UNITED NATIONS : Paramilitary forces and their allied militias fighting to take power in Sudan carried out widespread ethnic killings and rapes while taking control of much of western Darfur that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, United Nations experts said in a new report.
The report to the UN Security Council, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, paints a horrifying picture of the brutality of Rapid Support Forces against Africans in Darfur. It also details how the RSF succeeded in gaining control of four out of Darfur’s five states, including through complex financial networks that involve dozens of companies.
Sudan plunged into chaos in April, when long-simmering tensions between its military led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, broke out into street battles in the capital, Khartoum.
Fighting spread to other parts of the country, but in Sudan’s Darfur region it took on a different form: brutal attacks by the RSF on African civilians, especially the ethnic Masalit.
Two decades ago, Darfur became synonymous with genocide and war crimes, particularly by the notorious Janjaweed Arab militias against populations that identify as Central or East African. It seems that legacy has returned, with the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor Karim Khan saying in late January there are grounds to believe both sides are committing possible war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Darfur.
The panel of experts said Darfur is experiencing “its worst violence since 2005.”
The ongoing conflict has caused a large-scale humanitarian crisis and displaced approximately 6.8 million people — 5.4 million within Sudan and 1.4 million who have fled to other countries, including approximately 555,000 to neighboring Chad, the experts said.
The RSF and rival Sudanese government forces have both used heavy artillery and shelling in highly populated areas, causing widespread destruction of critical water, sanitation, education and health care facilities.
In their 47-page report, the experts said the RSF and its militias targeted sites in Darfur where displaced people had found shelter, civilian neighborhoods and medical facilities.
According to intelligence sources, the panel said, in just one city — Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state near the Chad border — between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed.
The experts said sexual violence by the RSF and its allied militia 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 that the paramilitary force controlled, in their homes, or when returning home to collect belongings after being displaced by the violence. Additionally, 16 girls were reportedly kidnapped by RSF soldiers and raped in an RSF house.
“Racial slurs toward the Masalit and non-Arab community formed 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 people were harassed, assaulted, sexually abused, and at times executed.
The experts said prominent Masalit community members 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 prominent doctors and seven staff members, and human rights activists monitoring and reporting on the events were also killed, they said.
The RSF and its allied militias looted and destroyed all hospitals and medical storage facilities, which resulted in the collapse of health services and the deaths of 37 women with childbirth complications and 200 patients needing kidney dialysis, the panel said.
After the killing of the wali, or governor, of West Darfur in June, the report said, Masalit and African communities decided to seek protection at Ardamata, just outside Geneina. A convoy of thousands moved out at midnight but as they reached a bridge, RSF and allied militias indiscriminately opened fire, and survivors reported that an estimated 1,000 people were killed, they said.
The panel stressed that disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians — including torture, rapes and killings as well as destruction of critical civilian infrastructure — constitute war crimes under the 1949 Geneva conventions.
The RSF was formed out of Janjaweed fighters by Sudan’s former President Omar Al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades, was overthrown during a popular uprising in 2019, and is wanted by the International Criminal Court for charges of genocide and other crimes during the conflict in Darfur in the 2000s.
According to the panel, the “RSF’s takeover of Darfur relied 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 military and RSF engaged in widespread recruitment drives across Darfur from late 2022, the RSF was more successful, the experts said. And it “invested large proceeds from its pre-war gold business in several industries, creating a network of as many as 50 companies.”
The RSF’s complex financial networks “enabled it to acquire weapons, pay salaries, fund media campaigns, lobby, and buy the support of other political and armed groups,” the experts said.
United States 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 such little attention to the allegations.
“The people of Sudan feel that 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 prohibition on cross-border assistance from Chad and facilitate cross-line assistance from the east. She also demanded in a statement Wednesday that the RSF halt the looting of humanitarian warehouses and that both parties stop harassing humanitarian aid workers.
“The council must act urgently to alleviate human suffering, hold perpetrators to account, and bring the conflict in Sudan to an end,” the US ambassador said. “Time is running out.”