UN experts: Sudan’s paramilitary forces carried out ethnic killings and rapes that may be war crimes

UNITED NATIONS — Paramilitary forces and their allied militias fighting to seize power in Sudan carried out widespread ethnic killings and rapes as they took control of much of West Darfur, in what could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, experts say of the United Nations in a new report.

The report to the U.N. Security Council, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, paints a horrific picture of the brutality of the Arab-dominated Rapid Support Forces against Africans in Darfur. It also describes how the RSF managed to gain control of four of Darfur’s five states, including through complex financial networks involving dozens of companies.

Sudan plunged into chaos in April when long-simmering tensions between the army led by General Abdel Fattah Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitaries led by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo erupted into street fighting in the capital Khartoum.

The fighting spread to other parts of the country, but in Sudan’s Darfur region it took a different form: brutal RSF attacks on African civilians, especially the ethnic Masalit.

Twenty years ago, Darfur became synonymous with genocide and war crimes, especially by the infamous Arab Janjaweed militias against populations who identify as Central or East African. It seems the legacy has returned. Karim Khan, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said in late January that there are reasons to believe that both sides are committing possible war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Darfur.

The panel of experts said Darfur is experiencing “the worst violence since 2005.”

The ongoing conflict has created a large-scale humanitarian crisis and displaced some 6.8 million people – 5.4 million within Sudan and 1.4 million who have fled to other countries, including about 555,000 to neighboring Chad, the experts said.

The RSF and rival Sudanese government forces have used both heavy artillery and grenades in densely populated areas, causing widespread destruction of critical water, sanitation, education and healthcare facilities.

In their 47-page report, the experts said the RSF and its militias targeted locations in Darfur where displaced people had found shelter, civilian neighborhoods and medical facilities.

According to intelligence sources, the panel said that in just one city – Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state, near the border with Chad – between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed.

The experts said sexual violence by the RSF and its allied militias was widespread.

The panel said that according to reliable sources from Geneina, women and girls as young as 14 years old were raped by RSF elements in a UN World Food Program storage facility controlled by the paramilitary force, in their homes or when they returned home to stock up on food. to get. belongings after being displaced by the violence. Moreover, 16 girls were reportedly kidnapped by RSF soldiers and raped in an RSF house.

“Racial insults against the Masalit and non-Arab community were part of the attacks,” the panel said. “Neighborhoods and homes were continuously attacked, looted, burned and destroyed,” especially those where Masalit and other African communities lived, and their residents were harassed, assaulted, sexually abused and sometimes executed.

The experts said prominent members of the Masalit community were singled out by the RSF, which had a list, and the group’s leaders were harassed and some executed. At least two lawyers, three leading doctors and seven staff members, and human rights activists who followed and reported on the events, were also killed, they said.

The RSF and its allied militias looted and destroyed all hospitals and medical storage facilities, resulting in the collapse of the health care system and the deaths of 37 women with childbirth complications and 200 patients requiring kidney dialysis, the panel said.

After the assassination of the wali, or governor, of West Darfur in June, the report said, Masalit and African communities decided to seek protection in Ardamata, just outside Geneina. A convoy of thousands left at midnight, but when they reached a bridge, RSF and allied militias opened fire indiscriminately, and survivors reported that an estimated 1,000 people were killed, they said.

The panel emphasized that disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians – including torture, rape and murder, as well as the destruction of critical civilian infrastructure – constitute war crimes under the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

The RSF was formed from Janjaweed fighters by Sudan’s former president Omar al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades, was overthrown in a popular uprising in 2019 and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and other crimes during the second World War. the conflict in Darfur in the 2000s.

According to the panel, “the RSF’s takeover of Darfur depended on three lines of support: the Arab allied communities, dynamic and complex financial networks and new military supply lines running through Chad, Libya and South Sudan.”

While both the Sudanese army and the RSF carried out large-scale recruitment drives in Darfur from late 2022, the RSF was more successful, the experts said. And it “invested large proceeds from its pre-war gold operations in various industries, creating a network of as many as 50 companies.”

The RSF’s complex financial networks “enabled it to acquire weapons, pay salaries, finance media campaigns, lobby and buy the support of other political and armed groups,” the experts said.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who visited Chad in September, called the report’s findings “horrific” and expressed “deep disappointment” that the UN Security Council and the international community have paid so little attention to the allegations.

“The people of Sudan feel like they have been forgotten,” she said.

In light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan and the broader region, Thomas-Greenfield demanded that the Sudanese military lift its ban on cross-border aid from Chad and facilitate cross-border aid from the east. She also demanded in a statement on Wednesday that the RSF stop looting humanitarian warehouses and that both sides stop harassing humanitarian workers.

“The council must act urgently to alleviate human suffering, hold perpetrators accountable and end the conflict in Sudan,” the US ambassador said. “Time is running out.”