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The UN’s Latest Report on Atrocities in Sudan Deserves the International Community’s Attention and Action.

Buried beneath the headlines of atrocities in Gaza and Ukraine, a recently released UN report suggests 15,000 civilians have been slaughtered in the city of El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur. This is more than the initial toll for the entire conflict and more attention from the international community is urgently needed to stop the genocidal atrocities.  

The conflict in Sudan has entered its ninth month since the hostilities broke out in April 2023 between Sudan’s Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary organisation with historic ties to the Janjaweed forces. The Janjaweed were nicknamed the “devils on horseback” and implicated in multiple International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments for crimes against humanity, rape, forced transfer, and torture during the 2003 War in Darfur. Observers within the international community view that the RSF are merely a “rebrand” of the Janjaweed.  

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the humanitarian situation is particularly serious, with 7.6 million internally displaced, 12,000 dead, and nearly 24.8 million requiring humanitarian assistance. Innocent civilians are suffering from the outbreak of widespread disease and food insecurity. Innocent civilians are suffering from the outbreak of widespread disease and food insecurity, and those who manage to flee to neighbouring countries face long and dangerous journeys, with many denied entry. According to OCHA, Sudan accounts for about 13 percent of all internally displaced persons (IDPs) globally, and nearly 1 in every 8 IDPs worldwide is Sudanese. The humanitarian crisis in the country has left officials trying to “plan for the apocalypse” as aid supply lines are disrupted and as more people are displaced (at the rate of approximately 19,000 a week). 

Additionally, US ambassadors, UN sanctions monitors, and international aid agencies are all delivering identical testimony, that the RSF is engaging in a widespread and systematic campaign to target civilians based on ethnicity. This would undeniably amount to “war crimes and crimes against humanity” or “genocide” if true. Cities in Sudan that the RSF have occupied have been left looted, with markets, homes, warehouses, and vehicles ransacked. The Sudanese Armed Forces also face credible allegations of war crimes, including indiscriminate airstrikes, and summary executions which must be urgently investigated. 

In a report to the UN Security Council (UNSC), independent sanctions monitors suggested that the death toll in the city of El-Geneina had reached 15,000 alone, though this contrasted with other UN estimates that approximately 12,000 people have been killed across the country. Horrifyingly, it presents a stark picture that the true extent of atrocities in Sudan may not be truly known, especially in Darfur. It noted that “The attacks were planned, coordinated, and executed by RSF and their allied Arab militias.” Furthermore, the RSF have systematically destroyed cultural centres, religious sites, schools, and hospitals. What military purpose do these serve? None.   

To date, current and previous responses by the international community have failed to address the calamitous bloodshed. Prior to the latest outbreak of conflict, some unwise policy actions were taken, such as the decision to terminate the mandate of the joint African Union and United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMID). This undoubtedly caused a power vacuum in the region. While there have been reasonable concerns about the ability of UNAMID to deter gross and systematic violations of human rights, it has proven effective in enabling humanitarian access, which is a key issue in responding to the current outbreak of conflict. 

In addition, there must be more awareness of the geopolitical root causes of the latest outbreak of the conflict, and the likelihood of genocidal atrocities. The UNSC decision to terminate the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Assistance Mission to Sudan (UNITAMS), a key mechanism to support Sudan in its transition towards democracy, was adopted by all on the security council, except for Russia who abstained. The mission has a firm deadline of 29 February 2024. Gutting what’s left of UN political representation during an ever-escalating conflict and humanitarian catastrophe is unwise, and will further undermine mechanisms for the protection of civilians 

According to the recently released United Nations Panel of Experts report, the RSF have recruited fighters from across the region in nations such as Chad, Libya, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Additionally, the presence of Wagner fighters has enabled the riches from regional gold mines to fuel the RSF’s war to rule the nation.  The report also confirms weapons shipments have been facilitated by the United Arab Emirates via Chad, at least “several times a week.”  

The most powerful actor to deter this behaviour, the United States, has not gone far enough. There has been a rightful condemnation of the rise in “ethnicity-based killings” in international summits. However, US policymakers have only sanctioned a grand total of two gold mining enterprises that finance the RSF’s atrocities.  

Sudan and especially the region of Darfur needs a well-funded, well-structured peacekeeping force that can deter further violence, enable humanitarian access, and create at least some areas of stability in the country in the form of safe zones. Stronger diplomatic pressure and an expanded sanctions regime against the outside enablers of this genocide is required, and for the ICC and the International Court of Justice to speed-up vital accountability mechanisms. Further sanctioning of the financial mechanisms and the propaganda outlets that justify or downplay war crimes is urgently needed. 

Without these critical responses, further violence will continue and the humanitarian crisis deepen, and even more United Nations reports will end up on the desks of diplomats describing unimaginable atrocities and casualties in each city. The world must strengthen its commitment to the people of Sudan.  

Will Devine is an International Development Policy Officer, NGO Board Member and Advisory Council Member at the Australian Institute of International Affairs ACT Branch. Additionally, he is studying a Masters of National Security Policy at the Australian National University.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.