I will discover the truth, says lawyer heading Sudan massacre investigation

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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

Nabil Adib

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.

Sudanese protesters run for cover from tear gas canisters fired by police outside the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum on April 6, 2019. AFP

Sudanese protesters rally in front of the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum on April 8, 2019. AFP

Alaa Salah, a Sudanese woman propelled to internet fame earlier this week after clips went viral of her leading powerful protest chants against President Omar Al Bashir, addresses protesters during a demonstration in front of the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum on April 10, 2019. AFP

Sudanese judges, dressed in their robes, gather for a "million-strong" march outside the army headquarters in the capital Khartoum on April 25, 2019. AFP

A Sudanese anti-regime protester kisses a soldier on the head during protests on April 11, 2019 in the area around the army headquarters in Sudan's capital Khartoum. AFP

Sudanese demonstrators march with national flags as they gather during a rally demanding a civilian body to lead the transition to democracy. AFP

Protesters massed outside the army complex in central Khartoum on April 6, initially to demand the overthrow of longtime leader Omar Al Bashir. AFP

Sudanese protesters gather outside the army headquarters in Khartoum on May 6, 2019. AFP

Sudanese protesters burn tyres as they block Nile Street for the second consecutive day during continuing protests in Sudan's capital Khartoum on May 13, 2019. AFP

Sudanese protesters wave flags and flash victory signs as they gather for a sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum on May 19, 2019. AFP

A Sudanese health worker carries a placard as scores of medics hold a rally in front of a hospital in the capital Khartoum on May 23, 2019. AFP

Sudanese supporters of the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) hold up a sign showing a portrait of its head General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan with a caption below reading in Arabic "we have delegated you Burhan, we want no president but you", during a rally in the centre of the capital Khartoum on May 31, 2019. AFP

Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Himediti, deputy head of Sudan's ruling Transitional Military Council and commander of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitaries, waves a baton to supporters on a vehicle as he arrives for a rally in the village of Abraq, about 60 kilometres northwest of Khartoum, on June 22, 2019. AFP

Sudanese protestors celebrate in the streets of Khartoum after ruling generals and protest leaders announced they have reached an agreement on the disputed issue of a new governing body on July 5, 2019. AFP

Thousands went to the streets to welcome the agreement on Saturday. AFP

Sudanese protesters take part in a vigil in the capital Khartoum to mourn dozens of demonstrators killed last month in a raid on a Khartoum sit-in. AFP

Sudanese protesters gather during Friday noon prayers outside the army headquarters in Khartoum on May 3, 2019, as they continue to protest demanding that the ruling military council hand power to a civilian administration. AFP

Sudanese civilians from other provinces ride on the train to join in the celebrations of the signing of Sudan's power-sharing deal. Reuters

Sudan's Forces of Freedom and Change coalition leader Ahmad Rabiah (3-R) and Sudan's General and Vice President of Sudanese Transitional Military Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (2-R) sign power-sharing agreement,. EPA

Sudan's Head of Transitional Military Council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and Sudan's opposition alliance coalition's leader Ahmad Rabiah, celebrate the signing of the power-sharing deal, that paves the way for a transitional government, and eventual elections. Reuters

epa07783624 Leader of Sudan's transitional council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan (R) is sworn in as the Head of the newly formed transitional Council at the presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan, 21 August 2019. The Sudanese opposition and military council signed on 17 August a power sharing agreement. The agreement sets up a sovereign council made of five generals and six civilians, to rule the country until general elections. Protests had erupted in Sudan at the end of 2018, culminating in a long sit-in outside the army headquarters which ended with more than one hundred people being killed and others injured. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stepped down on 11 April 2019. EPA/STRINGER

A pictured released by Sudan's Presidential Palace shows General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's ruling military council, during a swearing in ceremony in Khartoum on August 21, 2019. Burhan was sworn today as chairman of Sudan's new sovereign council that will steer the country through a three-year transition to civilian rule. "General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdel Rahman was sworn in as president of the sovereign council," the official SUNA news agency reported. / AFP / SUDAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / SUDAN PRESIDENTAIL PALACE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

A picture released by Sudan's Presidential Palace shows General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's ruling military council, during a swearing in ceremony in Khartoum on August 21, 2019. Burhan was sworn today as chairman of Sudan's new sovereign council that will steer the country through a three-year transition to civilian rule. "General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdel Rahman was sworn in as president of the sovereign council," the official SUNA news agency reported. / AFP / SUDAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / SUDAN PRESIDENTAIL PALACE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

A picture released by Sudan's Presidential Palace shows General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (C-R), the head of Sudan's ruling military council, standing during a swearing in of the new sovereign council, in Khartoum on August 21, 2019. Sudan took further steps in its transition towards civilian rule today with the swearing in of a new sovereign council, to be followed by the appointment of a prime minister. The body replaces the Transitional Military Council (TMC) that took charge after months of deadly street protests brought down longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April. Burhan, who already headed the TMC, was sworn in as the chairman of the new sovereign council in the morning. / AFP / SUDAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / SUDAN PRESIDENTAIL PALACE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

epa07784051 Members of Sudan's newly formed transitional Council (R-L) General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, Hassan Sheikh Idris, Genereal Ibrahim Jaber, Raja Nicola Issa Abdul-Masseh, General Shams al-Din Kabashi, Aisha Moussa, Mohamed Alfaki, General Yasser al-Atta and Sadeek Tawer look on during their sweaing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan, 21 August 2019. The Sudanese opposition and military council signed on 17 August a power sharing agreement. The agreement sets up a sovereign council made of five generals and six civilians, to rule the country until general elections. Protests had erupted in Sudan at the end of 2018, culminating in a long sit-in outside the army headquarters which ended with more than one hundred people being killed and others injured. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stepped down on 11 April 2019. EPA/MORWAN ALI

Demonstrators march with banners and the old (L) and current (R) flags of Sudan outside a courthouse complex in the capital's twin city of Omdurman on August 21, 2019 during the trial of 40 members of Sudan's now-dissolved National Intelligence and Security Service facing charges over the death in custody of Ahmed al-Kheir, a teacher from the eastern town of Khashma el-Girba, in the early days of the wave of nationwide protests that eventually brought longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir. / AFP / Ahmed Mustafa

epa07784904 Sudan's new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (L) swears in during a ceremony at the presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan, 21 August 2019. The Sudanese opposition and military council signed on 17 August a power sharing agreement. The agreement sets up a sovereign council made of five generals and six civilians, to rule the country until general elections. Protests had erupted in Sudan in December 2018, culminating in a long sit-in outside the army headquarters which ended with more than one hundred people being killed and others injured. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stepped down on 11 April 2019. EPA/MARWAN ALI

epa07784903 Sudan's new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (L) shakes hands with Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan (R) after being sworn in during a ceremony at the presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan, 21 August 2019. The Sudanese opposition and military council signed on 17 August a power sharing agreement. The agreement sets up a sovereign council made of five generals and six civilians, to rule the country until general elections. Protests had erupted in Sudan in December 2018, culminating in a long sit-in outside the army headquarters which ended with more than one hundred people being killed and others injured. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stepped down on 11 April 2019. EPA/MARWAN ALI

Sudan's new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok speaks duringa press conference in Khartoum, Sudan, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. (AP Photo)

“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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