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‘Six days of terror’ in West Darfur: Ethnically-based attacks on the rise

The UN human rights office, OHCHR, has voiced alarm over reports of another ethnically motivated mass attack in the Darfur region of Sudan, amidst the ongoing conflict between the national army and a rival military known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). 

Hundreds of ethnic Masalit civilians were reportedly killed earlier this month in Ardamata town, West Darfur, by the RSF and their allied Arab militia.

The RSF has its roots in the Janjaweed militias which fought on the Government side against a rebel coalition in the Darfur war two decades ago. Some of its leaders face outstanding war crimes and atrocity crimes charges.

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‘Six days of terror’

“Preliminary information we have obtained from survivors and witnesses suggests Masalit civilians suffered six days of terror at the hands of the RSF and its allied militia after they took control of the Sudanese army’s base in Ardamata on 4 November,” said OHCHR Spokesman Jeremy Laurence, speaking in Geneva.

The army base is located just outside the West Darfur capital, El Geneina.  Some of the victims were summarily executed or burnt alive.

Many of those killed were young Masalit men and relatives of Sudanese soldiers remaining in Ardamata after the troops fled the town.

Sexual violence, torture, executions 

Mr. Laurence said women and girls were reportedly subjected to sexual violence in the Ardamata camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and in some homes. Thousands of people have been displaced, with some fleeing across the border to Chad.

The RSF and its allied militias reportedly looted property at Ardamata and another IDP camp, Dorti, as well as the Al-Kabri neighbourhood, all of which are mainly inhabited by the Masalit community.

IDPs were tortured and many executed, their bodies left unburied on the streets.  

OHCHR said 66 Masalit men were summarily executed in three separate incidents on 5 November alone. In Al-Kabri district, men were separated from women and killed. Hundreds more men were arrested and taken to various RSF-run detention camps. Their fate and whereabouts remain unknown. 

Bodies in the streets 

Ardamata marked the second reported mass attack by the RSF and its allied Arab militia against Masalit civilians in a matter of months, Mr. Laurence said. 

Between May and June, hundreds of Masalit men, women, and children – including the governor of West Darfur – were killed. Many were buried in mass graves while some bodies were left in the streets. 

“Such attacks may constitute crimes under international law,” he said.

He also pointed to serious allegations that in revenge attacks, some Arab civilians were reportedly attacked by members of the Masalit militias.

Appeal for condemnation

“All violations must stop immediately, and those responsible must be brought to justice following thorough, independent and impartial investigations,” he said.

He reiterated the call made in June by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, urging the RSF leadership to unequivocally condemn and stop the killings, other violence and hate speech targeted at civilians, based on their ethnicity. 

“Amid worrying reports of an imminent RSF assault on El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, we remind them and all other parties to the conflict to respect their international humanitarian law obligations to ensure protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure,” he said.