Darfur ethnic attacks must be fully addressed


Ahmed Elzobier

A series of blunders have contributed to the tragic situation in Sudan’s West Darfur region and continue to expose civilians to violence, notably among them the premature withdrawal in December 2020 of the African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) and the Sudanese security forces’ continued failure to protect civilians.

Unless a holistic approach is adopted to address the underlying causes of the insecurity and human rights violations in the region, intercommunal violence will escalate.

Multiple attacks have left hundreds of people dead and many more injured and continue to sustain the dire human rights and humanitarian situation in the region.

West Darfur state has in the last two years suffered three deadly inter-ethnic clashes. Most salient in all of these cases is that the Sudanese security forces (including some armed groups that signed the recent Juba Peace agreement with the government) failed to prevent these attacks.

On 3 April 2021, armed allegedly Arab men sparked off four days of deadly violence when they shot three Massalit men, killing two of them: 28-year-old Saber Ishaq and 47-year-old Arab Khamis. A third man, Abdul-hafiz Yahia Ismaeil, 53, was seriously injured. According to the West Darfur State Doctors’ Committee, at least 144 people were killed, and 232 others injured during the clashes.

In January 2021, at least 163 people were killed and 217 injured during a revenge attack on the Krinding camp, that is home to thousands of Massalit Internally Displaced People (IDPs). In July 2020, more than 60 Massalit people were killed and about 60 wounded by members of an armed group around Masterei town, 48km south of El-Geneina.

In December 2019, tension flared up again after a Massalit man killed an Arab man. Arab militia retaliated by attacking Krinding IDP camp and, according to the UN, killed 83 Massalit and injured 160, set fire on shops and houses, and displaced 48,800 people. In May 2019, members of an armed Arab militia shot and killed two Massalit people and injured 14 others in El Geneina.

A holistic approach to ending this violence must start with restoration of the rule of law, respect of human rights and immediately countering ethnic hate speech and fearmongering. The government should also move with urgency to implement the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians and Security Arrangements, ensuring the joint protection forces deployed in Darfur are adequately equipped and trained, including to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. The government must ensure all security forces and their allied armed groups are held accountable for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

In West Darfur, historical ethnic distrust and tensions have increased since the ouster of the Al-Bashir government in April 2019. The communities in West Darfur are sharply divided in their allegiances; most Massalit and many other indigenous African groups expressed their joy after the regime’s fall. The Massalit community has endured long periods of suffering dating back to the 1990s when their villages were systemically attacked by armed militia from the Arab.

During the conflict in Darfur which began in 2003, Massalit villages were raided and burnt repeatedly for 17 years. Thousands were killed, internally displaced, or forced to flee to neighbouring Chad. The National Congress Party (NCP)’s government regularly supported and armed some of the Arab communities during the conflict in Darfur.

Some of the Arabs in West Darfur remained ambivalent and bewildered by the seismic political change in Sudan, some are supportive of the political changes while others are still loyal to the former regime.

Amnesty International spoke to seven eyewitnesses and survivors of the most recent attacks on 4 to 6 of April. Some of them were injured during the attacks, some lost members of their families.

A group of armed Arabs shot and killed 34-year-old Masalit man, Abdulrazig Mohamed Khater, in his house during the attack on El Jebel area on 4 April.

The latest attacks occurred four months after the termination of the UNAMID operation in Darfur on 31 December 2020, handing over security and civilian protection functions to the Sudanese security forces, duties they have obviously not taken up hence the continued attacks and killings.

The UN Security Council must in light of the worsened security and human rights situation, expand UNITAMS’ mandate to include civilian protection.

The Government of Sudan must also undertake thorough, independent, impartial investigations into killings, injuries, displacement and other human rights abuses that have been committed during these clashes and ensure that those found responsible are brought to justice in civilian courts without recourse to the death penalty.

Ahmed Elzobier is the Researcher for Sudan at Amnesty International

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