Sudan began the year as a republic with power concentrated in the hands of authoritarian President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and the National Congress Party (NCP). The NCP, which ruled for three decades with nearly absolute political authority, remained in power until early April. Protests that began in mid-December 2018 over economic concerns continued during the first few months of the year, growing in size and transforming into demands for regime change under the slogan Freedom, Peace, Justice. On February 22, President Bashir declared a state of emergency, which the National Assembly endorsed on March 11, for a period of six months. The Bashir regime then issued a series of decrees prohibiting the holding of public gatherings, processions, strikes, and similar activities without permission of the competent authority and gave security forces sweeping powers of arrest, search, and restriction of movement. Emergency courts were established to try arrested protesters. Nonetheless, the protests continued, and on April 6, following the largest demonstration to date, a “sit-in” was established in front of the headquarters of the armed forces.
On April 11, Omar al-Bashir was removed from his position as the president. A self-appointed Transitional Military Council (TMC) took over, with Lieutenant General Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf as de facto head of state. The TMC announced the suspension of the country’s constitution, dissolved the cabinet, the national legislature, state governments, and legislative councils and announced a three-month state of emergency, to be followed by a two-year transition period. Ibn Auf, however, was unacceptable to the Sudanese people and, in less than 24 hours, he was replaced by General Abdel al-Fatah Burhan. The Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), a coalition of opposition parties, and the TMC began negotiations to form a transitional government while the sit-in continued. On June 3, security forces violently dispersed the protesters at the sit-in site, killing and injuring hundreds. After a few tense days, however, the two sides returned to the negotiations.
On July 5, the TMC and FFC verbally agreed to form a civilian-led transitional government (CLTG), and on August 17, signed a political agreement and a constitutional declaration formally establishing a new government. The CLTG is composed of a Sovereign Council, a Council of Ministers headed by the prime minister, and a Legislative Council. The 11-person Sovereign Council is composed of six civilians and five military officers. On August 20, Dr. Abdalla Hamdok was sworn in as prime minister, thus dissolving the TMC. On September 5, Prime Minister Hamdok announced 18 of the 20 members of his cabinet. As of year’s end, the Legislative Council had not been formed. Under the constitutional declaration, general elections are to be held in 2022. The country last held national elections (presidential and National Assembly) in 2015.
Under the Bashir regime, responsibility for internal security resided with the Ministry of Interior, which oversaw the police agencies: the Ministry of Defense; and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). Ministry of Interior police agencies include the security police, Special Forces police, traffic police, and the combat-trained Central Reserve police. There was a police presence throughout the country. Under the CLTG, this structure changed. NISS was renamed the General Intelligence Service (GIS), and its mandate was narrowed to protecting national security, limiting its duties to gathering and analyzing information and submitting information and analysis to concerned authorities, whose functions and duties are prescribed by law. (For the purposes of this report, “NISS” will be used to refer to the intelligence service under the Bashir regime and “GIS” will be used to refer to the intelligence service under the CLTG.) The Ministry of Defense oversees all elements of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), including the Rapid Support Forces, Border Guards, and Defense and Military Intelligence (DMI) units.
Bashir regime authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. While some problems persisted, control of security forces greatly improved under the CLTG.
The Bashir government repeatedly extended its 2016 unilateral cessation of hostilities (COH) agreement in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states (the “Two Areas”) and ended offensive military action in Darfur. Clashes between the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) and government forces resumed in 2018, and there were credible reports that villages in Darfur’s Jebel Marra mountain range were targeted for attack during these clashes, resulting in thousands of newly displaced civilians. Nevertheless, the COH did allow for periods of increased stability and an overall improvement in the human rights situation in Darfur and the Two Areas. As part of its UN Security Council-mandated reconfigurations, the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) monitored the humanitarian and security situation in Jebel Marra, anchored by its new Golo Temporary Operating Base. In June the TMC and two main armed movements agreed to extend the COH agreement. The CLTG and various Sudanese armed groups launched multitrack negotiations on October 14 in Juba to achieve comprehensive peace within six months of the transition. The CLTG and rebel groups extended negotiations to discuss outstanding issues on December 14. In Darfur weak rule of law persisted, and banditry, criminality, and intercommunal violence were the main causes of insecurity.
Significant human rights issues under the Bashir government included: unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; and arbitrary detention, all by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arrests and intimidation of journalists, censorship, newspaper seizures, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; restrictions on religious liberty; restrictions on political participation; widespread corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; outlawing of independent trade unions; and child labor. Respect for human rights, in particular fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and religion, greatly improved after the CLTG took power.
Bashir government authorities did not investigate human rights violations by NISS or any other branch of the security services. By year’s end, however, the CLTG had launched a human rights investigation into the June 3 security force violations. In addition, the attorney general and security forces had agreed on a temporary process to remove immunity from security forces and government institutions involved in human right violations.
In Darfur and the Two Areas, paramilitary forces and rebel groups continued to commit killings, rape, and torture of civilians throughout the year. Local militias maintained substantial influence due to widespread impunity. There were reports of both progovernment and antigovernment militias looting, raping, and killing civilians. Intercommunal violence spawned from land tenure disputes and resource scarcity continued to result in civilian deaths, particularly in East, South, and North Darfur. The Bashir government continued its national arms collection campaign, which began in October 2017, mostly in Darfur. There were some human rights abuses reported in Abyei, a region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, generally stemming from tribal conflict between Ngok Dinka and Misseriya. Reports were difficult to verify due to limited access.