GENEVA — The United Nations’ top human rights body decided on Friday to appoint an independent expert to monitor and report on abuses in Sudan since the military takeover less than two weeks ago, escalating international pressure on leaders of Africa’s third-largest country to restore civilian rule.
At an emergency session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, countries from all regions condemned the Oct. 25 coup, the Sudanese army’s use of lethal force against pro-democracy demonstrators and the forced disappearance to secret locations of ministers, politicians, lawyers and activists. They called for their immediate release and the reinstatement of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was detained by the military.
The seizure of power by Sudan’s military threatened to upend a fragile transition to democracy in the country — the largest on the African continent behind Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo — just as it was emerging from decades of harsh autocratic rule and isolation.
The coup followed an uneasy power-sharing arrangement with civilian leaders that had been negotiated after a popular 2019 uprising that toppled Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s longtime dictator, who has been wanted for years on genocide charges by the International Criminal Court.
Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s military leader, has promised a return to a transitional government. But as of Friday, mediation efforts by Volker Perthes, a veteran German diplomat who oversees a U.N. assistance mission in Sudan, showed no obvious progress.
On the contrary, three Sudan civilian leaders who had met with Mr. Perthes were reported to have been arrested on Thursday near the U.N mission’s headquarters in Khartoum, angering U.N. officials who said it undermined their organization’s role.
“The U.N. mission calls on the military leadership to stop arresting politicians and activists and to stop committing further human rights violations,” Farhan Haq, a spokesman for Secretary General António Guterres in New York, told reporters on Friday.
The Sudan military took other actions on Friday that suggested junta leaders were trying to further strengthen their grip on the country. State television reported they had dissolved the boards of all state companies and agricultural projects.
Since the coup, military and security forces have killed at least 13 civilians and injured more than 300, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, told the council. “Those responsible for these and other human rights violations must be held fully accountable for their actions,” she said.
The 47-member council adopted without a vote a Britain-led resolution to immediately appoint an independent human rights expert who will work with the U.N. human rights office in Sudan to follow and report on developments until the restoration of civilian government.
Sudan initially joined Britain, Germany, Norway and the United States in calling for the session but it later withdrew support and its ambassador in Geneva, Ali Mahmoud, did not speak at the event. Russia, China and Venezuela, which often oppose resolutions targeting a specific country, criticized the resolution as unwarranted foreign interference but opted not to vote against it.
While the Human Rights Council has no enforcement power, its declarations and recommendations can exert a coercive effect on countries that want to avoid the optics of embarrassment and ostracism.
Some diplomats attending the council session did not confine their concern to the situation in Sudan. Africa also has been roiled over the past year by coups in Mali and Guinea, as well as undemocratic transitions of power in Chad and Tunisia that critics have denounced as coups.
Julia Imene-Chanduru, Namibia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, told the council that military coups should be criminalized and that it must send a message to “dissuade those who have the intention of seizing power with the force of the gun.”
Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.