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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The veteran Sudanese lawyer heading a government-appointed commission to investigate the deadly breakup of a sit-in protest last June has vowed to seek out the truth.
Speaking to The National in an interview on Sunday, Nabil Adib painted a daunting picture of the challenges facing the panel, from logistical and administrative issues to witness protection and technical analysis of evidence.
He expressed his annoyance with local media speculations about the commission’s work and how, in the end, he did not see himself to be answerable to anyone except the pursuit of the truth.
“I don’t respond to popular demands, or the demands of the government, the military or anyone else for that matter,” Mr Adib said at his Khartoum office. “I am conducting a criminal investigation that has no relation to their demands or what they have to say.
“They [critics, members of the public and social media commentators] view themselves as the overseers of the commission. That’s incorrect. What is correct is for them to leave the committee alone to do its work,” said Mr Adib, a 76-yer-old constitutional and criminal lawyer.
Abdalla Hamdok, Sudan’s transitional prime minister appointed the panel on October 20. He gave the commission three months to conclude its investigation and present its findings, a timeline that can be extended by three months at a time on condition that sufficient progress has been made.
“We are trying to do everything we can to complete our work within the three-month timeframe but not at the expense of accuracy or justice,” said Mr Adib. “If we need to extend the timeline, we will. But, as of now, we are following a plan that will allow us to finish by the time set for us.”
“I have a position that is neither political or sentimental
The sit-in began on April 6, five days before the military removed Omar Al Bashir, Sudan’s dictator of 29 years who was on Saturday sentenced to two years in a correctional facility after his conviction on corruption charges. Protesters remained in place afterwards to press demands for the generals to hand power to a civilian government.
The generals repeatedly promised to hand over power to civilians, but the protesters feared they would not. When the security forces moved in on June 3, the sit-in was 58 days old.
Activists maintain that the June 3 attack left at least 130 dead, including about 40 whose bodies were later found floating in the Nile. Hundreds more were injured, they said.
The Health Ministry initially put the death toll at 61, but findings published in a July investigation ordered by the then-ruling generals put the number at 87. A reputable trauma centre in Khartoum documented sixteen cases of rape, a number believed to be low due to the social stigma of reporting sexual assault.
The appointment of the commission led by Mr Adib followed repeated calls for justice from protest and civilian groups as well as the families of the victims. But the seasoned lawyer maintains that his pursuit of the truth is not emotional and that he will pay no heed to calls for the commission to speed up its work and he will not entertain attempts to influence the process.
“I have a position that is neither political or sentimental,” he said. “This is a criminal investigation that’s responsible, not just before the nation and the people, but before God and my conscience.”
Besides identifying those behind the June 3 killings and filing charges against them, the commission will also establish the final numbers of those killed, wounded or missing from that day.
Mr Adib said the commission’s work began with striving to meet basic requirements. He cited, among other things, finding a safe headquarters, administrative and technical staff and an online site. Other challenges, he added, included interviewing and protecting a large number of witnesses and reviewing documents, official and otherwise, as well as collecting and documenting video clips of the June 3 events.
“We need to do all this while making sure that what we are examining had not been meddled with or doctored. We also need technical reports… I personally cannot tell you where a certain type of bullets is available in Sudan or who has them.”
Many Sudanese eagerly await the findings and the possible arrests that could result from the commission’s findings. They view the June 3 violence as a major, albeit grim, milestone in the modern history of Sudan, a large Afro-Arb nation that rose against dictators in three popular uprisings – 1964, 1985 and 2018 – since independence in 1956.
Witnesses and activists are uncertain on who exactly is to blame for the dawn violence on June 3. Although many of them point an accusing finger at hardline Al Bashir loyalists organised in paramilitary groups or placed in the security forces by his government, especially the feared domestic security agency.
The then-ruling generals have said they had given the order to clear a particularly troublesome section of the sprawling sit-in site, not the entire area. But, they say, things spiralled out of control. The leader of a paramilitary force that was once loyal to Al Bashir – the Rapid Support Force – accused Islamists who had infiltrated its ranks for some of the violence.
But Mr Adib appears unperturbed by the likely seismic shake-up in the security agencies and the military when the results of his commission’s investigation are publicized in January or soon after.
He also says he is undeterred by the prospect that he may have to indict even senior members of the security forces.
“This is something that does not worry me,” he said. “If there is enough evidence pointing to the involvement of a certain individual and I don’t mention that, then I am squandering the rights of the nation and those who seek retribution. That’s why we need to be extremely careful.”
Updated: December 15, 2019 09:25 PM
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