800 people injured after clashes erupted between two armed groups – the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (‘Hemedti’). This unprecedented violence follows months of contentious negotiations over the formation of a new transitional government.  

For over a year, REDRESS has called for targeted sanctions against Sudan’s coup leaders. In December 2021, REDRESS submitted a dossier of evidence to the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office regarding 11 Sudanese officials for their alleged involvement in serious human rights violations since the military coup, including al-Burhan and Hemedti. A few months later, REDRESS submitted similar evidence to the US Department of State and Treasury.  

Despite decades of documented human rights abuses in Sudan, only a handful of individuals and one entity have so far been sanctioned. Four people were designated for UN sanctions in 2006, one of which has since died. The US has also designated three further individuals (and imposed travel bans on three others) under other sanctions regimes. Since REDRESS’ submissions calling for targeted sanctions on Sudan’s coup leaders, only one entity — the Central Reserve Police — has been designated by the US government, and none by the UK or EU. No further individuals have been designated by the UK, US, or EU.  

Rupert Skilbeck, Director of REDRESS, said: 

Sudan’s military leaders have been consistently implicated in human rights abuses and international crimes, including torture. Accountability for those abuses and respect for human rights are at the very core of building democracy. At this critical juncture, the US, the UK, and other governments must now substantiate their calls for accountability, including by imposing targeted sanctions against perpetrators of historic and ongoing abuses.

Reports suggest that both forces are acting with blatant disregard for human life. Many civilians have been caught in the deadly crossfire of armed exchanges, heavy artillery, tanks, and air strikes – much of which is occurring in densely populated civilian neighbourhoods, as the forces battle for control of nearby strategic locations. More alarming still, officers now appear to be targeting civilians, hospitals, humanitarian workers, and diplomats. There are widespread reports of forces violently raiding homes, shooting at unarmed civilians and abducting, raping, and sexually assaulting civilians, including international humanitarian aid workers. 

Under Hemedti’s and al-Burhan’s leadership, the RSF and SAF, respectively, have a long history of brutally targeting civilians, usually with broad impunity. It appears these tactics are being used again. With violence rapidly escalating and no clear end in sight, further civilian casualties and regional instability are inevitable. Sudan’s democratic transition hangs in the balance. It is critical that the international community delivers on its promise of accountability for victims and survivors in Sudan, and that the UK, US, and EU act with urgency to designate the coup leaders for their role in human rights abuses. 

What has happened? 

While tensions have been apparent for some time between al-Burhan and Hemedti, the forces had not – until now – entered open armed conflict. In recent weeks, SAF and RSF representatives had been negotiating certain key outstanding issues, including the pathway – and timeline – to RSF integration into the SAF. Tensions rapidly escalated into a military standoff last Wednesday after the RSF deployed troops in Merowe, Northern State and reinforcements in Khartoum.  

By late Friday, mediators understood the issue had been resolved. However, Merowe and Khartoum residents woke up on Saturday to heavy exchanges of fire between the RSF and SAF, both of whom blame the other for initiating attacks. Clashes soon erupted across Sudan, spreading beyond Khartoum to various areas including Darfur, Port Sudan, the Blue Nile, Kassala, and South Kordofan. Hospitals and blood banks are now seriously damaged or dangerously low on supplies, as Sudan faces the unprecedented risk of the complete collapse of its health sector. Meanwhile, humanitarian relief has all but ceased. For instance, the UN World Food Programme has temporarily halted all operations in Sudan after three of its workers were killed in the conflict and one of its aircraft was significantly damaged. So far, both sides have also failed to comply with UN-brokered temporary ceasefires for humanitarian passage, the reasons for which are unclear. 

Who are al-Burhan and Hemedti? 

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is the Commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces and the leader of Sudan’s Sovereign Council: 

  • In October 2021, he led a coup to overthrow Sudan’s then-transitional government, arresting the civilian Prime Minister, imposing a state of emergency, and repealing all articles of the Constitutional Charter 2019 that provided for a joint civilian-military government.  
  • His ties to human rights violations date back to when he served as a regional commander of the armed forces in Darfur during the early 2000s—a period when hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed and millions displaced by military forces. 
  • Since the 2021 coup, the SAF (led by al-Burhan) has targeted activists and journalists, including through arrests and enforced disappearances. There has been a heavy SAF presence at nearly all anti-coup demonstrations, and security officers (including the SAF) have opened fire on peaceful protestors, killing at least 125 civilians. On 11 November 2021, al-Burhan appointed himself head of the reconstituted Sovereign Council with Hemedti as his deputy. 

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) is the Leader of the Rapid Support Forces and the deputy chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council: 

  • He first rose to prominence as a commander in the Janjaweed – a militia group employed by Sudanese authorities in the 2000s to viciously target civilian groups in Darfur. The Janjaweed were notoriously brutal and have been accused of ethnic cleansing.  
  • In 2013, Hemedti would come to lead to newly founded RSF– a militia group formally established from the Janjaweed. Like the Janjaweed, Sudanese authorities have employed the RSF to commit grave acts of violence. For instance, on 3 June 2019, RSF spearheaded violent attacks against peaceful anti-coup protestors outside military headquarters in Khartoum, with reports of as many as 127 people killed, 700 injured, and dozens forcibly disappeared. The RSF were also crucial components of the 2021 coup.  

Current sanctions position 

See here for an analysis of current sanctions on Sudanese entities and individuals (correct as of 18 April 2023). 

For more information or for an interview, contact Eva Sanchis, Head of Communications, on [email protected] or +44 (0) 20 7793 1777. 

Photo: Courtesy of the BBC.