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Masalit massacres (2023–present)

2023 Masalit genocide
Part of the War crimes during the War in Sudan (2023–present)
West Darfur highlighted in Sudan
LocationWest Darfur, Sudan
Coordinates13°27′N 22°27′E / 13.450°N 22.450°E / 13.450; 22.450
Date24 April 2023 — ongoing
TargetMasalit people
DeathsAt least 1,000[1]
PerpetratorRapid Support Forces and Arab Janjaweed tribes

In 2023, multiple massacres have been perpetrated by the RSF in many towns in Darfur during the Sudan war. Such massacres include the Ardamata massacre, Misterei massacre and the Geneina massacre, all of which targeted Masalit civilians.[2] These massacres were described by The Economist,[3] Genocide Watch,[4] US academic Eric Reeves (specialized in Sudan's human rights record),[5] and Khamis Abakar (Governor of West Darfur),[6][7] as a "genocide".

Background

Arab Janjaweed tribes have been a major player in the conflict.
Given that the army was consistently losing, the war effort switched to emphasize three elements: military intelligence, the air force and the Janjaweed. The latter were armed Baggara herders whom the government had used to suppress a Masalit uprising from 1986 to 1999. The Janjaweed became the center of the new counter-insurgency strategy. Though the government consistently denied supporting them, military resources were poured into Darfur and the Janjaweed were outfitted as a paramilitary force, complete with communication equipment and some artillery. The military planners were aware of the probable consequences of such a strategy: similar methods undertaken in the Nuba Mountains and around the southern oil fields during the 1990s had resulted in massive human rights violations and forced displacements.[8]

In December 2020, Sudan started to deploy troops to South Darfur "in large numbers", following recent tribal violence between the Masalit and Fula.[9]

On 16 January fighting between Masalit people and Arab nomads in Al Geneina District, West Darfur, left 84 dead and 160 wounded. This was two weeks after the United Nations withdrew its peacekeepers from the region.[10] Based on a statement from the Darfur Bar Association, the incident began when a member of an Arab tribe was stabbed by another member of the Masalit tribe.[11] Following the unrest, a high profile delegation authorized by Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was sent to the region in order to assess the situation.[12]

On 17 January, a curfew was put in place by the Sudanese authorities, including a state of emergency in West Darfur region.[13]

The United Nations has urged the Sudanese government to see to the de-escalation of the violence in West Darfur and safeguard civilian lives.[14]

On 12 April, following several days of violence in West Darfur that led to the deaths of at least 144 people, chairman of the ruling Transitional Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, along with high-ranking security and military officials, visited Geneina, capital of West Darfur, where they held separate talks with the Arab Rizeigat and the non-Arab Masalit tribes.[15][16] After the visit, the Dar Masalit Displaced People expressed their refusal to accept the result of the mediation headed by al-Burhan. They blamed the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces for the unrest in the region.[17][18]

Massacres

Following the Battle of Geneina, more than a thousand bodies were left in mass graves in the town of El Geneina.[1]

According to accounts by survivors, massacres were coordinated, specifically targeting Masalit and other dark-skinned inhabitants of Darfur, as opposed to the Sudanese Arab population. The Rapid Support Forces denied involvement, characterizing the situation as a tribal conflict, while Arab tribal leaders denied being involved in ethnic cleansing and held the Masalit responsible for starting the conflict.[1]

Geneina massacre

On 13 July 2023, a UN investigation discovered a mass grave of 87 individuals, all Masalit civilians, near Geneina.[19] The civilians were allegedly killed by the Rapid Support Forces between 13 and 21 June.[20] Many of the dead were from the city's el-Madriss and el-Jamarik neighborhoods.[20] Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, deplored the killings and stated that the UN was not allowed access to the site until July.[20]

During an attack on 19 June 2023, emir Badawi Masri Balhredin, cousin of the Dar Masalit sultan, was killed by the RSF.[21] Several other prominent people were killed in attacks on 19 and 20 June, including Sadig Haroun, the Commissioner of Humanitarian Aid in the city, and several mayors and imams.[22] The Darfur Bar Association reported the next day that the refugee camps of Kreinik and Sirba were under siege by the RSF. All makeshift shelters and refugee camps had been burned down by 20 June.[22] Numerous villages, neighborhoods, and cultural sites in and around Geneina were destroyed, including the city's Grand Market and the palace of the Masalit Sultanate.[22]

On 22 June, the Dar Masalit Sultanate also released a statement claiming more than 5,000 civilians had been killed between 24 April and 24 June, the majority of whom were non-Arabs.[23] The Sultanate called the situation a "genocide", and footage emerged of corpses being used as barricades, and the bodies of men, women, and children strewn across the streets.[23] Refugees from West Darfur speaking to Al Jazeera in late June corroborated these claims, adding that similar situations unfolded in the West Darfur towns of Misteri, Konga Haraza, and Tendelti between April and June.[24] The RSF also attacked civilians in June on the road between Geneina and the Sudanese-Chadian border.[24] Many of these killings were at RSF checkpoints, where a pregnant woman was killed by militiamen for not having enough money for passage.[25] A Geneina refugee stated that "the road along El Geneina and Adré has a lot of bodies, nobody can count them".[26] Another source claimed over 350 people were killed on the road alone.[27]

While Masalit people were often the target of Arab militiamen, refugees claimed the militiamen shot at anyone black.[26] Prominent civil society members, including lawyers, humanitarian officials, and more, were targeted by militias and the RSF after and during the fall of the city.[28][29] The Darfur Bar Association called the ethnic cleansing "a full-scale genocide".[28] The United Nations released a statement on 24 June deploring "wanton killings", but did not mention perpetrators.[30]

On 12 August, a representative of the Masalit tribe, El Farsha Saleh Arbab Suleiman, gave a press conference in Port Sudan in which he accused the RSF of seeking to conceal evidence of crimes committed in Geneina by burying bodies in hidden locations and forcing the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS) to hand over bodies.[31] The Coordination of Resistance Committees confirmed the reports of the mass graves and said that, as of 16 August, several bodies were still on the roofs of houses or inside buildings.[32] More than 1,000 bodies were found in 30 more mass graves on August 15.[33] In an interview with AllAfrica, Masalit civilians in Adré recounted their experiences in the city, including the killing of a large group of displaced Masalit civilians within the city.[34] Masalit Sultan Saad Bahar el-Deen stated around 10,000 people from his community were killed by the RSF.[35] In CNN interviews on August 16, which included photos collected while the massacres were occurring, the last count of killed civilians was 884, and after June 9, it became uncountable, and that the town was a "ghost town".[36] Civilians also stated that young Masalit children were massacred by the RSF.[36]

Photos from the massacre showed several bodies in a pile in an abandoned and destroyed road in Geneina. A civilian stated that "bodies littered the street from Geneina Teaching Hospital to the southern parts of the city."[36]

"The Rapid Support Forces, along with Arab militias, participated by providing digging mechanisms such as bulldozers and trucks – in addition to designating burial areas. Sometimes they even participated with volunteers."

— Geneina refugees

Civilians who fled Geneina in July stated many bodies had been dumped in ponds in the area of Maragibir, a town west of Geneina. They stated that some of these bodies appeared to have been dead for months and that two groups of tribes had been killed or "practically exterminated" by the RSF, those being the Masalit people and the Burgo tribes. Others added that the RSF would use volunteers and civilians to take these bodies down, especially in the northern suburbs of the city.[37]

Thirteen more mass graves were discovered on September 14 in Geneina.[38]

Misterei massacre

Prior to the Misterei attack, a group of 300 RSF fighters and allied tribes surrounded the town on the night of May 27, with the exceptions of the south and west, where the fighters entered the town.[39] The fighters came from the Awlad Rashid, Misseriya, and Awlad Janoob tribes, led by Mohamed Zain Taj Eldien and Hamid Yousef Mustafa.[40] Some of the assailants came from the Mima and Bargo ethnic groups.[40] The attackers arrived in twelve Land Cruisers, eight of which were RSF-owned, four of which were private.[40] Other fighters rode on around 150 horses and 140 motorcycles. Around 90 Sudanese Alliance militants, a signatory of the Juba Agreement, intervened in the town, led by Cpt. Elteybe Abdulla Ahmed.[40] Residents were fearful following the surrounding of the town, but there was "no way out".[39]

The first clashes began at Shorrong mountain right after sunrise, when Janjaweed launched an offensive from the west. Later offensives came from the north and south.[41] The Janjaweed came in waves, according to a veteran of the attacks, and many of the self-defense groups were spread out across and around the town in groups of 7 to 15.[41] The Masalit self-defense groups quickly fell to the Janjaweed.[41] Battles between the Sudanese Alliance and the Janjaweed lasted for three and a half hours, during which civilians stated the Arab fighters went house to house, killing darker-skinned Masalit and shouting "Kill the slave, kill the slave!"[40][41]

Wounded civilians were brought to the Atik mosque, although Janjaweed stormed the place and shot at the wounded and those attending to them.[39][41] After killing several people, Arab fighters cheered "We killed the zorga! (a slur for black people)."[41] The Janjaweed also looted houses, farms, and shops, before burning down many neighborhoods.[41] The Misterei market was completely looted and torched.[40] Satellite imagery taken on June 3 showed the entire town burnt down.[41]

Ardamata massacre

On 8 November 2023, the Rapid Support Forces and Janjaweed[42] massacred between 800[43][44] and 1,300[45] in Ardamata, West Darfur, Sudan, although estimates vary.[46][47] The attack came after the Sudanese Armed Forces's 15th Infantry Division camp retreated to Chad.[48] About 20,000 fled to Chad following the violence.[45] Reports indicated ethnic targeting, specifically the Masalit community.[49][50]

Reactions

Khamis Abakar, then governor of West Darfur, denounced the killings as "genocide".[51] He was soon after executed by RSF militants for his statements on 14 June 2023.[6][7]

As of August 2023, there is an increasing amount of proof suggesting that the RSF is initiating a systematic purge based on ethnicity in Darfur. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has issued a warning about the potential escalation into a full-scale genocide.[52] On 10 November 2023, Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner, drew parallels between the ongoing violence and the genocide in Darfur recognised by the U.S., where it is estimated that 300,000 people lost their lives from 2003 to 2005. He cautioned that a "similar dynamic might be unfolding."[53]

In October, Genocide Watch issued an alert concerning the situation in Sudan, explicitly characterizing the massacres performed by the Rapid Support Forces against the Masalit people as genocide.[4] This characterization was also shared by US academic Eric Reeves, specialized in Sudan's human rights record,[5] and The Economist.[54]

Josep Borrell, the chief of foreign policy for the European Union, has expressed his strong condemnation of the killing of more than 1,000 individuals in Ardamata. He has urgently appealed to the international community to take immediate action to avert a potential "genocide" in the area.[55]

The UK government,[56] witnesses and other observers described the violence in the region as tantamount to ethnic cleansing or even genocide, with non-Arab groups such as the Masalit being the primary victims.[57] Mujeebelrahman Yagoub, Assistant Commissioner for Refugees in West Darfur called the violence worse than the War in Darfur in 2003 and the Rwandan genocide in 1994.[58]

References

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Masalit massacres (2023–present)
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