International calls for the restoration of democratic government in Sudan continued on Friday, as the Human Rights Council met in special session in Geneva to discuss the recent military coup.
Leading condemnation for the 25 October takeover, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that at least 13 civilians have been reportedly killed by military and security forces since then, and more than 300 injured.
Looking on as Ms. Bachelet spoke during the specially convened session, the Sudanese permanent representative and his deputy – who reportedly associate with different sides in the crisis – sat either side of an empty chair usually occupied by Sudan’s head of delegation. Neither individual commented during the debate that followed.
Deadly use of force
“I urge Sudan’s military leaders, and their backers, to step back in order to allow the country to return to the path of progress towards institutional and legal reforms.”
— UN Human Rights Council (@UN_HRC) November 5, 2021
“This disproportionate and deadly use of force by the Sudan Armed Forces, the Rapid Support Forces, and other security forces – including military police and intelligence elements – must end immediately,” said Ms. Bachelet. “Those responsible for these and other human rights violations must be held fully accountable for their actions.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also cited disturbing reports of violence committed against women, including an early morning raid on a dormitory of female students near the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum, on the day of the coup.
“The students were terrorized and beaten, resulting in injuries,” Ms. Bachelet told the Council. The coup had betrayed “the courageous and inspiring revolution of 2019”, she insisted, in reference to the grassroots protest movement that led to the overthrow of President Omar Al-Bashir, who had ruled for three decades.
13 million people in need
The development came as UN aid teams reported that the blockade of Sudan’s main sea port was lifted on Wednesday, and that aid relief cargo and fuel has been transported to other parts of Sudan, where there are some 13 million people in need.
“Container clearing processing is set to resume on (Sunday) 7 November,” the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. “Since the announcement (about the port reopening), humanitarian organisations have not reported issues with movement of commodities out of Port Sudan or within the field, interstate movements have not been hindered and field operations continue despite the limited fuel availability.”
OCHA also noted that the situation remained “calm but unpredictable” in the country.
Markets and shops were open across Sudan, along with banks, but support for humanitarian action was needed for “life-sustaining activities”, including people’s livelihoods, the UN humanitarian office insisted.
To support this vital work, UN Humanitarian Air Services (UNHAS) has resumed regular flights, after operating throughout last week. Some commercial airlines have also resumed their flights, OCHA said.
Contempt for democracy
Echoing the UN rights chief’s condemnation of the coup, independent rights expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz told the Council that Sudan’s military leaders had shown “utter contempt for democracy” and efforts to restore democratic governance and human rights in the country.
Peaceful protesters had faced violent crackdowns by the military and its forces after calling for the reinstatement of the civilian government, added Mr. Madrigal-Borloz, who also highlighted reports that live ammunition had been used to disperse demonstrators.
He was speaking in his capacity as chair of the Special Procedures Coordinating Committee, which represents UN-appointed independent experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. They are non-paid and elected for three-year mandates that can be reconducted for another three years.
Arrested after UN meeting
In a separate statement on Friday, the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) reported that members of Sudan’s Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), which reportedly backed anti-Government protesters, had been detained after meeting with the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Volker Perthes.
“It has been reported that Taha Osman Isahaq, Sharif Mohamed Osman and Hamza Farouk were arrested near UNITAMS HQ yesterday afternoon,” the mission said in a statement.
“We call upon the military leadership to cease arresting politicians and activists and to stop committing further human rights violations.”
Ahead of the adoption of a resolution urging Member States to condemn the coup and support a call for the immediate return to the civilian-led Transitional Government under Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, as well as release those who continue to be detained, Russia, China and Venezuela disassociated themselves from the initiative.