Sudan’s court pronounced death sentences on Friday on six paramilitary officers in the Rapid Support Forces who were shot and killed in 2019 while students protested economic hardships.
After decades of autocratic Islamist rule, the prosecution of RSF personnel – which is commanded by the deputy head of Sudan’s transitional governing body – over these killings and others is seen as a test of the government’s commitment to democratisation.
As part of its announcement of the convictions of the RSF officers, the civilian court in Elobeid, where the killings occurred, said the defendants broke RSF rules and acted independently, adding that “their actions had nothing to do with the forces they belonged to.”
The verdict has not yet been appealed by the six.
Several teenage victims were killed when police opened fire on them during a protest following the June 3, 2019 execution of dozens of protesters. They demanded a quicker transition to civilian, democratic government following an uprising that overthrew veteran President Omar al-Bashir.
RSF members, which emerged out of the Janjaweed militias loyal to Bashir and were accused of atrocities during the Darfur conflict in the early 2000s, were widely blamed for post-uprising violence.
After the June attack, another RSF member was convicted and sentenced to death for running over a protester.
Sudanese civilian leaders – who share power with the long dominant military on the Sovereign Council – and world powers have called for the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces to be integrated into the regular armed forces.
Deputy head of the Sovereign Council, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, resisted taking such action.
In 2024, the Sovereign Council will guide the country to free elections.
Moreover, the Elobeid court found that two other RSF officers were not armed and attempted to prevent the fatal shootings of protesters.
The court said that one of the nine RSF personnel originally accused was found guilty but sent to a minors court for sentencing as he was underage at the time of the crime.
During the mid-2019 unrest, military commanders accused protesters of having been infiltrated by militants and of attacking markets and banks. Leaders of the protest said demonstrators were peaceful and accused soldiers of shooting “indiscriminately.”