Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) to actively monitor, investigate and publicly report on the recent attacks and the current situation in Khartoum’s suburbs.
According to the Sudanese Red Crescent Society, at least 130 people have died and the BBC reported more than 800 wounded in the violence that began on August 1 after the death of John Garang in a helicopter crash. Garang had been sworn in as First Vice-President of Sudan on July 9. Violence has also occurred in the towns of Juba and Malakal, although the precise death toll remains unclear. Hundreds of people are reportedly detained in Khartoum.
According to reports from observers in Khartoum, the situation in the most violence-stricken areas of the capital calmed down Wednesday evening following joint patrols by government and Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces in some of the worst-hit neighborhoods.
“The Sudanese government’s joint patrols with SPLA forces appear to have calmed Khartoum’s suburbs, but an independent investigation of the events is vital to restore confidence on all sides,” said Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch. “The U.N. must actively monitor the situation and provide a visible presence in trouble spots in Khartoum and southern towns like Juba to avert any escalation of communal violence.”
The initial phase of the violence was apparently started by some southerners living in Khartoum and other urban areas who attacked northerners and burned their shops and homes, apparently in the belief-denied by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement leadership, Garang’s widow and many others-that Garang’s death was caused by foul play.
In retaliation, some northerners began to attack southerners on buses, in their displaced persons camps and in suburban neighborhoods around Khartoum while the city center remained relatively calm. In frantic calls to their relatives outside the country, southerners reported that they were attempting to hide their children as anti-southern rioters fired into their homes to kill residents of southern neighborhoods. Many northerners in Juba tried to flee the town or sought protection from the UNMIS force stationed there amid continuing attacks by southerners in that town.
It remains unclear whether the violence in Khartoum was organized or spontaneous. Human Rights Watch received numerous reports that in some areas of Khartoum, including Hajj Yusif in North Khartoum, mosques were calling on followers to “take care of the infidels.” An imam was reportedly killed by southerners in the Kalakala neighborhood following the murder of several southerners.
According to eyewitnesses, on Tuesday, the Sudanese armed forces surrounded several of the displaced persons camps and southern neighborhoods in and on the outskirts of Khartoum. Soldiers conducted house-to-house searches for arms and restricted movement in and out of the neighborhoods. By late Wednesday afternoon, however, Sudan People’s Liberation Army and southern troops were reportedly patrolling some of these neighborhoods in an effort to boost confidence among southern residents.
During his August 3 address to the nation, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir decreed the establishment of an investigation committee to include the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. The committee is to look into the causes of the helicopter crash that took Garang’s life and to assess the damage caused in the riots that followed. The United Nations and others have offered technical assistance in the investigation of the crash. Human Rights Watch urged the Sudanese authorities to accept the participation of international technical experts and to detail not only physical damage but also violations of human rights occurring during the riots.
Human Rights Watch said that the government should call on all religious leaders, including church leaders and imams, to calm their followers and refrain from violence, and should also promptly release persons arbitrarily detained.
“This is a serious test of the new Sudanese government’s commitment to protect all citizens,” said Rone. “The Sudanese government must make genuine efforts to avert further violence and respond to these crimes in a transparent and even-handed way.”