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Mass Killings in Darfur Revealed as Fighting Between Sudanese Military Factions Escalates

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We get an update on the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, where more than 12,000 people have been killed and over 6 million displaced since April, when the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group broke out into fighting. Earlier this month, human rights groups say members of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group carried out a massacre of around 1,300 Masalit people over three days in Sudan’s West Darfur region and have subjected them to unlawful detentions, sexual violence, ill-treatment and looting. “The overall picture that survivors drew to us is horrific,” says Human Rights Watch researcher Mohamed Osman, who details how the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are suspected of backing the fighting between the groups. “What we know is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the violations that people are facing day to day,” says Sudanese activist Marine Alneel, who lays out how today’s fighting continues the country’s history of power struggles.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York, with Juan González in Chicago.

We turn now to Sudan, where fighting between rival military factions continues to tear apart the country. Since April, the fighting has killed over 12,000 people, left over 6 million people displaced. Earlier this month, human rights groups say members of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group carried out a massacre of around 1,300 Masalit people over three days in Sudan’s West Darfur region. Survivors of the massacre say RSF fighters went house to house looking for men to kill.

NAZIFA IBRAHIM: [translated] If they see a Black person, they call him a fighter and kill him. If a Black person is just walking, they kill him. There are people who hid inside their houses in fear, so they broke in with weapons and killed everyone. Some people tried to flee. They were caught, tied, taken out to the street, killed and left there dead. These are all civilians and not fighters dressed in khaki. Even the women and young unmarried girls were killed. I saw them. I just came from Ardamata yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, a top Sudanese general accused the United Arab Emirates of arming the paramilitary group RSF.

We’re joined now by two guests. Marine Alneel is back with us. She’s a Sudanese activist, joining us today from Kampala, Uganda. And Mohamed Osman is with us, a Sudan researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, joining us from Berlin, Germany. Human Rights Watch has just published a report titled “Sudan: New Mass Ethnic Killings, Pillage in Darfur.”

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Mohamed, let’s begin with you in Berlin. Talk about what you found.

MOHAMED OSMAN: So, Amy, really, this research we released is part of our ongoing investigations in the events in West Darfur, which started in April, just a few days after the start of the conflict in Khartoum. This last piece of research, in particular, we’ve been interviewing survivors who managed to flee to eastern Chad.

The overall picture that survivors drew to us is horrific, is exactly what you just noted, in the spree of killing, house to house, people fleeing. We talked to several people who just described streets littered with dead bodies. Some of them managed to be buried in big square in the main camp in the area, but others have been left there for days. We looked into the satellite imagery we could analyze that also showed the level of destruction and arson that’s been done by the Rapid Support Forces and their allied militias. Also cases of sexual violence continue to be reported from that area. But, of course, the overall impact is the near-complete removal and uprooting of the Masalit community, among the other non-Arab groups, from El Geneina, West Darfur, to eastern Chad.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mohamed, could you talk about the — even though this has been portrayed largely as an internal civil conflict, there are regional powers that are funding and arming both sides. Could you talk about the role of the United Arab Emirates, of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and these other countries?

MOHAMED OSMAN: So, I completely agree that there has been an issue with the framing of the conflict itself, even prior to the outbreak of the war in April, when the U.N. and other actors continuously used the term “intercommunal violence,” “intercommunal conflict,” in a way to reduce the participation of government forces.

But looking into the situation now, I mean, we have extensive media reporting in the last weeks and months that point clearly to the role of the UAE, in particular, in terms of shuttling weapons and support to the Rapid Support Forces, largely through Chad but also through Uganda and Kenya. Darfur, in particular, witnessed an increasing use of drones, which indicate that some sort of an actor would be able to supply this kind of weapons. Darfur is under arms embargo from the U.N. since 2004, so the UAE stands as a big suspect in terms of providing these weapons. Meanwhile, Egypt, on the other side, has been at least politically supportive to the Sudanese Armed Forces, at least historically, but, you know, clearly throughout the conflict.

So, we are yet to establish clear evidence on the level of support, but I think there is enough news out there to suggest at least some sort of investigation and responsibility and accountability should be addressed towards the UAE and Egypt, in particular.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about other regional powers, like Kenya and Uganda?

MOHAMED OSMAN: So, just looking into the regional response of the conflict, which has been, you know, unfortunately, almost nonexistent, the Sudanese Armed Forces have previously accused Kenya and Ethiopia of siding with the Rapid Support Forces, which has of course created an issue around the credibility of the African Union and the IGAD organization to respond to the situation. But I think, from our end, has been no evidence of clear support from these regional countries, but clearly to say that Kenya has been hosting equally also some of the commanders and advisers to the Rapid Support Forces.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Marine Alneel, speaking of Uganda, into this conversation, Sudanese activist who’s in Kampala right now. Marine, we’ve been speaking with you throughout this conflict. Go back to talk about how this began, how civilians are caught in the crossfire. And, you know, what is the government of Sudan and these Rapid Support Forces that are fighting its military?

MARINE ALNEEL: So, on the morning of April 15th, people in Khartoum and several other cities, we woke up to the shelling. We woke up to the fighter jets by the Sudanese Armed Forces. And I think this, at the time, has been expected, that the power-sharing agreement is really not going to be sustainable. We have, at that time, lost hope in a transition of power to the civilians. And having the military in power, but also having two militaries in power, inevitably was going to lead to this war.

So, the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary force that has been legitimized by the previous government prior to the revolution of 2019, and has been legitimized by the Sudanese Armed Forces, and was also legitimized, actually, by the transitional government, that included civilians, between 2019 and the military coup that was conducted by the Sudanese Armed Forces in October of ’21. And ever since April 15th, the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces have been fighting in the capital [inaudible] inhabitable, and fighting in other states and regions, including Kordofan and the five states of Darfur.

Recently, the Rapid Support Forces have been making a lot of advances on the ground. They have all but taken complete control of the five states of Darfur. Officially, they have one major city, al-Fashir, that they have not taken over. But news that we have from people on the ground is that, practically, they have already also taken over that city.

And what we’ve been seeing, perhaps in the last 10 days, that the fighter jets, that the violence that is happening of aerial bombardment has increased. And there are reports that the Sudanese Armed Forces have been receiving more support when it comes to the ammunition and the weapons that are being used to strike Rapid Support Forces. And this really increases the concerns for the people that this is not going to be ending soon, that — like the army has expected, and it’s actually going to escalate more in the coming months.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Marine, can you talk about the sexual violence that women and girls are experiencing, and also why you left in June?

MARINE ALNEEL: Yes. So, there are documented incidents of sexual violence in Khartoum and in Darfur states. And we also know that the documentation is a major underrepresentation of what is actually happening on the ground.

For me, I also left Khartoum for — it became uninhabitable. But also I think a big factor was threats of rape and sexual violence that you just received daily passing by checkpoints of the RSF.

And this is something that we are continuing to see now. There are also incidents of kidnapping and trafficking. But that has been very difficult to document. And I think this is something that we need to keep in mind when talking whether about the fatalities, talking about the sexual violence, that what we know is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the violations that the people are facing day to day, because it’s been very difficult for journalists, for even investigating the violations that are happening to refugees and people who have left areas of conflict, violations and the withholding of their rights as refugees. We’ve been hearing investigative journalists saying that they’re worried that if they publish their reports, actually, that this might detrimentally affect the refugees and the internally displaced people. So, we know for a fact that we don’t know enough about the conflict in Sudan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Marine, I’m wondering — here in the United States, the American people now for decades have been receiving news and information about conflict and war in Sudan. And most people don’t understand that there was a period, not too long ago, in the 1960s, when Sudan had one of the most vibrant democracies in that section of the world, and a largely secular democracy. It boasted one of the largest communist parties in the Arab world back in the '60s. But then, of course, the United States was very much against the governments in that period of time, until there were dictatorships that took power. I'm thinking of Jaafar Nimeiri in 1969 and his coup, and then, of course, the decades under Omar al-Bashir. Could you talk about the role of the United States as conflict has continued to grow, internal conflict in Sudan?

MARINE ALNEEL: So, whether we’re speaking historically, like you said, that the United States was on the wrong side of history when it comes to the history of Sudan, we’re also seeing it now. So, recently, in recent days, the Sudanese government has requested that the U.N. mission for the transitional — to support the transition be terminated. And even during the transitional government, the UNITAMS, and also supported by the Troika, the U.S. being part of it, was supporting the framework agreement, an agreement that a lot of the civil powers and also the resistance committees, the real mobilizers on the ground, and the platform that the people can actually speak through to decision makers, were not supportive of the UNITAMS. They were not supportive of the framework agreement. It was obvious that this is not something that will lead to stability.

And I think it was the entire world that was shocked when the war broke out on April 15th, but it was something that was expected for the Sudanese people, although we were hoping for the best, but we were expecting this worst-case scenario, because the international community was supporting the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces instead of supporting a genuine transition of power to civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Mohamed Osman, what is Human Rights Watch recommending at this point? Who has to be involved here to end this horrific conflict?

MOHAMED OSMAN: Yeah. I mean, I think the good start is understanding that doing nothing is not an option. There has been a lot of inaction from the global and regional community to Sudan. I mean, just Marine mentioned a few points that highlight the chronic failure of the regional and international community to respond.

But I think when it comes to the recommendations, that we can relay just what we noted in our report, is seeing the U.N. Security Council actually stepping to its responsibility, seeing the members of the Security Council undertaking visits to eastern Chad, meet with the refugees, listen to their stories, listen to the survivors, victims of the atrocities that has happening, you know, expanding the arms embargo to go beyond Darfur to all over Sudan, seeing rolling out of targeted sanctions against the key responsible perpetrators, notably within the RSF and SAF equally. And the accountability front is also a crucial point to see more response to it. We want to see the Security Council members proactively reaching to the International Criminal Court, to the U.N. fact-finding mission in Sudan, asking them what do they want, and provide them with the political backup and resources. There is a lot to be done, and, unfortunately, not much has been happening.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Osman, we want to thank you very much for being with us, Sudan researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. We’ll link to your new report, “Sudan: New Mass Ethnic Killings, Pillage in Darfur.” And Marine Alneel, Sudanese activist, today speaking to us from Uganda.

Coming up, we remember former first lady Rosalynn Carter and her decadeslong advocacy for mental healthcare. Back in 30 seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks performing a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” at Rosalynn Carter’s memorial service yesterday in Atlanta, Georgia.

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