Sudanese Paramilitary Forces Have Carried Out Ethnic Cleansing In Darfur, Rights Group Says

This is a locator map for Sudan with its capital, Khartoum. (AP Photo)
This is a locator map for Sudan with its capital, Khartoum. (AP Photo)

CAIRO (AP) — A leading rights group said on Thursday that attacks by Sudanese paramilitary forces and their allied militias, which killed thousands in the western region of Darfur last year, constituted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the area’s non-Arab population.

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which has been fighting Sudan's military for over a year, allied with armed militias to carry out attacks against the ethnic Masalit and other non-Arab groups in El Geneina, the capital city of West Darfur state, Human Rights Watch said in a new report.

Sudan has been rocked by violence since mid-April 2023, when tensions between the military and the rival paramilitary erupted into open fighting. Clashes quickly spread to other parts of the country, and Darfur was engulfed in brutal attacks on African civilians, especially the Masalit tribe.

According to the New York-based watchdog, the paramilitary forces and their allied militiamen targeted predominantly Masalit neighborhoods in El Geneina from April to June 2023, with attacks intensifying also last November.

At least thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced during the attacks, according to the report, entitled “The Massalit Will Not Come Home: Ethnic Cleansing and Crimes Against Humanity in El Geneina, West Darfur, Sudan.”

Masalit who were captured were tortured, women and girls were raped and entire neighborhoods were looted and destroyed, the report says. HRW said it interviewed more than 220 people who fled Darfur into neighboring countries and analyzed photos, videos and satellite imagery connected to the attacks.

United Nations experts have estimated that at least 10,000 people were killed in the city of El Geneina in 2023. More than 570,000 people, mostly Masalit, were displaced and sought refuge in neighboring Chad.

Human Rights Watch said the campaign of attacks on the non-Arab people in Darfur, including the Masalit, with the “apparent objective” of pushing them out, “constitutes ethnic cleansing.”

“Governments, the African Union, and the United Nations need to act now to protect civilians,” Tirana Hassan, HRW's executive director, said Thursday.

“The global inaction in the face of atrocities of this magnitude is inexcusable,” Hassan said. “Government should ensure those responsible are held to account.”

The group called for the United Nations, African Union and states from the International Criminal Court to investigate whether the atrocities documented in the report reveal a specific intent by the RSF paramilitary and armed allies “to commit genocide” by destroying the Masalit and other non-Arab groups in West Darfur.

The media office of the Rapid Support Forces did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Associated Press.

In late January, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, said there are grounds to believe both the RSF and the Sudanese military may be committing war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Darfur.

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.

The Rapid Support Forces were formed from Janjaweed fighters by former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades before being overthrown during a popular uprising in 2019. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and other crimes during the conflict in Darfur in the 2000s.