SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: May 16, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Omdurman Ahlia University

Region & Country:Northern Africa | Sudan

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 16, 2023, it was reported that the library archives containing thousands of documents at Omdurman Ahlia University had been destroyed in a fire started by looters.

The archives were located in the Muhammad Omar Bashir Centre for Sudanese Studies at the university, and contained one of the largest collections of documents of Sudanese history, including a wide array of original volumes and documents on Sudan’s politics, history and culture. According to Al-Mutassim Ahmed Al-Hajj, the Centre’s head, the archives were looted over the course of 10 days. During the looting, a fire destroyed everything except for book holders and shelves, which were left standing covered with black soot. Al-Hajj called the looting “a systematic act, designed to harm the private university, which is highly symbolic as a beacon for private education in the country.”

The attack took place in an area of Omdurman controlled by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), one of two warring parties in the civil war that started in Sudan in April 2023. The Centre reportedly alerted the RSF to the looting, but the troops took no action to prevent it.

The late Professor Mohamed Omer Bashir founded the Centre in 1993, which also housed many of his rare books, research documents, and handwritten manuscripts, along with the materials of other important thinkers. The Sudanese writer Reem Abbas wrote on Twitter and in The Guardian about her devastation at the archives’ destruction. Her family had donated the library of her grandfather, Al-Tijani Amer, a Sudanese writer, politician, and civil servant.

Looting and vandalism, including of Sudan’s cultural and political heritage sites, has been widespread since the outbreak of the fighting in April 2023.

Scholars at Risk is concerned with the intentional theft and destruction of a university’s facilities. Such acts erode the right to education, and diminish everyone’s access to a safe, free and open university space. State and de facto authorities should take all reasonable measures to prevent and respond to such incidents, including ensuring campus security and conducting prompt and thorough investigations, as appropriate.

Sources: (pg. 11-13)