Rape, Massacre & Despair: Why We All Need To Wake Up To The Crisis In Sudan

Photo by Fredrik Lerneryd/Getty Images

Sudan is in a rapidly escalating crisis, and now celebrities like Rihanna and George Clooney are using their fame to try and get the message to the wider world. This, along with heartbreaking posts from Sudanese influencers on social media, means people in the Western world are finally sitting up and taking note of the political chaos in Sudan, which reached new levels of severity this week. Despite the efforts of people on the ground, there's little understanding of exactly what's happening in the northeast African country that is home to over 40 million people.


Civilian protesters have been attacked by the country's military, with reports of more than 100 killings and 70 rapes during a single attack in the country's capital, Khartoum, last week, and dozens of "bloated bodies" reportedly being dragged from the river Nile.

How did this all start?

In essence, the curret crisis is a conflict between pro-democracy civilians and the country's security forces. Following months of pro-democracy protests against President Omar al-Bashir, in April he was ousted by the military and arrested after 30 years in power. In 2010, he was charged by the international criminal court of having led a genocide in Darfur in western Sudan. That genocide resulted in deaths numbering in the hundreds of thousands, so al-Bashir has a track record of brutally suppressing dissent. Late last year, Sudanese civilians started protesting food shortages and rising prices, which turned into anti-government protests.

Representatives of the protesters began discussions with the military over who would take over when al-Bashir was ousted. When these talks broke down last Monday (3rd June), the military reportedly killed dozens and wounded hundreds of protesters during a crackdown on a protest camp, described by Al Jazeera as the "worst violence" in the country since al-Bashir's overthrow.

Since then, the turmoil has intensified and on Tuesday, doctors put the death toll at 118 people since 3rd June, while hundreds more have been beaten, arrested and detained, and more than 70 women have reportedly been raped by paramilitaries, according to those same doctors.


What's life like for civilians on the ground?

A general strike and campaign of civil disobedience called by the opposition resulted in Khartoum being brought to a standstill earlier this week, in an attempt to encourage the Transitional Military Council to transfer power to civilians. Protesters brought the strike to an end on Tuesday to allow talks to resume between the two sides and an envoy from neighbouring Ethiopia was brought in to engage with both sides.

During the general strike, activists encouraged people to stay at home. Markets and hospitals were closed and the streets were virtually deserted. "The streets are empty, no one’s going to work, as a way of saying 'no' to what has happened, to the people and the killing that’s been taking place. We are just waiting and waiting and waiting but… almost all internet services are cut except for one company," an unnamed young woman in Sudan told the BBC this week.

A state-imposed internet blackout has been in place in the country for over a week, according to reports, making it even more difficult for activists and civilians to share what is happening with the world. Hashtags including #IAmTheSudanRevolution and #SudanUprising have sprung up in an attempt to rally other nations.


How has the international community responded?

Most African countries and those in the West have sided with the protesters, the BBC reports. The African Union, comprised of 55 member states, has voted to suspend Sudan until a civilian-led transitional authority is put in place. Some countries have been quicker than others to condemn the military violence, with Saudi Arabia reportedly holding back for fear of inspiring similar protests at home, according to speculation by the BBC.

The US condemned the events of 3rd June as a "brutal attack" and the EU condemned the Sudanese military, while the UK laid "full responsibility" with the military council. The UN is removing non-essential staff from the country, but due to opposition from China and Russia, it will be unable to impose sanctions, the BBC reported.

What's happening online?

Activists, commentators and civilians around the world have criticised the coverage – or lack thereof – of the situation by international media organisations.


Even a cursory Google search highlights that it is difficult to find out exactly what's happening on the ground in Sudan – where millions of civilians are living in fear of their lives and trying to make their voices heard despite the state-imposed internet blackout.

Several celebrities, including Rihanna on Instagram Stories, George Clooney writing for Politico, and Ne-Yo, have used their platform to talk about the massacre and media blackouts, as have influencers.

On Friday, the New York-based Sudanese influencer and beauty blogger Shahd Khidir shared an emotional video in which she revealed her friend has been murdered by government forces. "It’s really hard being an influencer and sharing information that is 'off brand' and not worthy of the 'feed' but I cannot hold this in anymore," she wrote in a post that has received more than half a million likes at the time of writing.


"I am at my office crying because I have so many emotions in me and I feel horrible. There’s a massacre happening in my country Sudan and a media blackout and internet censorship for four consecutive days…. If you want to support me please share this information as widely as possible and don’t be silent. Be an ally because we need your help. And tune into my stories for more information. THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY HAS BEEN SILENT."

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