The African Union on Thursday suspended Sudan from the bloc meetings until the military rulers hand power to a civilian-led authority.
After a fourth meeting since April, when protesters forced Omar al-Bashir out of power, the African Union Peace and Security Council said Khartoum must now hand power to civilians.
“The AU Peace and Security Council has with immediate effect suspended the participation of the Republic of Sudan in all AU activities,” the Council tweeted on Thursday.
The bloc said the suspension will be in place “until the effective establishment of a Civilian-led Transitional Authority, as the only way to allow the Sudan to exit from the current crisis.”
The move came amid a violent crackdown by Sudan’s authorities against protesters.
Some reports from groups allied to protesters indicated as many as 100 bodies had been collected from the streets and River Nile, making it one of the biggest death tolls since protests began in Sudan last year. However, Sudan officials on Thursday morning maintained that no more than 46 deaths had occurred following the crackdown.
On Wednesday, the AU had embarked on a series of shuttle diplomacy as AU Chairperson Moussa Mahamat Faki tried to resolve the standoff between the military rulers and civilian groups on when elections should be held.
Mr Faki sent his envoy to Khartoum to speak to “all parties.” The envoy’s report influenced the decision of the 15-member Council, whose main roles is to prevent conflicts or violation of democratic principles among member states.
Mr Faki, a Chadian diplomat, had said the solution to Khartoum must be consultative.
“No unilateral solution possible. [It is] vital for the international community to speak with one voice and convince parties to resume talks on a consensual transition,” he said on Wednesday.
The military rulers joined the protest-led deposition of Bashir in April.
After Bashir’s ouster, they formed the Transitional Military Council led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, but it was rejected by civilian protesters.
After several weeks of negotiations, the military council said it would organise elections in two years and hand power to civilians.
This was again rejected as the activists led by local professional bodies asked for a shorter time. This week, the council cancelled all agreements with civilian bodies and unilaterally announced they will hold elections within nine months.
When protesters opposed the move, and continued with their weeks-long sit-in, security forces descended on them, leading to global condemnation.
“By ordering these attacks, the Transitional Military Council has put the transition process and peace in Sudan in jeopardy,” the US, UK and Norway said in a joint statement.
Commonly known as the Troika, the three countries called for an agreed transfer of power to a civilian-led government as demanded by the people of Sudan.
“The people of Sudan deserve an orderly transition, led by civilians, that can establish the conditions for free and fair elections, rather than have rushed elections imposed by the TMC’s security forces,” the statement said.
Though the AU can suspend its members through the Peace and Security Council, it lacks powers to expel members. This means that the suspension could only be subtle pressure to make Sudan embrace civilian rule. However, the move can also send a message to the more powerful UN Security Council that has powers to impose sanctions on member states.
The AU decision comes as Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi took over the mantle of the AU Assembly, composed of heads of state.
Mr Sisi came to power through a coup that ousted Mohammed Morsy. As a result, the AU to suspended Cairo from the bloc’s meetings in 2013. Egypt was reinstated in June 2014, after Sisi won in an election.
The AU’s move is based on its 2007 policy on ‘Unconstitutional Change of Government’ (UCG) which lists as illegal any take-over of power through means other than those in countries’ laws.
Known formally as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, it lists several decisions the African Union can adopt towards a guilty member state.
It mandates the Chairperson of the AU Commission to condemn a coup and demand a speedy return to constitutional order. The country in which a leader comes to power through a coup may be suspended from participating in policy organs of the AU and the new authorities in the country “are given a period of up to six months to restore constitutional order.”
Two other countries have also been on the receiving end of the AU suspension. Mali was suspended in March 2012 and reinstated in October of the same year, whereas Guinea Bissau was suspended in April 2012 and reinstated in June 2014.