Middle East

Sudanese paramilitary and militias accused of war crimes in West Darfur

By Mitchell McCluskey and Ingrid Formanek, CNN

CNN  —  A new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied Arab militias of executing dozens of people, and “the total destruction” of a town in Sudan’s West Darfur state.

At least 28 ethnic Massalit were summarily executed, and dozens more civilians were killed and injured in the attack on Misterei, a town that is home to tens of thousands of mainly ethnic Massalit residents, according to the HRW report.

The Massalit and other non-Arab communities are often targeted by Arab militias, supported by the RSF, the report said.

“Many of these abuses committed in the context of the armed conflict in Sudan amount to war crimes,” HRW’s report said.

The attack on Misterei started soon after sunrise on May 28 as waves of RSF fighters entered the town, according to witnesses and survivors speaking with HRW.

The fighters mostly came on foot and motorbikes, according to the HRW reports, but some fighters used pickup trucks to block off neighborhoods and shoot those who attempted to flee.

The RSF fighters were able to quickly overtake Misterei’s defenders and sought out men to execute but also injured women and children, the HRW’s report found.

HRW was not able to verify exactly how many RSF militia fighters were in Misterei on May 28.

Residents fleeing

Witnesses told HRW the attackers also looted the town, including the public hospital, before setting fire to many buildings.

Residents of Misterei said they were robbed of their belongings, including livestock, money, mobile phones, and furniture.

Satellite imagery and fire detection data shows that six other towns and villages in West Darfur, including Molle, Murnei, and Gokor, were also burned down, according to the report.

Many residents fled across the border to the neighboring country of Chad during the attacks.

Some reported seeing dead bodies along the way, HRW’s report said.

HRW researchers said they spoke to 29 survivors who had fled to Chad.

“Everything was lost in couple of hours,” one resident told HRW, “There were houses, huts, and shops. When we left our hiding [places] by sunset, there was nothing really left, and many people were looking for the missing ones.”

Other survivors of the attack told HRW of RSF and Arab militias entering a school where civilians were seeking protection, killing men, and shooting women and children.

Widespread violence

Violence in Sudan escalated in mid-April when the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary RSF started the war for control of the country.

Since then, West Darfur has seen widespread violence and reports of atrocities committed by RSF fighters and their allied militias.

In an unresolved conflict that started in the early 2000s, hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the ethnic cleansing campaign by the Janjaweed, an Arab militia, who are the precursor of the RSF.

“Since the conflict in Sudan broke out in April, some of the worst atrocities have been in West Darfur,” HRW senior crisis and conflict researcher Jean-Baptiste Gallopin said.

“The mass killings of civilians and total destruction of the town of Misterei demonstrates the need for a stronger international response to the widening conflict,” Gallopin added.

HRW has urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the events that occurred in Misterei on May 28.

“The accounts of those who survived recent attacks in West Darfur echo the horror, devastation, and despair of Darfur 20 years ago,” Gallopin said, “The ICC Prosecutor should investigate these heinous abuses, while Sudan’s international and regional partners should sanction RSF and Arab militia leaders responsible for these attacks.”

West Darfur has been described as the epicenter of violence in Sudan’s vast Darfur region.

Civil society groups, activists, and witnesses to attacks in Darfur have been describing, reporting and documenting the violence and ethnic cleansing in the region which reignited since the war broke out.

Attacks conducted by the RSF-backed Janjaweed in Sudan against ethnic communities “could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu warned in June.

In a recent report, the Dar Masalit (Home of the Masalit) sultanate, the traditional leaders representing the largest ethnic group in West Darfur, said dozens of civilians were killed on May 28 and 29 in Misterei, displacing “the entire population of the region to Chad”.

CNN geolocated and verified extensive fires in the Misterei area on those dates.

A pattern of burning and looting attacks by RSF militias on civilian population centers has emerged since the start of the conflict.

CNN has verified and geolocated more than a dozen villages and cities that have been at least partially burned to the ground, including a large heat signature in West Darfur’s Murnei, mentioned in the HRW report, between June 25th and 28th.

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