UN human rights chief condemns ethnically motivated attacks in Sudan

Conflict has uprooted more than five million people, UN figures show

Sudanese Rapid Support Forces soldiers stand on a vehicle during a rally in southern Khartoum. AP
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The UN's human rights chief on Tuesday condemned ethnically motivated attacks perpetrated by Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and allied militias in the West Darfur region, warning the conflict between two rival generals has “broken the nation”.

Volker Turk, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said hundreds of “non-Arab” civilians, primarily from Masalit communities, had been killed in such attacks.

These “developments echo a horrific past that must not be repeated”, he said. At least 300,000 people were killed in the Darfur war in the early 2000s.

Addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Mr Turk said the latest attacks had occurred mainly in the region's capital, El Geneina, but also in at least eight other locations.

The RSF now control all but two localities and there were “worrying signs” of the involvement of militias often affiliated along tribal or ethnic lines, he added.

The rival Sudanese military is meanwhile conducting mobilisation campaigns that pose a “real risk” of sparking intercommunal tension and triggering further conflict, Mr Turk said.

The continuing conflict “has broken a nation”, he added.

According to the UN, the war in Sudan has uprooted more than five million people, including one million who have sought refuge in neighbouring states.

The country has seen an “epidemic of conflict-related sexual violence”, Mr Turk said. He added that his office had received credible reports of at least 45 incidents involving at least 95 victims, including 75 women, one man and 19 children.

“This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Reports are mainly coming from Khartoum State, and the Darfur and Kordofan regions. The majority of perpetrators – around 78 per cent – have been men in RSF uniform or armed men affiliated with the RSF,” he asserted.

He called for accountability for abuses committed by both sides, including “widespread arbitrary detention”.

“Hundreds – and likely thousands – are being held incommunicado in appalling conditions,” Mr Turk said.

Despite repeated promises by both sides to investigate the serious human rights abuses, “the silence has been deafening, with nobody held to account”.

US President Joe Biden’s top envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who last week visited the town of Adre in Chad on the border with Sudan, told reporters in a phone briefing on Tuesday that there is “no question” that the two generals are “fighting for power and the people of Sudan are suffering because of that fight”.

“We have said very clearly to parties across the region that they should not support either side in this really unconscionable war,” she said.

Updated: September 12, 2023, 6:17 PM