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Families demand DNA tests of Sudan's unidentified bodies

September 12 - 2022 KHARTOUM
Khartoum sit-in on May 20, before it was violently broken up by the Rapid Support Forces on June 3, 2019 (File photo)
Khartoum sit-in on May 20, before it was violently broken up by the Rapid Support Forces on June 3, 2019 (File photo)

In a report by The Guardian newspaper last week, Zainab Mohamed Salih interviewed families demanding DNA tests to identify relatives who are missing after three years of political unrest in Sudan. 

The families wish to find out if their relatives are among more than 3,000 unclaimed bodies in the country’s mortuaries. They are demanding that the government does DNA tests of the bodies before it takes any further steps. 

Two weeks ago, the Sudanese Senior Public Prosecutor announced plans to dig mass graves for the unidentified bodies in mortuaries without recording forensic details. The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors denounced the decision, calling the move a “dangerous deviation from the protocols.” 

Tayeb El Abbas, a lawyer and the head of the missing persons investigation committee set up by the transitional government in 2019, told The Guardian that if the government were to undertake DNA testing, “it will be for the first time in Sudan that they will be burying every missing person in a separate grave... we are hoping that if this identification process uses the right procedure we will be able to know [how they died].” 

Sumia Osman’s 24-year-old son has been missing since June 3, 2019, when the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) carried out a brutal attack on the large sit-in in front of the army command in central Khartoum, whereby more than 127 people were killed.

“They [the government] left the bodies [to decompose] to bury the truth. They deliberately did it,” she told The Guardian. “We are so depressed,” she said, adding that she would “never give up looking for the truth.”

"The government left the bodies to decompose to bury the truth. They deliberately did it."

- Sumia Osman, mother of missing person

Iman Musa, whose brother, El Mukashfi Musa, 28, is missing, said: “We have reached a point where we think there is no justice on this planet.” 

In their statement, the Doctors Committee said that “the revolution, since the start in December 2018, has continuously witnessed attempts to obscure justice, and protect the perpetrators of violence and extrajudicial killings.” It demands that “in order to preserve the rights of the unidentified dead to dignity and justice, a number of measures and procedures must be taken”. 

'Missing' 

During protest actions and demonstrations, but also during house searches, Sudanese activists and protesters against the regime of Omar Al Bashir or the military junta, are often held and taken to unknown places. Many were later found by relatives or lawyers in detention cells, others had to be reported missing. 

In August 2019, Radio Dabanga reported that more than 100 Sudanese were still missing after what became known as the June 3 Massacre. At least 40 bodies were found in the Nile following the attack. Gusei Hemeto was identified using DNA testing, after his body was found in the Nile tied to a block of concrete three days after the break-up of the sit-in.

Two months later, the CCSD accused several hospital mortuaries of providing misleading information to the families of missing protestors. Staff at the hospitals reportedly denied that bodies were present at the morgues while in fact they were. 

Investigation committee 

During the civilian-led transitional government headed by PM Abdallah Hamdok, the Senior Public Prosecutor set up a Missing Persons Investigation Committee in late 2020, to investigate people missing since the start of the 2018 December Revolution, following the discovery of a mass grave in Khartoum. It was said at the time that the mass grave may contained bodies of some of the people who were considered as missing following the June 3 Massacre.   

The investigation committee was forced to suspend its activities following the October 25 military coup. Nabil Adib, head of the independent investigation committee, explained on May 20 that it was impossible for foreign teams to examine the evidence without an independent civilian government. 

You can read the full report by The Guardian here.


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