Paramilitary attacks in Sudan’s Darfur possibly ‘genocide’: HRW

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A series of attacks by Sudanese paramilitary forces in the western region of Darfur raise the possibility of “genocide” against non-Arab ethnic communities, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), along with allied militias, have been widely accused of ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes in their war with the regular army, which began in April 2023.

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The war has killed tens of thousands, including up to 15,000 in the West Darfur town of El-Geneina, according to UN experts.

The area is the focus of the 186-page HRW report “‘The Massalit Will Not Come Home’: Ethnic Cleansing and Crimes Against Humanity in El-Geneina, West Darfur, Sudan.”

It describes “an ethnic cleansing campaign against the ethnic Massalit and other non-Arab populations.”

From late April until early November of last year, the RSF and allied militias “conducted a systematic campaign to remove, including by killing, ethnic Massalit residents,” according to HRW.

The violence, which included atrocities such as mass torture, rape and looting, peaked in mid-June -- when thousands were killed within days -- and surged again in November.

Local human rights lawyers said they had tracked a pattern where fighters targeted “prominent members of the Massalit community,” including doctors, human rights defenders, local leaders and government officials.

HRW added that the attackers “methodically destroyed critical civilian infrastructure,” primarily in communities consisting of displaced Massalit.

Satellite imagery showed that since June, predominantly Massalit neighborhoods in El-Geneina have been “systematically dismantled, many with bulldozers, preventing civilians who fled from returning to their homes,” HRW reported.

HRW said the attacks constitute “ethnic cleansing” as they appeared to be aimed at “at least having them permanently leave the region.”

The context of the killings further “raises the possibility that the RSF and their allies have the intent to destroy in whole or in part the Massalit in at least West Darfur, which would indicate that genocide has been and/or is being committed there,” it added.

‘Large-scale atrocities’

HRW called for an investigation into genocidal intent, targeted sanctions on those responsible and urged the United Nations to “widen the existing arms embargo on Darfur to cover all of Sudan.”

The International Criminal Court, currently investigating ethnic-based killings in Darfur, says it has “grounds to believe” that both the paramilitaries and the army are committing “Rome Statute crimes,” which include war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

And in December, the United States said that Sudan’s rival forces have both committed war crimes in their brutal conflict, accusing the RSF of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Over half a million Sudanese have fled the violence from Darfur into Chad, according to the latest UN figures.

By late October, 75 percent of those crossing the border were from El-Geneina, HRW said.

Around 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of El-Geneina, all eyes are currently on El-Fasher in North Darfur, the only state capital not under RSF control.

The United States has warned of a disaster of “epic proportions” if the RSF proceeds with an expected attack, as residents fear the same fate of El-Geneina will befall them.

“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.

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