Sudan’s revolution 1 year on: Families of disappeared, martyrs still wait for justice

Rawda Abdul Gadir Bakhit saw her son Fadul Ahmed Mohamed Gero for the last time the day before the deadly sit-in dispersal outside the military headquarters in Khartoum on June 3. 

“He told me that he was going to have iftar with his colleagues at the sit-in, and that he’d bring me my diabetes medicine from the pharmacy on his way back,” Bakhit tells Mada Masr. 

She and her family have searched tirelessly for any sign of Fadul for the last six months, going to the outskirts of Khartoum where Rapid Support Forces, the paramilitary group and responsible for the violence on June 3, were rumored to have buried people in mass graves. But their waiting continues, having found no sign of Fadul. The Rapid Support Forces’s head, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, or “Hemedti,” is now Vice President of Sudan’s Military Council, and sits on the Sovereign Council that now rules the country.

It has been one year since the outbreak of the revolution that toppled the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir, but the bodies of people long disappeared continue to turn up in morgues. The transitional Sovereign Council, which was formed as the result of an August deal struck by civilian opposition and military figures, has now been charged with actualizing the demands of the revolution. 

Those demands include justice for the hundreds of victims of state violence — more than 100 were killed in the June 3 dispersal alone. Dozens of people were raped during the dispersal, and dozens more, like Fadul, remain missing.

Alongside her individual efforts, Bakhit has appealed directly to the government, which has opened an official investigation into the June 3 dispersal. 

“I asked Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and the revolutionary government to bring Fadul back to me soon. We want to know where he is, or if he’s dead or alive,” she told Mada Masr.

But the issue of justice is complicated by the fact that the generals of the former Transitional Military Council who are currently part of the Sovereign Council, chief among them Hemedti, are believed to have been the chief architects of the widespread violence. Hemedti’s forces had previously been implicated in the genocide in Darfur. In light of this paradox, some have turned to popular initiatives to try to realize the revolution’s ideals. 

“Missing” is one of these volunteer groups working on legal and humanitarian fronts to help the families of the protesters who disappeared before, during and after the June 3 dispersal. 

“Despite the obstacles and the complete absence of cooperation from the police, we have succeeded in forming an association for the families of the missing,” Sara Hashim, a member of the group, tells Mada Masr. “We are doing outreach work through social media and other channels to encourage the families to report disappearances because we believe that the number is much higher than the 20 registered cases.” 

The Sudanese Professionals Association, one of the leading bodies that called for strikes and protests throughout the grassroots uprising, has also formed an advocacy committee to follow up on the cases of the disappeared. While many of the disappeared have been found dead, others have been located in hospitals and police stations.

Mohamed Nagi al-Assam, the association’s spokesperson, said that the committee has been able to locate some of the 20 people it was able to confirm as missing, while noting that the figure is likely much higher.

“Five of those the committee located were dead, and we were able to reunite 10 others with their families. However, a number of them are suffering from injuries and psychological problems,” Assam said at a press conference in Khartoum last week. 

Under popular pressure, the government has also formed an investigative committee to probe disappearance cases.

On 18 September, the Sudanese Public Prosecutor Taj Asir Ali al-Hebr formed an investigative committee that includes representatives from the interior and justice ministries, the Lawyers Association and the governmental unit monitoring violence against women. 

The committee was meant to help families file police reports for missing persons between April 6 and October 1, at the height of the unrest. 

Despite these government efforts, the number of cases reported to police stations remain low, which points to the fear families may have of seeking help from a government filled with military figures likely responsible for the violence.

According to the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies scholar Mohamed Badawi, while the human rights situation in Sudan has improved since the compromise between the military and the civilian opposition, the power-sharing agreement has impeded a transparent and credible investigation into the fate of those killed or still missing. 

“Pursuing justice in Sudan for the killed or missing may lead to the conviction of some generals that are currently members of the Sovereign Council. Such a move would lead to a direct confrontation between the military and civilian components in the transitional government and may lead to the collapse of the transition process itself,” he says. 

In the face of this political impasse, Bakhit and countless other families who have not officially come forward must continue to wait in vain for any information on the fate of their loved ones.

Mohammed Amin 

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