Children ‘piled up and shot’ in Sudan as UN envoy says world cannot ignore this ‘silent war and famine’

Human Rights Watch report alleges genocide has likely been committed during a year-long civil war

Bel Trew
Chief International Correspondent
Thursday 09 May 2024 20:30
Sudan: United Nations warns of risk of starvation in Darfur

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned that genocide is likely to have been committed in Sudan, as the UN’s special envoy to the country has said that global indifference to the civil war has led to a “silent” conflict and famine.

Tom Perriello told The Independent that the world “simply will not engage” with Sudan despite the fact that it has been in the grip of a year-long, vicious civil war. Last April, simmering tensions between its military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, broke out into street battles in the capital, Khartoum.

El Geneina, in West Darfur, pictured in April last year (AFP via Getty Images)

Ferocious fighting has spread to other parts of the country, especially urban areas and the Darfur region. There the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that people are living off grass and peanut shells and that at least 1.7 million people are experiencing emergency levels of hunger. HRW has called for sanctions over the situation in West Darfur in a new report released on Thursday that alleged that RSF and its allied militias are committing crimes against humanity and widespread war crimes “in the context of an ethnic cleansing campaign”.

Mr Perriolo said that, despite the massive humanitarian crisis, soaring death toll and horrific violence, there had only been a “brief blip” in global attention around the anniversary of the conflict last month. Otherwise, interest had died down, with devastating effect.

“Please bring more attention to Sudan so that we do not lose the momentum of the last few weeks, which is the first we’ve had in a long time,” he said.

“A lot of people right now are facing acute famine and other horrific conditions.

Sudanese Children suffering from malnutrition are treated at a clinic in Metche Camp, Chad, near the Sudanese border (AP)

“We need you to be the people that ... start bringing attention to this silent war and silent famine.”

The warnings come as HRW called for the United Nations and the African Union to impose sanctions on those held responsible for serious crimes in West Darfur, as it released a damning 218-page report documenting ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in El Geneina, the state capital.

In one particularly gruesome incident, a 17-year-old witness described watching RSF forces murder children after killing their parents in front of them.

“Two RSF forces ... grab[bed] the children from their parents and, as the parents started screaming, two other RSF forces shot the parents, killing them. Then they piled up the children and shot them. They threw their bodies into the river and their belongings in after them,” he said.

HRW alleged that the RSF, along with their allied mainly Arab militias, were targeting the Masalit people and other non-Arab communities in a wave of attacks, which could indicate that genocide is being committed.

Tirana Hassan HRW’s executive director said that governments, the African Union, and the United Nations “need to act now to protect civilians”.

The global inaction in the face of atrocities of this magnitude is inexcusable

Tirana Hassan, Human Rights Watch

“The global inaction in the face of atrocities of this magnitude is inexcusable,” She said. “Governments should ensure those responsible are held to account, including through targeted sanctions and by stepping up cooperation with the ICC [International Criminal Court].”

Sudan was plunged into a devastating conflict last April, when soaring tensions between its military and the RSF erupted into ferocious street battles in the capital, Khartoum, later engulfing other parts of the country, including Darfur.

Since then the RSF have gained control of most of Darfur and are besieging El Fasher, in the north of the region, where some 500,000 civilians had taken refuge.

The WPF warned last week that there is a serious risk of widespread starvation and death across Darfur, where at least 1.7 million people are experiencing emergency levels of hunger.

Leni Kinzli, the WFP’s regional spokesperson, said that the situation in El Fasher, in particular, is “extremely dire”.

The devastation in Sudan last year (AP)

She received photos of severely malnourished children in a camp for displaced people in Central Darfur, as well as older people “who have nothing left but skin and bones”.

“People are resorting to consuming grass and peanut shells,” she added. “Recent reports from our partners indicate that 20 children have died in recent weeks of malnutrition in that ... camp.”

In West Darfur, HRW said that RSF and militias had killed thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands of refugees as they pursued, rounded up, and shot men, women, and children who ran through the streets or tried to swim across the fast-flowing Kaja River – the report said many drowned. Older people and injured people were not spared.

The gruesome investigation also details rape, torture and looting by the forces that “methodically” burned, shelled, and razed neighbourhoods to the ground. The violence culminated in a large-scale massacre on 15 June, where the global rights group said RSF and its affiliated forces fired on kilometre-long convoys of civilians desperately trying to flee.

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