It’s only the beginning of the school year in Sudan, and already violence has stopped students from receiving an education.
Military authorities in Sudan ordered schools to shut down starting Wednesday in response to mass demonstrations earlier this week that left four students dead.
Snipers and other gunmen opened fire on a pro-democracy protest on Monday in North Kordofan state’s capital city, El-Obeid, over fuel, bread, water, electricity, and public transport shortages. Five people died, four of them students between the ages of 15 and 17 who were in school uniforms carrying school bags. Witnesses say the students were protesting peacefully. At least 62 more were injured.
Human rights advocates are calling on the government to investigate the attacks and hold the perpetrators of violence accountable.
“Countless young lives have been cut short or shattered by this violence. We strongly condemn attacks on children,” said Save the Children Sudan Country Director Adil Al Mahi in a statement released to Global Citizen.
The protests were a part of the mass civil disobedience campaign that started in June in response to a military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The Sudanese military and civilian leaders signed a power-sharing deal on July 17 to transition elections in the country’s government, but Monday’s shooting was one of the bloodiest incidents since more than 120 people were killed during a protest in June, according to the Guardian. Since December, more than 250 people have been killed nationwide in protest-related violence, according to doctors involved in the movement.
After Monday’s casualties, hundreds of students protested in Sudan’s largest city, Khartoum, and cities across the country on Tuesday. Demonstrators held the Sudanese government group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) –– otherwise known as Janjaweed, who carried out the Darfur genocide in 2003 –– responsible for the shootings.
"Orders have been given to governors of all states to shut kindergartens, primary and high schools from tomorrow [Wednesday] until further notice," the official Suna news agency reported, according to the BBC.
In addition to the school closings, authorities have declared a state of emergency in the area and enforced a nighttime curfew in North Kordofan as the Sudanese Professionals Association –– the organization behind the demonstrations –– tried to hold nationwide rallies against the massacre, according to France24.
"What happened in El-Obeid is sad,” the chairman of Sudan’s military council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was quoted saying on television. “Killing peaceful civilians is an unacceptable crime that needs immediate accountability.”
The killings came a day before protest leaders called off talks with generals on Tuesday to discuss the power-sharing deal and cover topics from security forces to the prospects of a joint civilian-military ruling body.
The Sudanese children who can’t go back to school indefinitely are some of the 75 million children around the world who have had their education disrupted due to conflict, disaster, or other conflicts. Children in conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely to be out of school compared to those in countries not affected by conflict, according to UNESCO.
“We appeal to all parties to exercise maximum restraint and ensure all children are protected in adherence to international human rights law,” Al Mahi said.
“We urge the government to investigate these attacks, ensure perpetrators are brought to justice and that injured children have access to support so they can make a full recovery.”
Save the Children says it will continue working with the government and other parties to ensure every Sudanese child survives and continues to learn in a safe environment free of violence.