Sudan is heading for atrocity once again. The UK government must not sit by.

The risk of further massacres is rising, and a destabilised Sudan could attract Isis. But there is a window to prevent this

Thu 13 Jun 2019 08.00 BST

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A Sudanese protester holding a national flag as he stands on a barricade in Khartoum.
 ‘The deterioration was sadly predictable. Peaceful protests have been met with brutal violence.’ A Sudanese protester stands on a barricade in Khartoum. Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters

Politicians and journalists frequently ask: where is the next Myanmar? Where will the next Syria be? The deteriorating situation in Sudan now presents an urgent test case of the strength of our resolve.

In the last 10 days, at least 124 people have been killed by regime forces and more than 700 have been injured as protests have steadily engulfed Khartoum. There are widespread reports of sexual violence, mass arrests, gunfire in medical facilities and bodies floating in the river Nile. Beyond Khartoum, there have been larger massacres in historical conflict areas, where early reports suggest that people are being killed in even greater numbers.

We must commit to prosecuting those on our soil who are suspected of perpetrating international crimes

This deterioration was sadly predictable – but so is the next one. The risk of further massacres, both in the capital and in rural regions, is high and rising. Peaceful protests have been met with brutal violence from armed groups associated with the ruling Transitional Military Council. The TMC is largely controlled by Gen Mohamed Hamdan“Hemeti” Dagolo, who was instrumental in the atrocities committed in Darfur. Those crimes resulted in the deaths of more than 300,000 people, the displacement of millions and destabilisation of the entire region. And the groups responsible have ties to Saudi-backed forces implicated in atrocities in Yemen.Advertisement

Learning lessons from our mistakes in Myanmar, it is essential that UK engagement with Sudan is now seen in terms of how best to prevent widespread identity-based violence against Sudan’s ethnic, religious, political and other at-risk populations. Once again, the need for prioritisation of the UK’s atrocity prevention policy is clear.

The UK government must continue to issue clear public statements condemning the use of force against demonstrators – but these words also need to be backed up by comprehensive diplomatic efforts to support the safe transfer of power to a legitimate civilian-led transitional authority. The TMC must, counterintuitively, be dissuaded from holding premature elections. It intends to hold them within the next nine months – which is too soon for civilians to build genuine representative institutions, too soon to disarm and demobilise paramilitary groups, and too soon to limit the power of the abusive military infrastructure.

And at home, there are other measures that the government can take: as host to one of the largest global diaspora groups, including a large asylum-seeking and refugee population, the UK must engage these individuals as its eyes and ears in the country. They will play a crucial role in securing meaningful peace and democracy in Sudan.

Beyond government, we can all listen to and learn from the 50,000-strong Sudanese community living in UK cities nationwide. There is already great work being done – the human rights organisation Waging Peace has campaigned alongside the Sudanese diaspora for over 15 years, and helps its members build meaningful lives here.

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We must commit to prosecuting those on our soil who are suspected of perpetrating international crimes; the UK cannot become a haven for Sudan’s genocidaires and war criminals. And our financial system must not be used to harbour dirty money – unexplained wealth orders, asset-freezing orders and repatriation can stop the profits of genocide from being laundered or stored in the UK.

The ingredients are there for a descent into large-scale violence and potential civil war. A destabilised Sudan may yet become a new base for violent Islamist extremism: with Isis almost entirely defeated in Syria, terrorists are looking for a new home. Effective prevention of identity-based mass violence requires consistent and constant effort. The UK should integrate its responsibility to help protect vulnerable populations in Sudan throughout its activities, from UK aid to diplomacy, migration policy and trade.Advertisement

We have a rare, brief, window to act. The government must use it.

• Kate Ferguson is a co-executive director at Protection Approaches, a charity working to prevent identity-based violence

• This piece was co-authored by Maddie Crowther, who co-directs Waging Peace, the only Sudanese-only human rights charity in the UK

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