FILE PHOTO: Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans as they march along the street during anti-government protests in Khartoum, Sudan, on December 25, 2018. File photo: REUTERS / MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans as they march along the street during anti-government protests in Khartoum, Sudan, on December 25, 2018. File photo: REUTERS / MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH

Geneva — The UN rights chief on Thursday slammed Sudan’s “repressive response” to antigovernment demonstrations that have turned into daily rallies against President Omar al-Bashir, including the use of live ammunition against protesters.

Authorities say at least 24 people have died since the protests first broke out on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.

Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff.

“I am very concerned about reports of excessive use of force, including live ammunition, by Sudanese state security forces during large-scale demonstrations in various parts of the country since 19 December,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

“A repressive response can only worsen grievances,” she warned, calling on Sudan’s government to protect the protesters’ right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, regardless of their political affiliations.

Protests initially broke out in December in the eastern town of Atbara, which has a history of antigovernment sentiment, and within days spread to other provinces and then to Khartoum.

They have escalated into nationwide antigovernment demonstrations that experts say pose the biggest challenge to Bashir since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

The UN rights office decried information it had received that security forces had followed some protesters into the Omdurman Hospital and “fired teargas and live ammunition inside the premises of the hospital”.

It also pointed to reports that police had fired teargas inside the Bahri Teaching Hospital and Haj Al-Safi Hospital, both in the north of Khartoum.

Authorities have confirmed that at least 816 people were arrested in connection with the demonstrations as of January 6, the rights office said, citing reports that journalists, opposition leaders and activists were among those arrested.

“The government needs to ensure that security forces handle protests in line with the country’s international human rights obligations by facilitating and protecting the right to peaceful assembly,” Bachelet said.

She called on the government to ensure the immediate release of all those who had been arbitrarily detained.

“I urge the authorities to work to resolve this tense situation through dialogue, and call on all sides to refrain from the use of violence,” she said.

Bachelet also urged the fact-finding committees created by the government and Sudan’s National Commission of Human Rights to conduct their investigations “in a prompt, thorough and transparent manner, with a view to accountability”.

She said her office remained ready to deploy a team to Sudan to help advise the authorities on how to ensure they act in accordance with the country's international human rights obligations. 

AFP