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Sudan human rights body names militia chief Hemeti person of the year

The move to honour the head of paramilitary forces that violently suppresses civilians has drawn the ire of Sudanese activists
Sudan's General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo was controversially awarded a human rights prize for his contribution to the country's democracy (Reuters)

Sudan's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has named the country's number two military commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti, as its person of the year for 2022.

The government-appointed human rights body honoured Hemeti for his role in negotiating a political agreement, which has been widely rejected by Sudanese civic movements, to resolve the political crisis in the country, as well as his pledge to protect democratic institutions. 

The controversial decision was, however, met with outrage by Sudanese human rights activists.

Hemeti is thought to have been instrumental in the military coup in October last year, which upended Sudan's democratic transition, and to have been involved in some of the worst human rights abuses in the country over the last 20 years.

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Hemeti heads up the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that has taken a leading role in the violent suppression of anti-coup protesters, killing and wounding civilians.

A warlord from Sudan's Darfur region, Hemeti's rise through the ranks of Sudan's military started in the early 2000s when he led the notorious Janjaweed, a government-backed militia. 

The Janjaweed, known as the "devils on horseback", along with the Sudanese Armed Forces, is accused of genocide and widespread atrocities in Darfur, the region in western Sudan where an estimated 300,000 people were killed and millions displaced from 2003 onwards.

The militia was eventually transformed into the RSF.

'Godfather of Janjaweed'

The NHRC, according to local media, praised Hemeti for his apology for state violence in the past and his support for human rights.

Critics on social media have condemned the decision. 

"The most famous thug and godfather of the Janjaweed "Hemedti" has been honoured & chosen as the Human Rights Person of 2022. It happened in Sudan. Just imagine," said one social media user

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Another critic said, "the criminal #Hamidti is honoured by the National Commission for Human Rights in Sudan. He was chosen as the Person of the Year 2022 for Human Rights. We do not know on what basis and criteria he was chosen.

"The structure of the National Commission for Human Rights in Sudan must be considered. When criminals are honoured, more criminals and many violations of human rights will be born," added the social media user.

Hemeti and his brothers, most significantly Abdul Rahim Hamdan Dagalo, also control gold mines in Darfur and are backed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The general has supplied the Saudi-led military coalition with RSF mercenaries for its war in Yemen.

Hemeti's strategic capabilities have been underestimated in the past because of his lack of formal education, according to a Middle East Eye report on the general's rise to power.

In 2019, Hemeti signed a $6m lobbying contract with Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli intelligence officer now working as a Canadian lobbyist, in a bid to clean up his image. 

Although that contract has since expired, Sudan analysts believe that Hemeti continues to look for ways to improve his international image.

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