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Militants have committed crimes against humanity in Sudan, Human Rights Watch report warns

Written by on May 9, 2024

pawel.gaul/Getty Images

(LONDON) — Ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have been committed in El Geneina, West Darfur, against ethnic Massalit and non-Arab communities, according to a report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch.

The Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, paramilitary group and allied militias have committed “numerous serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law” as part of their campaign against the Massalit people of El Geneina, the report said.

Between April and November 2023 “at least thousands of people” were killed, “hundreds of thousands” left as refugees and civilian infrastructure methodologically destroyed, the report said. It said entire neighborhoods housing primarily Massalit-displaced communities were looted, burned, shelled and razed to the ground.

“The events are among the worst atrocities against civilians so far in the current conflict in Sudan,” HRW said. “Sudanese Red Crescent staff said that on June 13, they counted 2,000 bodies on the streets of El Geneina and then, overwhelmed by the numbers, stopped counting.”

“Adolescent boys and men were especially singled out for killings, but among those unlawfully killed were also many children and women,” the report said, adding RSF fighters and allied militias were using “derogatory racial slurs” during their weeks long campaign.

The civil war that began in 2023 in Sudan has become “one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory,” according to the United Nations, displacing more than eight million people. Fighting erupted in April 2023 between the RSF and its rival, the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF.

A U.N. panel of experts on Sudan estimated between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed in El Geneina in 2023.

El Geneina, in West Darfur, where ethnic Massalit, which is sometimes spelled Masalit, make up roughly 60% of the population, has seen some of the fiercest fighting outside Sudan’s capital Khartoum since the onset of the conflict in Sudan.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello said the U.S. has determined the RSF and allied militias have committed “crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”

The U.S. also found the SAF have committed “war crimes” since the onset of the war, bombing civilian areas and “proactively” interfering with humanitarian operations.

“Let’s be clear: the RSF and its leadership are rooted in the Janjaweed militias who committed genocide and widespread crimes against humanity,” said Perriello. “They have conducted this war with unspeakable brutality, including through ethnic cleansing of the Masalit, sexual violence as a weapon of war, and torching whole villages.”

As a result of atrocities in El Geneina over 570,000 predominantly Massalit people have fled their homes, seeking safety in refugee camps in Chad.

The report found crimes committed against the Massalit people were not restricted to El Geneina, as at least seven villages and towns of West Darfur “deliberately destroyed by fire since mid-April 2023.”

At least 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to the UN.

Local groups however warn that the true death toll is likely much higher.

“The mass killings of ethnic Massalit civilians, and in particular the context in which these killings took place, also requires urgent action from all governments and international institutions,” HRW said.

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