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Sudan’s paramilitary RSF accused of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in West Darfur

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Human Rights Watch says ‘thousands’ killed in attacks last year targeting Masalit tribe and other non-Arab groups.

Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias killed “at least thousands of people” in West Darfur state, an international rights group has said, in what it called apparent “crimes against humanity” and “genocide”.

In a report published on Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that RSF attacks on the Masalit tribe and other non-Arab groups between April and November 2023 were some of the worst atrocities in the ongoing civil war which started that April.

The attacks in el-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, saw entire neighbourhoods housing primarily displaced Masalit communities looted, burned, shelled and razed to the ground.

The campaign that amounted to “ethnic cleansing” left hundreds of thousands of people as refugees, HRW said in its 186-page report.

The violence, which included mass torture, rape and looting, peaked in mid-June – when thousands of people were killed within days – and surged again in November, it said.

Alan Boswell from the International Crisis Group said an arms embargo was imposed on Darfur years ago but was never enforced, also warning that serious violations could be under way in el-Fasher, in North Darfur state and the last state capital not under the control of the RSF.

“The Sudanese have basically been forgotten, obviously there’s the war in Gaza which has taken a lot of attention,” Boswell told Al Jazeera.

Between June 2023 and April 2024, HRW interviewed more than 220 people in Chad, Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan. It said its researchers also reviewed and analysed more than 120 photographs and videos of the events, satellite imagery and documents shared by humanitarian groups to corroborate accounts of abuses.

Sudan descended into chaos in April 2023, when long-simmering tensions between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by General Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the RSF, lef by Mohamed “Hemedti” Dagalo, broke out into street battles in the capital, Khartoum.

El-Geneina, where Masalits make up more than half of the population, has seen some of the fiercest fighting outside Khartoum since.

The UN’s World Food Programme last week warned of the deteriorating situation in Darfur, where aid has been cut off as advancing RSF forces attempt to take control of el-Fasher, where an estimated 500,000 displaced civilians are sheltering.

“As the UN Security Council and governments wake up to the looming disaster in El Fasher, the large-scale atrocities committed in El Geneina should be seen as a reminder of the atrocities that could come in the absence of concerted action,” said HRW executive director Tirana Hassan.

More than half a million refugees from West Darfur have fled to Chad since April 2023. As of late October 2023, 75 percent were from el-Geneina, HRW said, as it called for the UN and the African Union to sanction those responsible and impose an arms embargo on the RSF.

“Frankly it would take very high-level political focus on trying to pressure those who are arming the various sides and have the actual belligerence themselves to stop this. Obviously, the United Nations tools are not very functional,” Boswell said.


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