(New York) – A Sudanese government special force has gone on two sprees of killings and mass rape of civilians in dozens of Darfur villages and towns since February 2014, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The government should end these Rapid Support Forces (RSF) attacks and prosecute those responsible. The African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) should urgently improve its protection of civilians.
The 88-page report, “‘Men With No Mercy’: Rapid Support Forces Attacks against Civilians in Darfur, Sudan,” documents Rapid Support Forces atrocities against civilians during two counterinsurgency campaigns in Darfur. The abuses appear to be widespread and systematic attacks on civilian populations that may constitute crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said.
“The RSF has killed, raped and tortured civilians in scores of villages in an organized, deliberate, and systematic way,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Sudanese government should immediately disarm and disband the Rapid Support Forces and investigate and prosecute commanders and officials responsible for these terrible crimes.”
Between May 2014 and June 2015, Human Rights Watch interviewed a total of 212 victims and witnesses of the Darfur attacks, including 151 who had fled to Chad and South Sudan and 16 who were interviewed inside Darfur. Forty-five interviews were conducted by telephone from outside Darfur.
The RSF was created in 2013 and originally fought in South Kordofan before deploying in Darfur in 2014. Their attacks were often carried out in areas that had been controlled or contested by various Darfur rebel factions. However, nearly all the abuses reported to Human Rights Watch were committed by RSF or other government forces in villages and towns without a rebel presence at the time of the attacks.
The January 2015 attacks in the town of Golo, in Jebel Marra, were emblematic of the atrocities. The 21 people from Golo and neighboring villages Human Rights Watch interviewed said that they witnessed killing, rape, and widespread beating and looting, including the rape of scores of women in Golo’s hospital. Mariam (a pseudonym), 42, said, “They [the soldiers] separated women and men. They raped some women and they made the men carry stones from place to place as punishment.… Some [of the women] were raped in the hospital.… I saw seven raped with my own eyes.”
Many of the women were gang raped, often in front of community members who were forced to watch. Some of those who resisted were killed. Golo’s rape survivors have not had access to medical or psychosocial services.
The UN Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has received reports that as many as 130,000 people have been displaced in the mountainous Jebel Marra area since January. Many have fled to areas where there is no regular access by aid agencies. Lacking adequate food, shelter, and medical care, and unable to return to their homes or their farms, many risk death from starvation, illness, or exposure to the elements.
Human Rights Watch interviewed five defectors who had either been members of the RSF or other government forces. Four asserted that commanding officers ordered their units to carry out atrocities against civilians. One admitted to committing serious crimes himself. Another said that on the day after they captured a town, “The commander told us that these are rebels or rebel supporters and the woman are their harem. You go there and you rape them and kill them.”
“Both the nature of the attacks and defectors’ accounts point to involvement by commanders in these horrific abuses,” Bekele said. “These crimes need to be promptly and impartially investigated and fully prosecuted.”
The ongoing government attacks demonstrate the need for an effective and rapidly responsive international force that can help protect Darfur civilians, Human Rights Watch said. They also underscore that the existing peacekeeping force has not adequately carried out its core mandate to protect civilians. Although its mandate includes reporting on human rights abuses, the mission has rarely reported publicly and has not released any comprehensive documentation about abuses against civilians during either of the RSF-led counterinsurgency campaigns.
The UN Security Council, the AU Peace and Security Council, and UNAMID should take concrete steps to protect civilians in Darfur from further abuse, Human Rights Watch said. They should sanction those responsible for attacks on civilians, expand and ensure access to assistance for victims, including specialized services for rape survivors, and press for cooperation with the International Criminal Court’s prosecution of grave crimes in Darfur.
“The Security Council and the African Union have been sitting on their hands while Sudanese government forces have carried out two campaigns targeting Darfur’s civilians,” Bekele said. “They need to ensure that civilians get adequate protection before a third campaign gets under way.”
“They killed my father. My father was defending us so that we would not be raped and he was beaten to death.… After they killed my father they raped the three of us. Me and my two sisters.… After they raped us they stole everything.” – Nur Al-Huda (a pseudonym), a young woman from Golo, whose family was at home when the RSF attacked.
“[The government soldiers] confiscated our belongings. They took our livestock. They beat the men. And then they raped us. They raped us in a group. Some women were raped by 8 or 10 men. Seventeen women were raped together. All of us were raped. Even the underage girls were raped.” – Mahassan (a pseudonym), 38, was raped by soldiers on her way to the market in Golo.
“I was in the school [in a nearby village] on the morning of the attack.... Two Antonovs [Sudanese government aircraft] came early in the morning and started bombing.… I ran [from the school] to my house and saw the Janjaweed [militia].… My three sisters were captured. My grandmother was beaten. I was captured. They searched me and took my ID. Then they tied my hands behind my back.... They [partially] buried [a glass soda] bottle into the ground and forced me to sit on top of it [so that half the bottle entered my anus]. They asked you if you are a rebel and if you do not say yes then they kick the bottle out from under you [and break the glass]. I fell on the broken glass. I can no longer control my urination.… They raped [my three sisters]. They took them one by one out of the house [to another hut]. After they raped them they burned them [alive]. I could hear the screaming. I could see the fire.” – Hassan (a pseudonym), a 26-year-old teacher from the village of Daya, between Golo and Rockero.
“Personally I did attempt to rape one of the women and she hit me. And I lost my composure and I shot her.… She is dead.… I am deeply sorry. But you must understand that this was not my endeavor, I was under the command of men with no mercy. I wish I could turn back the time.” – Ibrahim, a 19-year-old defector from the RSF.