British MPs have been warned of ‘systematic ethnic cleansing’ at the hands of paramilitary forces
British MPs have been warned of the possibility of genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan and urged to put pressure on the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, which has been accused of murder and arson attacks on minority groups in the area.
While the RSF has been fighting the Sudanese army for control of the country in the capital, Khartoum, it has been accused of waging a separate war in Darfur where the Janjaweed militias, from which the RSF was formed, were accused of genocide almost 20 years ago.
“The war in Khartoum is totally different from in Darfur,” Saif Nemir, a UN employee who escaped the Janjaweed, told the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Sudan and South Sudan on Monday. “The war in Darfur is the Janjaweed attacking innocent people sitting in their own villages.”
It was, he said, a continuation of the war that started in 2003. “Back in 2003, the Janjaweed were on horses and animals, and today they are on the back of pickup trucks, moving very fast, using deadly weapons. That is how they are now instigating the killing of people in Darfur.”
Nemir said at the weekend his parents escaped El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, which has been the site of heavy fighting between the RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) since April. He said his parents had to pass through up to 10 checkpoints where they saw boys separated from their parents unless a ransom was paid. They also saw bodies lying beside the roads along the entire route to Chad, they said.
“What else do you need to qualify this as ethnic cleansing or genocide?” he asked.
Dr Ahmed Abbas, the vice-president of the Sudan Doctors Union, told the meeting that up to 5,000 people had been killed and 8,000 injured around El Geneina over the past two months, with bodies left in the street, posing a potential public health risk.
He said only the city’s military hospital was still in operation, which civilians could not access. Two doctors had been killed by RSF fighters while at work, he added.
“The attack on El Geneina has reduced it to a wasteland – around 75% of residents have crossed to Chad and those remaining were unable to leave,” he said. “What is happening in Sudan is manifesting as a genocide in Darfur.”
The Janjaweed were accused of carrying out a genocide against Darfuri ethnic groups on behalf of the Sudanese government, killing an estimated 300,000 people since 2003. While the scale of violence eased over the years, attacks on Darfuri ethnic groups by Arab militias linked to the RSF continued, especially after the withdrawal of peacekeeping troops in 2020, displacing half a million people in the first six months of 2022.
The RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, has since accumulated military and financial power from goldmines he controls in Darfur, which mostly supply the United Arab Emirates.
Vicky Ford, the chair of the APPG, said the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be pressured into severing ties with the RSF because of its violence in Darfur, and with the Sudanese army for the wider conflict in Sudan.
“Why has the UK not sanctioned the commercial wings of the RSF and the SAF, as the US has?” she asked. “What pressure is being put on the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, given that many RSF and SAF commercial entities are registered there?”
She told parliament last week that “a systemic ethnic cleansing” was occurring in Darfur.
As well as fighting in El Geneina, the RSF has been accused of targeting the Masalit ethnic group.
The UN said at the weekend it had received testimony of summary executions and persistent violence over the course of last week, accompanied by hate speech calling for the Masalit to be killed and expelled from Sudan.
There has also been concern about the RSF’s alleged targeting of political opponents, including the assassination of West Darfur’s governor Khamis Abdallah Abbakar, who is Masalit, earlier this month, after he accused the RSF of genocide.
The Darfuri human rights activist Al-Sadiq Muhammad Ahmed Haroun was killed in El Geneina a few days later, and the Darfur Bar Association has claimed that four lawyers have been murdered.
On Wednesday, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders said seven activists had been killed in El Geneina over the past month. All had reportedly received threats from militia before their deaths.
The Sudanese Journalists Syndicate has also said it is concerned about the safety of dozens of journalists in Darfur after failing to make contact with them.
Satellite imagery shows a 0.7 sq km area that has been destroyed in El Geneina, according to the Sudan Conflict Observatory at Yale University. A report from the observatory also identified the systematic destruction of three schools, and confirmed reports of corpses left in the streets.
While El Geneina has seen the worst violence, the Sudanese outlet Radio Dabanga reported that 19,000 people had been displaced from Tawila in North Darfur last week, and more than 20 civilians killed in fighting between the army and RSF in South Darfur.
According to Unicef, 140,000 Sudanese refugees have arrived in Chad since April.
Sylvain Perron, from Médecins Sans Frontières, said 20,000 refugees arrived in Chad in mid-June after intensified fighting in El Geneina. He said about 800 people arrived with bullet wounds after being attacked during their escape.
Perron said there is currently no humanitarian access to El Geneina, and reaching Darfur in general was difficult as people and supplies must move by road, leaving aid groups vulnerable to looting.
Eric Reeves, a Sudan analyst who specialises in Darfur, said the international community made a mistake by engaging with Dagalo and the Sudanese military after the overthrow of the former president Omar al-Bashir in 2019. “Hemedti has leveraged genocidal destruction and military and political power. That he, of all people, should be legitimised by the international community is what has brought us to this terrible, terrible situation,” said Reeves.
“We see clear parallels with 2003. What we’re seeing now is the same kind of genocidal destruction. We know about it mainly because the RSF puts it on social media. A great deal of what appears on social media comes from the RSF themselves – they’re proud of their work. It’s just obscene.”
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