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Defending Health & Human Rights in Sudan:

A Conversation with the Sudanese American Physicians Association & Physicians for Human Rights

After civilian protests against political and economic conditions erupted in Sudan in December 2018, reliable sources reported disproportionate, and frequently deadly, force by Sudanese authorities against peaceful demonstrators. In June 2019, the United Nations Security Council condemned the violence and called for the full protection of civilians, accountability, and justice.

Sudanese health professionals, and the larger scientific and academic communities, were under particular threat, often related to their attempts to engage in their legitimate professional work, such as providing medical care without discrimination. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed alarm over reports that security forces opened fire inside medical facilities and called for unimpeded access to deliver essential care at protest sites and in hospitals where the wounded were treated.

An important part of the Committee on Human Rights’ (CHR) mission is to engage with scientific and human rights organizations working at the intersection of human rights and health. The CHR recently spoke with Shaza Elmahdi of the Sudanese American Physicians Association (SAPA) and Michael Payne of Physicians for Human Rights about their efforts to respond to the human rights crackdown in Sudan, particularly with regard to attacks on medical neutrality.

Sudanese American Physicians Association (SAPA)

Health professionals within the Sudanese diaspora have historically played a supporting role to the medical community in Sudan, providing solidarity to colleagues participating in democracy movements and lending their time and medical expertise to help treat patients in need.

Below Shaza Elmahdi, a member of the Parliamentary Committee of SAPA, describes how Sudanese health professionals living abroad have sought to support their colleagues and provide on-the-ground medical assistance in Sudan:

SAPA is a membership-based organization of approximately 300 Sudanese physicians living in the United States that provides members with U.S. networking and training opportunities and connects them with licensing and other medical resources in the country. The organization was, however, primarily formed to support Sudanese health professionals who have joined efforts to achieve democracy and protect human rights in Sudan. Members of SAPA have provided direct financial and professional assistance to Sudanese health professionals on the ground, including by sending needed tools and equipment to facilitate provision of medical care to the Sudanese people.

Watch the clip below to learn more about the actions SAPA and similar organizations in other countries took to support the medical community and peaceful protesters in Sudan:  

In April 2019, following months of anti-regime protests, President Omar al-Bashir was removed from power by the Sudanese Armed Forces after nearly 30 years of rule, during which he was accused of crimes against humanity. Nationwide protests, however, continued as pro-democracy organizers and the ruling Sudanese military council attempted to negotiate a transition to civilian rule and the enactment of accountability measures for those groups that allegedly engaged in human rights abuses under President al-Bashir’s regime. On August 17, the main opposition coalition and the military council formally signed a final power-sharing deal, paving the path to a civilian-led government and the establishment of an independent investigation into the crackdown on protesters by security forces.

SAPA’s efforts to provide assistance are ongoing.

“We have never thought we were detached from our fellow colleagues in Sudan…we feel an ethical commitment towards what is going on Sudan and we believe SAPA will have a greater role in the future, whether it goes the difficult and challenging pathway or whether it gets back on track and we go through a peaceful democratic transformation.”

 – Shaza Elmahdi, SAPA

Hear more from Shaza Elmahdi about SAPA’s continued efforts to monitor and document the situation and seek accountability for human rights abuses:  



Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)

PHR is a human rights organization that works at the intersection of medicine, science, and law to secure justice and universal human rights for all. It uses the unique skills and credibility of health professionals to advocate for persecuted health workers and hold those who violate human rights accountable. For nearly three decades, PHR has used medicine and science to help document and address severe human rights violations in Sudan following former President Omar al-Bashir’s rise to power. Sudanese medical organizations and health professionals have supported PHR’s efforts to mobilize a response to the atrocities in the country by providing data, eye-witness testimonies, and medical analyses to inform PHR reports and public campaigns.

After protests began late last year, health professionals in Sudan helped PHR to document the arrest of at least 136 doctors and healthcare workers, as well as physical attacks against protesters and medical professionals that led to the deaths of dozens of protesters. PHR also reported on the attack of at least seven medical facilities from December 2018 to April 2019. During this period, police and National Intelligence and Security Services forces fired teargas and other weapons into hospital wards and closed access to medical care for patients. Reliable on-the-ground reporting from PHR partners indicated that similar attacks against health providers and hospitals continued as negotiations were taking place between the opposition coalition and the military council and that doctors feared retribution for treating the injured.

Hear from Michael Payne, Interim Advocacy Director & Senior Advocacy Officer for PHR, about how Sudanese health professionals help to inform and provide critical evidence for PHR investigations of human rights violations:


“The situation continues to be grave in the country and we continue to work to document and report in the hopes of combating these abuses and providing opportunities for accountability and for bringing greater international attention to address the situation.”

 – Michael Payne, PHR

 Hear more from Michael Payne on how medical professionals anywhere in the world can engage with PHR: