We believe that war crimes, crimes against humanity and potentially genocide are currently being deliberately perpetrated in Sudan. We urge all of those committed to the collective responsibility to protect people from these crimes to listen to populations whose lives are immediately in jeopardy, raise the alarm, force the international spotlight on the crisis and demand a protective wedge between those at risk and the men with guns.
Sudan stands once again on a precipice; the region of Darfur and its non-Arab populations face in such towns as El Fasher imminent catastrophe — likely in a matter of days.
Two trajectories of violence are playing out in Sudan, requiring different responses. Since April, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have been battling for national control and the reimposition of an Islamist authoritarian regime. Both sides are committing attacks on civilians, violating international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions, and perpetrating mass atrocity crimes, particularly in Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman.
Under cover of the conflict, the RSF and its aligned Arab forces are also committing an unmistakable campaign of identity-based mass violence against non-Arab populations of African descent, including the Massalit, in Darfur with the distinct goal to remove those communities from that territory. Evidence suggests that the RSF and allied militias committing ethnic cleansing and ethnically motivated killings will continue unabated if decisive and concerted action is not taken by the international community.
Since April, a systematic campaign of targeting non-Arab communities has led to large-scale attacks on more than 27 towns in West Darfur, including El Geneina and Misterei, as well as towns in North Darfur and South Darfur. People have been forced to dispose of bodies in mass graves. Elsewhere, decomposing bodies are being left in the streets as people struggle to gather and bury the dead amidst the violence.
The Darfur Bar Association reported that from July 24 to July 30, at least 200 people have been killed and more than a thousand injured in a recent attack on Sirba and the neighboring Abu Suruj IDP camp. Based on satellite imagery, the Conflict Observatory, based at Yale University, assessed that at least 86 percent of Sirba town’s structures — 4,463 out of approximately 5,200 structures, including houses and markets — have been destroyed.
In each attack, the RSF have followed a clear pattern; they first encircle a town, then weaken it by cutting off access to food, medicine, power supplies and the Internet before overwhelming the population with such tactics as systematic arson, sexual violence, killings and destroying vital infrastructure. This deliberate strategy to destroy and displace has been seen before in Rakhine, Bosnia and East Timor. It is a strategy we see being carried out today in Ukraine.
It is a pattern we also saw 20 years ago in Darfur. The conditions unfolding now mirror the genocide that began in 2003, when more than 300,000 Darfuris of the ethnic Massalit, Fur and Zaghawa groups were killed and 2.5 million people were displaced. The paramilitary RSF is just the latest incarnation of the Janjaweed that perpetrated the genocide. Today, the former Janjaweed leader, who heads the RSF, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan (Hemedti) Dagalo, is continuing to attack and perpetrate the same crimes, against the same victims, using the same tactics — perhaps even more refined and effective than decades before.
Twenty years ago, we lacked the capability to track the movements of the génocidaires; today, we know where the RSF are, how many buildings they have just burned and their next targets. What is happening is being tracked by satellite, remotely sensed imaging and thermal anomaly detection in near real time. The imaging tells us that the RSF are moving towards the IDP camps of Nyala and El Fasher, where an estimated 600,000 people are the next target.
Yet despite the overwhelming evidence of atrocities being carried out against non-Arab populations and the trajectory and speed of the perpetrator’s movements, the world is hesitating to respond.
Since the outbreak of violence between the RSF and SAF, international efforts — by the United States and Saudi Arabia — have predominantly focused on establishing a cease-fire between the two respective leaders, thus misunderstanding or de-prioritizing the crisis in Darfur. This singular strategy to secure a cease-fire will not stop the parallel campaign of identity-based mass violence. The recent past is littered with examples where the international community mistakenly believed that ending armed conflict will automatically end deliberate violence against communities.
The moment to focus solely on the power struggle between both generals is over. Both men must be sent the clearest message from the highest levels of all relevant governments — especially Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — that the rest of the world will not let people across Sudan continue to be killed, tortured and raped.
The United Nations Security Council, the African Union and the League of Arab States must deepen pressure on the SAF to accept the proposal by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and Kenyan President William Ruto to activate the East African Standby Brigade. It is uncertain if the two generals’ fortunes will be affected by international sanctions, but sanctioning the global networks enabling their violence, from the companies and industries held by them in Sudan to those sending weapons into the country, must be done.
International donors must also find more innovative ways to deliver lifesaving aid and other essentials to the people of Sudan by supporting civilian-run “resistance committees” and neighborhood communities. The international community’s practice of relying on bad-faith actors that have a history of committing atrocity crimes to engage in good faith must stop. Despite clear evidence of General Hemedti’s and Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s involvement in past atrocities, the international community, including the troika of the US, Britain and Norway, continued to work with them until violence broke out in April as legitimate partners in a political process to establish a civilian-led government in Sudan. This approach brought us to where we are today. We have to start supporting and empowering national actors that have civilian legitimacy and a past clear of committing atrocity crimes.
No lessons have been learned from Syria, Myanmar, the former Yugoslavia or — indeed — from Darfur, where the aim to destroy or displace populations was ignored or denied during the precise period when decisive action could have averted decimation. The time to act is now!
This is an opinion essay.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on actions in Darfur?