Legal experts in the Darfur region of western Sudan are concerned at the violent suppression of student protests and the apparent lack of judicial redress when deaths occur.
At the end of January, two students died and dozens were injured when police waded in to break up a student demonstration in Nyala, the administrative centre of South Darfur region. The students were unhappy with the appointment of a new regional governor from the Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party.
It was only the latest in a series of similar incidents in Darfur over the region which raised questions about the police’s behaviour and subsequent impunity.
The family about Jamal Adam, for example, has waited nearly a year without getting any proper answers as to how he died.
Jamal was killed in March 2011 when police surrounded the University of El-Fasher in North Darfur where students were holding a political debate, in defiance of a ban imposed by the staff there.
“The police attempted to end the student activity, but the students protested… and said that it was their right [to meet],” a friend of the dead student said. “Police immediately started shooting the students, and it was during this confrontation that Jamal was murdered. Jamal was not involved in any political activity at the university and does not belong to a political party.”
He added, “According to the morgue report, Jamal was assassinated from a distance of two metres. This means that the killing was not accidental, but was intended to target the students of Darfur. Now all Darfur students are wondering who will be next.”
Friends and family have spent the last year calling for Jamal’s death to be properly investigated. A Facebook page has been set up paying tribute to him and asking for his killers to be brought to justice.
His father Adam Mustafa has tried to get the authorities to look into the case, without success.
“I went more than three times to the prosecutor, but each time I am told [that] in order to start proceedings in the case, I must know who killed my son or at least have witnesses,” he said. “I do not have any of them. Some students said that they are prepared to testify in court, but this would hurt their academic future.”
For Jamal’s friends and family, the failure of the court to take on the case points to an overall reluctance of the authorities to properly investigate the death.
“We asked help from many lawyers, but we did not find any support from the state government or police departments in achieving justice,” Jamal’s student friend said. “As usual, the law has not been allowed to take its natural course. There have been many similar incidents in the city, but perpetrators are never held to account.”
The case has become a cause celebre as it exemplifies the sense of particular discrimination, persecution and exclusion from justice felt by Darfuri students.
Other cases have only reinforced these concerns. Last June, a Darfuri student, Hussein Angabo, was abducted on the streets of Khartoum. His body was discovered the following day.
Although the case went to court, the verdict of manslaughter – imposed on a Angabo’s former employer, a bakery owner, for negligent safety practices – raised more questions than it answered.
One of Angabo’s friends said the hasty verdict glossed over some important facts and suggested the authorities wanted to get the case over with as quickly as possible.
“For example, two autopsies were made of the body and both showed different things,” he said. “The first suggested that the incident was just an ordinary electric shock, whilst the second one demonstrated the effects of electricity in the left finger and upper left arm, and showed that electricity hit the heart and head only. This suggests that electricity was deliberately applied.”
He believes Angabo was abducted and killed by the security forces. The day before his death, Angabo attended a rally about the future of Darfur, organised by the opposition United Popular Front party, and he had been detained previously. But the court refused to look at the possibility of a deliberate killing.
A prominent human rights activist from Darfur, Salih Mahmoud, believes students from the region are vulnerable to discrimination and harassment across Sudan.
“Students from Darfur are often vulnerable,” he said. “The conflict in the region has created distrust between the security services and tribal groups from Darfur.”
Mahmoud says one of the reasons investigations come to nothing is that witnesses are unwilling to come forward because of fears for their own safety.
“This is linked to the prevailing culture of a lack of accountability,” he said. “These perpetrators are not brought to justice because of the immunities that they enjoy and because of the continued existence of emergency laws in Darfur.”
The emergency legislation – the 1999 National Security Forces Act – gives the security services broad powers and immunities, and remains in place in Darfur although lifted in most of the rest of Sudan.
Officials insist the judicial process is robust and there is no campaign to target students from Darfur.
“The judicial system in Darfur is now stronger than any time previously,” Mohamed Abdel Rahman Modalal, a government advisor on the South Darfur region¸ said. “A special prosecutor has been appointed in order to deal with these kinds of allegations of attacks and violations. There are competent courts all over Darfur to deal with such complains, and I invite complainants to take their cases before these courts. They will certainly get justice and fairness.”
Modalal said students were free to do what they wanted and police would only intervene in extremis.
"The claim that the government is targeting students by arresting or torturing them is not true – there is no such policy,” he said. “We are tolerant of university students, including those from opposition parties. They have all the freedom to practice whatever activities they wish to organise. Government security forces have no reasons to carry out raids on universities or to crack down on students – though in some case of riots and chaos it may be necessary to intervene to restore order.”
Blake Evans-Pritchard is an IWPR trainer. Zakia Yousif and Tajeldin Abdhalla Adam are IWPR contributors.
[Correction: Our original version of this story incorrectly named Zakia Yousif and Tajeldin Abdhalla Adam as Radio Dabanga reporters. That is not the case, and we apologise for the error.]