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Incendiary damage to the Imam al-Kazem school, an IDP gathering site in El Geneina. © 2023 Roots for Human Rights and Monitoring Violations
  • Attacks by the Rapid Support Forces and allied militias in El Geneina, capital of Sudan’s West Darfur state, killed at least thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands as refugees.
  • Committing serious violations that targeted the Massalit people and other non-Arab communities with the apparent objective of at least having them permanently leave the region constitutes ethnic cleansing.
  • The United Nations and African Union should urgently impose an arms embargo on Sudan, sanction those responsible for serious crimes and deploy a mission to protect civilians.

(Nairobi, May 9, 2024) – Attacks by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias in El Geneina, the capital city of Sudan’s West Darfur state, from April to November 2023, killed at least thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands as refugees, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The crimes against humanity and widespread war crimes were committed in the context of an ethnic cleansing campaign against the ethnic Massalit and other non-Arab populations in and around El Geneina.

The 218-page report, “‘The Massalit Will Not Come Home’: Ethnic Cleansing and Crimes Against Humanity in El Geneina, West Darfur, Sudan,” documents that the Rapid Support Forces, an independent military force in armed conflict with the Sudan military, and their allied mainly Arab militias, including the Third-Front Tamazuj, an armed group, targeted the predominantly Massalit neighborhoods of El Geneina in relentless waves of attacks from April to June. Abuses escalated again in early November. The attackers committed other serious abuses such as torture, rape, and looting. More than half a million refugees from West Darfur have fled to Chad since April 2023. As of late October 2023, 75 percent were from El Geneina.

Read a text description of this video

Jamal Abdullah Khamis, Human Rights Lawyer from El Geneina


Of everything that happened what disturbed me most was what happened at the Mohamed Adam Clinic.


When I walked in, I found my friend Mudather in the southeast corner of the clinic. 


It was as if he was sleeping.


He didn’t look like he was dead.


He looked completely normal.


But in fact, he was dead.


When I arrived, they told me that he’d been shot in the back by a bullet.


They told me he was shot with a DShK gun because the bullet was big.


It went in, and it didn’t come out.


Narration by Mohamed Osman, researcher, Human Rights Watch


On April 15, 2023, war breaks out in Sudan.


It marks an escalation of the power struggle between two military leaders who have vied for power since they jointly overthrew a power-sharing government in October 2021.


The war pits the military against an autonomous force known as the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF.


By April 24, 2023, the conflict spreads to El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur.


The atrocities that follow are documented by Jamal and other local human rights activists with the aim of bringing those responsible to justice.


Jamal Abdullah Khamis, Human Rights Lawyer from El Geneina


I was at al-Sadaqa Clinic on April 24, from the first day of the events, with a group of my colleagues from our organization.


We were working in the clinic.


Our role was documenting violations against the injured and the dead.


Everyone who was brought to the clinic we would document.


The number, their names, (ethnic) backgrounds and information.


We were documenting all of these things.


Narration by Mohamed Osman, researcher, Human Rights Watch


Jamal and his colleagues notice a pattern to the killings.


The RSF and allied Arab militias were targeting doctors, lawyers and human rights activists.


Majority-Massalit neighborhoods and camps for internally displaced people were also being systematically targeted. 


The violence feels all too familiar to Jamal and others in West Darfur state, who recall fleeing their home villages in the early 2000s after being attacked by the Janjaweed, the predecessor of the RSF.


Thousands were displaced, including many Massalit people.


They found refuge in the camps for internally displaced people that swelled the outskirts of El Geneina.


The conflict then occurred against a backdrop of long-standing tensions over land and other resources between non-Arab farmers, such as the Massalit, and nomadic Arab communities who were starting to settle.


On June 15th, 2023, RSF and Arab militias overwhelm the remaining Massalit-majority neighborhoods.


Tens of thousands of Massalit and other non-Arabs try to flee central El Geneina for its northern suburb of Ardamata, where there’s a Sudanese Armed Forces base.


The RSF and militias attack the convoy, injuring and killing men, women, and children.


Jamal Abdullah Khamis, Human Rights Lawyer from El Geneina


I was accompanying my (injured) friend, Yousef Haroun Kabello.


Minutes later around eight militiamen appeared wearing RSF uniforms.


There were others with them from these well-known Arab militias.


They were arguing with people.


They stopped the cars.


They opened fire on us.


They shot at the chests of children, women, old and young men.


It was a harrowing scene.


We thought about how to escape.


But we needed a way to escape.


How were we going to escape?


They started chasing people down the valley and firing on people who were in the water.


It was terrifying.


We couldn’t go back or move forward.


We hid in some grass and bushes on the edge of the valley.


That was at dawn on (June) 15th before sunrise.


Then a chance came to run back.


In al-Majliss neighborhood we experienced something terrifying.


When we were going down the street we saw bodies everywhere, of women and children.


They were the bodies of people we knew personally.


But you can’t stop and help someone who is dead in the street.


We kept running because we were being chased.


TEXT: The killings continue for several days in El Geneina and on the road to Chad, where tens of thousands of civilians, including Jamal, flee in search of refuge.


Jamal Abdullah Khamis, Human Rights Lawyer from El Geneina


I found someone I knew and said, “Let my friend Kabello ride with you, he’s injured. It’s not a problem, I’ll walk behind with everyone else.”


He said, “My car is full, but he can get in.”


After a while we were attacked.


Bullets started showering us from all directions and people were being killed.


A child of around nine years old, came to me crying hysterically and was holding on to me.


While we were walking, we came to a big trench.


But the militiamen probably saw us going in there, because they were nearby.


They forced us out and started beating us, torturing us, and firing just over our heads.


They were arguing about whether to kill us or not.


Those who had belongings, they took them.


I had my two mobile phones, a USB stick, and some cash.


The nine-year-old child was lying down by my side.


The beating and torturing intensified, they were using a metal rod, some sticks, and whips to beat us.


We were lying on our stomachs, and he stood up.


The young boy couldn’t handle it anymore.


They shot him in the head, and his head exploded.


He died immediately.


A second group also started beating and interrogating us.


They asked what tribes we were from.


If you answered that you are Massalit, they would kill you immediately.


I denied that I am Massalit even though I am Massalit.


They pressured me, and I told them I am from the Bargo tribe.


They brought someone to talk to me in the Bargo language and I replied because I know how to speak it.


He said, “Brother, go.”


We entered Chad.


We were shocked to see Chadian officials in front of us.


Chadian military uniforms are very similar to RSF uniforms.


They were also carrying whips.


They all had a whip and a gun.


The RSF have the same.


When our group ran towards them (the troops) they told us to stop running.


We were surprised, and thought it was the RSF again.


We ran back towards Adikong (in Sudan).


The soldiers ran after us and said, “We are Chadian officials.”


We weren’t convinced until we saw the Chadian flag on their uniform.


“We’re Chadian officials. This is Chad, you are safe.”


“Many of your people arrived here before you. Welcome.”


I was very tired, and they took me to the hospital.


When I was in the hospital, who did I find?


The man who was with me.


My friend Kabello that I helped into the car.


He made it, and they took him to the hospital.


That was our horrific journey.


Despite the huge shock and gruesome massacres that happened in West Darfur, I still have a lot of hope.


Life in refugee camps and abroad is very tough.


It’s no place to live.


I have hope that El Geneina will recover, and we will go back soon.


That depends on rebuilding the justice system.


We need justice to be carried out.


We need the principles of human rights and international law.


That speak of the dignity of human life and the dignity of people.


If these are embodied in West Darfur, then there is hope that we can return to El Geneina.


The international community should deploy a mission to protect civilians in Sudan.


TEXT: The international community should also impose sanctions against those responsible for atrocities and establish an arms embargo on Sudan.

“As the UN Security Council and governments wake up to the looming disaster in El Fasher, the large-scale atrocities committed in El Geneina should be seen as a reminder of the atrocities that could come in the absence of concerted action,” said Tirana Hassan, executive director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments, the African Union, and the United Nations need to act now to protect civilians.”

Targeting the Massalit people and other non-Arab communities by committing serious violations against them with the apparent objective of at least having them permanently leave the region constitutes ethnic cleansing. The particular context in which the widespread killings took place also raises the possibility that the RSF and their allies have the intent to destroy in whole or in part the Massalit in at least West Darfur, which would indicate that genocide has been and/or is being committed there.

Between June 2023 and April 2024, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 220 people in Chad, Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan, as well as remotely. Researchers also reviewed and analyzed over 120 photos and videos of the events, satellite imagery, and documents shared by humanitarian organizations to corroborate accounts of grave abuses.

The violence in El Geneina began nine days after fighting broke out in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital city, between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Sudan’s military, and the RSF. On the morning of April 24, the RSF clashed with a Sudanese military convoy travelling through El Geneina. Then the RSF and its allied groups attacked majority Massalit neighborhoods, clashing with predominantly Massalit armed groups defending their communities. Over the following weeks – and even after Massalit armed groups lost control of their neighborhoods – the RSF and allied militias systematically targeted unarmed civilians.

The violence culminated in a large-scale massacre on June 15, when the RSF and its allies opened fire on a kilometers-long convoy of civilians desperately trying to flee, escorted by Massalit fighters. The RSF and militias pursued, rounded up, and shot men, women, and children who ran through the streets or tried to swim across the fast-flowing Kajja river. Many drowned. Older people and injured people were not spared.

A 17-year-old boy described the killing of 12 children and 5 adults from several families: “Two RSF forces … grabb[ed] 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.”

That day and in subsequent days, the attacks continued on tens of thousands of civilians who tried to cross into Chad, leaving the countryside strewn with bodies. Videos published at the time show crowds of civilians running for their lives on the road linking El Geneina to Chad.

Human Rights Watch also documented the killing of Arab residents and the looting of Arab neighborhoods by Massalit forces, and Sudanese Armed Forces’ use of explosive weapons in populated areas in ways that caused unnecessary harm to civilians and civilian objects.

The RSF and allied militias escalated their abuses again in November, targeting Massalit people who had found refuge in the El Geneina suburb of Ardamata, rounding up Massalit men and boys and, according to the UN, killing at least 1,000 people.

During the course of these abuses, women and girls were raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence, and detainees were tortured and otherwise ill-treated. The attackers methodically destroyed critical civilian infrastructure, targeting neighborhoods and sites, including schools, in primarily Massalit displaced communities. They looted on a grand scale; and burned, shelled, and razed neighborhoods to the ground, after emptying them of residents.

These acts were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against the Massalit and other non-Arab civilian populations of Massalit-majority neighborhoods, and as such also constitute the crimes against humanity of murder, torture, persecution, and forcible transfer of the civilian population, Human Rights Watch said.

The possibility that genocide has been and/or is being committed in Darfur requires urgent action from all governments and international institutions to protect civilians. They should ensure investigation as to whether the facts demonstrate a specific intent on the part of the RSF leadership and its allies to destroy in whole or in part the Massalit and other non-Arab ethnic communities in West Darfur, that is, to commit genocide. If so, they should act to prevent its further perpetration, and to ensure those responsible for its planning and conduct are brought to justice.

The global community should support the investigations of the International Criminal Court (ICC), while states party to the court should ensure it has the financial resources needed in its regular budget to carry out its mandate in Darfur and across its docket.

Human Rights Watch identified the commander of the RSF, Mohammed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo, his brother Abdel Raheem Hamdan Dagalo, and the West Darfur RSF commander Joma’a Barakallah as those with command responsibility over the forces that carried out these crimes. Human Rights Watch also named RSF allies, including a commander of the Tamazuj armed group and two Arab tribal leaders, as bearing responsibility for fighters that committed serious crimes.

The United Nations in coordination with the African Union should urgently deploy a new mission to protect civilians at risk in Sudan. The Security Council should impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for serious crimes in West Darfur, and individuals and companies that have and are violating the arms embargo. It should widen the existing arms embargo on Darfur to cover all of Sudan.

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

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