Sudanese women seek justice 1 year after pro-democracy crackdown

Sudanese protesters march during a demonstration to commemorate 40 days since the sit-in massacre in Khartoum North, Sudan, on July 13, 2019.

Sudan’s women were at the center of their country’s pro-democracy movement last year that resulted in the ouster of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir. They were also the target on June 3, 2019, when Sudanese security forces raided a protest camp of pro-democracy activists who were pushing to move their country away from military rule.

That day, dozens and perhaps as many as 100 people were killed. And many women were raped.

Now, a year on, many are concerned that those responsible for the attack are not being held accountable. Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok pledged justice on Wednesday. Hamdok, an economist and former senior United Nations official, leads a transitional government and named a commission in October to investigate the raid.

“I assure you all that achieving comprehensive justice and retribution for the souls of our hero martyrs … and for the wounded and missing is an inevitable and irreversible step,” Hamdok said in a televised speech. “We are awaiting the completion of the independent investigation committee’s work, which will be followed by referring all those found guilty of participating in the massacre that dispersed the sit-in to fair and public trials.”

Sulima Ishaq Sharif is a psychologist in Khartoum and has been part of the protest movement in Sudan. She’s also a psychologist specializing in trauma and has been working with rape victims. She spoke to The World’s host Marco Werman about the concerns a year later. 

Related: A year after revolution, Sudan celebrates but still faces squeeze of sanctions

Marco Werman: Sulima, thank you for being here. What does this day and this anniversary mean for you? 

Sulima Ishaq Sharif: It means a lot, actually. It’s reliving the trauma, but actually reminding us how we beat the people who want to traumatize this revolution and they want to traumatize the victory we got. 

I know a lot of people saw this as a very systematic attack on this camp. What happened exactly? 

Yes. They were there since the night before. So, on that day, we were preparing for Eid. And it was raining. And we were just preparing for Eid. People are doing the cookies for the aid baking because they’re celebrating the end of Ramadan. At dawn, they started the attack. And we saw the military vehicles, and we saw the people who were dressed in different costumes and uniforms. You cannot even identify if it is police or just [Raid Support Forces, a government-operated paramilitary group] or just military or other soldiers. 

And they sat down, did the whole sit-in area and afterward, people start running because bullets are everywhere and they are beating everybody brutally at the exit area. When you tried to exit a place, they will beat you up. And sometimes, they run after you even if you went to the hospital. 

Suffice it to say, it was a nightmarish day a year ago. And since then, you’ve been working with many of the women who were assaulted. What has been the impact of that day on them and on others? 

It’s very hard for them. They were not able to testify. They don’t want to talk because of the stigma, because of other things. And because most of the girls and the women have been raped, their families have no idea what happened to them. 

Since you lived through this massacre yourself, are you healing? Are you making progress as you exchange stories? 

I think actually because of the new position I got, because now I’m heading the combating violence against women initiative at the ministry, I know what the system lacks. I know what protection meant to us and for women because we don’t even have a law to protect women and girls. 

And it’s our job not to change all that. 

If we still don’t know who attacked the camp, how can you pursue justice? 

We have a very complicated case now. And what happened in the dispersal of the sit-in, it happened in a lot of villages in Darfur. We have also to understand that people’s pain to look for a comprehensive way of providing justice. 

Related: The story behind the iconic image of the Sudanese woman

Well, your movement managed to get the ouster of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir. You and tens of thousands of others were protesting for months. Then you had this transitional military council and then this attack on the camp happened. So, the transitional government is still there, some civilians on, but members of the military are heavily represented. How confident are you that Sudan will actually get to full civilian rule? 

I think we have to secure this partnership in a more mature way because they know they will lose even if they use brutality or weapons. Nobody will listen to them anymore. And nobody would want the military government. The power of the streets is very strong. I don’t think they want to do that again. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Reuters contributed reporting. 

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