Sudan’s warring sides target civilians with arrests, sham trials

More than a year after war erupted in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), scores of Sudanese civilians are finding themselves facing accusations of “collaboration with the enemy” – in many cases resulting in detentions, arrests, torture, sham trials, life sentences, and even executions.

Rights groups say that the RSF are carrying out detentions, imprisonment, and torture against those they accuse. In areas under army control, meanwhile, courts in which no due process is followed are issuing sentences – at times death sentences – against civilians, alleging collaboration or sympathy with the RSF.

Abdulaziz, who did not give his family name, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister edition, that he was arrested in Dkheinat, in southern Khartoum by the RSF, who accused him of working with army intelligence.

He says he agreed to give a woman a lift while driving a milk cart only to be suddenly surrounded by several RSF fighters on motorbikes who detained them.

He was taken to an RSF detention centre in south Khartoum and as soon as he entered the room was hit and whipped by fighters, before being thrown into a cell with other detainees.

“The place was really dirty, many of the detainees there had been beaten, and there was an iron bowl for us to relieve ourselves. We had two meals [daily] – which were asida (finely ground wheat cooked with water) with lentils.”

He says they interrogated him after three days and he was released after a week because one of the fighters recognised him and vouched for him.

Meanwhile, Habeeb Saleh, who travels frequently between Khartoum and Rabak (a city in White Nile state) to pick up work in the two cities, was arrested by both the RSF and the army. Numerous checkpoints have been set up by the rival forces on roads and entry points into Sudan’s cities.

“I was stopped and accused of belonging to army intelligence at the RSF checkpoints, with RSF soldiers accusing me of being in the military, whereas the army soldiers would claim I looked like an RSF member [at their checkpoints],” he said.

“In Gutaina, in White Nile state, a young man came and ordered me off the bus, then asked me to walk in front of him.” 

He was forced to remove his shirt so they could inspect his shoulders for signs he had carried a gun, but was released after someone else intervened. His phone was checked and then he was allowed back on the bus, he recounts.

Between RSF arrests and military sham courts

As the war in Sudan grinds on, civilians continue to pay the steepest price – including facing arbitrary arrests from both the warring parties.

In army-held areas in the Red Sea, Blue Nile, and Gedaref states, army-run courts have convicted civilians for collaboration with the RSF. On 3 June, for example, a court in Blue Nile state sentenced Essa Hamed, a member of the professionals division of the National Umma Party (NUP), to death for “undermining the constitutional system”.

Hamed was arrested by military intelligence in January and accused of supporting the RSF. The NUP called the court decision a “sham” and demanded Hamed’s release.

The ruling came one day after Hanna Dhulbayt was sentenced to death by hanging in the counter-terrorism and anti-state crimes court in Port Sudan for allegedly collaborating with the RSF after she was arrested and her phone searched.

On top of the humanitarian disaster that has unfolded since war erupted in April 2023, Sudanese civilians are also facing accusations from both the RSF and the army of ‘collaboration with the enemy’. [Getty]

In June, Sudanese news outlet Radio Dabanga reported that in the last few months seven death sentences have been handed down by courts in army-held areas for alleged crimes relating to collaboration with the RSF.

The No to Women’s Oppression initiative released a statement on 3 June demanding that “all civil and legal parties, democratic lawyers and legal [bodies] especially, stand up to these unjust courts”, which they called “oppression being wielded against citizens by both sides of the war”.

The Democratic Front for Sudanese Lawyers (DFSL), also published a statement last month saying that in the midst of the chaos generated by the war, “the arms and claws of the former regime’s repressive apparatus, represented by army intelligence and the security apparatus” had extended once more.

DFSL pointed out that it has repeatedly highlighted the attacks on freedoms and the targeting of activists and human rights defenders, adding that in the latest wave of arrests there were cases where relatives of wanted individuals were taken hostage to pressure those sought to hand themselves in.

Emergency Lawyers (a non-governmental organisation in Khartoum) reported in early June that since February, army-held areas in Omdurman city had witnessed mass arrests of civilians for suspected collaboration with the RSF. Many had been forcibly evacuated from their homes, which were then plundered by individuals with ties to the army.

Emergency Lawyers likewise highlighted that the RSF was also detaining hundreds of civilians from Al-Salam and Al-Baqa’a districts in the same city in an “inhumane and humiliating manner” under suspicion of collaborating with the army or belonging to the “voluntary brigades” fighting with the army. They were also ransacking homes and forcing residents to evacuate.

Denied the right to a fair trial

Lawyer Salwa Absam explains that “in all circumstances, international agreements provide a general framework for trials, and Sudan is committed to the international framework of human rights according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” as well as other charters.

“Dangerous things are happening today, with some tribes being classified as incubators for the RSF,” she adds, pointing out that as Sudan is in a state of armed conflict it is “bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect civilians in times of war and ensure equality before the law”. 

However, she doesn’t believe the current atmosphere is allowing for any independence of the judiciary.

“There’s a general fear among citizens and even lawyers, of the current situation. Lawyers are […] defending the accused with great caution as there’s no transparency, which is essential  – for people to understand the way the accused are being tried.”

Lawyer Anwar Suleiman says “the warring parties think they have a mandate to do what they like”, and points out that “the nature of the system of impunity which the military-partisan dictatorships established in the country throughout the years has prepared the ground for these violations”.

He says “today, and throughout the history of national rule (since independence in 1968), there has been no political, civil or governmental body examining violations from a human rights and legal perspective. Instead, everyone uses them to serve their own political agendas”.

He adds that Sudanese citizens are paying a heavy price for these violations and there appears to be no hope for justice on the horizon, either domestically or internationally.  In his view, changing the situation requires a complete overhaul of “our political and human rights structures – if not, the situation will stay this way for long years to come”.

For his part, lawyer and human rights defender Osman Saleh believes that the current war in Sudan is largely directed against civilians, as “the two sides target the citizens more than they target each other”. He points out that “the accused must be afforded their full rights to defend themselves, and shouldn’t be interrogated or tried without legal representation, in addition to necessary evidence and witnesses”.

Saleh adds that most of those arrested were accused based on photos or video clips found on their phones.

“If you opened anyone’s phone, you’d find pictures, information and statements about the war that have been swapped thousands of times”.

However, “the existence of a text about the war doesn’t mean affiliation to a warring party, and holds no weight in legal terms”.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source’s original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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