Amnesty urges end to persecution of Darfuri students

International human rights group Amnesty International is calling on the government of Sudan to launch urgent investigations into allegations of arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and persecution of students from the country’s troubled Darfur region by Sudanese security forces.

In a report published this month titled Uninvestigated, Unpunished: Human rights violations against Darfuri students in Sudan, the group says at least 10,000 students from the restive region in the west of the vast country have been arbitrarily arrested or detained since 2003, and that no less than 13 others have been killed by police and security agents over the period.

The international advocacy group says that students have been denied basic freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly, and points a finger at Sudan police, the National Intelligence and Security Service or NISS agents and student groups associated with the ruling party, also known as ‘Jihad units’.

“Amnesty International calls on the Government of Sudan to ensure student activists are neither arbitrarily arrested or detained, tortured or otherwise ill-treated, nor deprived of their liberty except in accordance with legally established procedures and Sudan’s obligations under regional and international human rights law,” the report says.

Unlawful killings

It further calls on the government of Sudan to “launch impartial, effective investigations into all unlawful killings since 2003 in universities and publicly publish their findings”.

The study documents various eye-witness accounts of incidents of student persecution and torture perpetuated by the security apparatus between 2014 and 2016, particularly targeted at student activists pressing for basic rights of the predominantly black African inhabitants of the Darfur region, as well as the implementation of an agreement exempting Darfuri students from paying university fees as per a peace pact between Sudan and Darfur rebels in 2011.

The fees waiver agreed upon under the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur and Darfur Peace Agreement signed between the government and rebels in 2006 was intended to be an affirmative action for all students from the war-ravaged and marginalised region that neighbours Chad, but both its interpretation and implementation has been a source of friction between the 26,000 Darfuri students and the Sudanese Ministry of Education, Amnesty International notes.

“Darfuri students have been prevented, including violently, from organising political fora to discuss the conflict in Darfur as well as events to celebrate their cultural heritage,” the report notes.


In one of the many incidents of violations recorded, a female student whose name is given as Salma was arrested and detained by NISS men in October 2014 from a hostel complex that hosts all female students from Darfur studying in Khartoum-based universities. At the time, Salma had been protesting against evictions from the complex by the National Students Welfare Fund and the University of Khartoum administration.

She was severely beaten by the NISS men, in the process suffering a hip dislocation. She was also electrocuted. She was interrogated four times over the course of days. During one interrogation she was drugged, stripped naked and raped by four of the agents who recorded themselves on video – a clip that was played back to her once she had regained consciousness.

“The treatment Salma experienced while in detention, also documented by Human Rights Watch, amounts to torture,” notes the report.

In yet another incident of brutality, Ibrahim Salih Haroon, former chairman of Darfur Students' Association, was detained for 10 days in solitary confinement. During this time he was brutally beaten and racially abused. The police also forcefully took blood samples from him for unexplained reasons and allegedly intentionally infected him with hepatitis B, he told Amnesty International. Haroon has since fled to Egypt.

The report clearly links the plight of Darfuri students at the hands of the Sudanese government to the raging conflict in Darfur, with students being accused of links with armed opposition groups pressing for independence of the underdeveloped region, which is the size of France and is home to a population of 6 million people.

Besides the security forces, the rights body identifies students affiliated to the country’s ruling party as part of the suppression of the Darfuris, documenting numerous attacks perpetrated against students, and even professors, by pro-government students.

'Jihad units'

In one instance Darfuri lecturer Hamid Eldood Mahdi, an associate professor of economics at Al-Neelain University in Khartoum, was beaten up and threatened with death by pro-government students who accused him of supporting opposition parties in Darfur. The attack forced him to stay away from the university for days out of fear for his life.

A month later, the university suspended him pending an investigation. Mahdi left the country the following month after sensing that both the university authorities and the government were not keen to take action on the ‘Jihad units’ who had assaulted him.

The report quotes a Sudanese academic, saying that the ruling party-affiliated students, also known as Jihad units, were “part of the militarised units of the ruling National Congress Party, that they are above the law and above the university administration”.

In 2015 alone, the rights body asserts, police and the security services arbitrarily arrested and detained at least 200 students from Darfur, during which period Amnesty International says it documented at least 13 students killed in various universities across Sudan.

“These deliberate and shameful attacks on students are totally unacceptable and must be brought to a speedy end,” said Amnesty International Director for East Africa and the Great Lakes Region Muthoni Wanyeki.

“The suppression of Darfuri students’ rights to expression and association – as well as the interruption of their education – cannot be tolerated and the government must fully investigate and bring those responsible to account, as well as ensure effective remedies for victims, including by guaranteeing full access to reparations,” she said in a statement released earlier this month.

Judicial mechanism

“The government must also take measures to reduce the intelligence agency’s unfettered powers of arrest and detention, and establish a judicial mechanism to oversee it in order to stop these gross excesses,” said the director.

According to Sudan’s Ministry of Higher Education, there are currently 42 universities in the country, 11 of them private. There are also 69 technical training colleges, 54 of which are private.

There are an estimated 26,000 students from the Darfur region in the universities, representing 7% of the total number of university students, currently estimated at about 360,000, and according to the Darfur Students’ Association, 18,000 students from Darfur were enrolled in universities in Khartoum in 2016 alone.