'Ethnic violence' worsens in Sudan's Darfur, rights groups warn

'Ethnic violence' worsens in Sudan's Darfur, rights groups warn
With ethnic violence becoming normal once again in Sudan, rights groups see worrying parallels between the current war and the Darfur conflict, which many consider a genocide.
3 min read
11 July, 2023
The Sudan conflict began on April, with violence intensifying [Getty]

Gunmen killed at least 40 civilians in a single day in Sudan's Darfur region as ethnically motivated bloodshed has escalated in step with war between rival military factions, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Tuesday.

In the West Darfur city of El Geneina, several prominent figures have been killed in recent days and volunteers are struggling to bury corpses littering the streets, the Darfur Bar Association, which monitors the conflict, said in a statement.

Violence and displacement in Darfur has resurged sharply as the regular army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continue to battle in the capital Khartoum and other areas of Sudan in a power struggle that exploded in mid-April.

The conflict has uprooted over 2.9 million people and sent almost 700,000 fleeing into neighbouring countries. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that Sudan, Africa's third largest country by land area, was on the brink of full-scale civil war that could destabilise the wider region.

In El Geneina, witnesses have reported waves of attacks by Arab militias and the RSF against the non-Arab Masalit people, the largest community in the city, that have sent tens of thousands of people fleeing across the nearby border with Chad.

In a new report, Human Rights Watch said it had documented the killings of at least 40 civilians, including the execution of at least 28 Masalits, in the West Darfur town of Misterei, 45 km (28 miles) from El Geneina.

RSF forces and allied Arab militias surrounded Misterei early on May 28, entered homes and schools and shot civilians at close range before pillaging and burning most of the town, the HRW report said.

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'Echoes' of Darfur genocide

Local officials later said 97 people had died including members of a self-defence force, and HRW called on the International Criminal Court to investigate the violence.

"The accounts of those who survived recent attacks in West Darfur echo the horror, devastation, and despair of Darfur 20 years ago," said Jean-Baptiste Gallopin, HRW senior crisis and conflict researcher.

Human Rights Watch said it had shared its findings with the RSF and received no response. The RSF - many of whose fighters came from the Arab Janjaweed militia blamed for ethnic atrocities in Darfur's conflict two decades ago - has previously denied responsibility for killings in the region and has said any members found to be involved in abuses will be held to account.

The United Nations estimates that over 300,000 people have been displaced within West Darfur alone since the armed conflict started on April 15. About 217,000 have fled to Chad, 98% of them from the Masalit community, HRW says.

The army and the RSF seized full power in a coup in 2021 before falling out amid disputes over an internationally-backed plan for a transition to civilian democratic government.

International efforts to broker an end to the fighting have shown little sign of progress.