The humanitarian crisis in Sudan keeps worsening as the conflict rages, and warring forces are using explosive weapons that have caused great damage and loss of lives and property, a rights watchdog has said.
On Thursday, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the explosive weapons have “caused loss of civilian life and property, damaged critical infrastructure and left millions without access to basic necessities”, worsening an already delicate humanitarian crisis in the country where residents have been burdened with limited access to medical care, food supplies, water and electricity since fighting broke out three weeks ago.
“Many civilians in Khartoum and elsewhere have been forced to remain in their homes, enduring water and power shortages in sweltering heat, and lacking access to medical care. Many hospitals and other medical facilities have had to close,” the HRW statement says.
The watchdog reported that the Sudanese Doctors’ Union said that as of May 2, 16 hospitals had been hit in strikes; 57 were not functioning because of lack of medical supplies, power, and medical staff, and 19 had been forced to evacuate all patients and staff, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) said “more than two-thirds of hospitals are not functional due to direct attacks, occupation by fighting parties, access, lack of electricity, water supply or fuel, or stock out of medicine”.
On Monday, top UN aid official in Sudan, Abdou Dieng, also warned that the situation was turning into "a full-blown catastrophe".
And last week, the African Union appealed for urgent humanitarian support for Sudan, even as conflict continued through the announced ceasefire. AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat urged Sudan’s neighbours and regional and global agencies to “facilitate the transit and safety of civilians crossing their borders without impediment”, signalling the extent of safety fears after reports emerged some were being asked for visas while others had left for safety without travel papers.
Once allies, generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the junta leader, and his deputy and now rival, Mohamed Hamdani Daglo ‘Hemedti’, cooperated to remove Omar al-Bashir from power in 2019 and together formed a sovereign council.
Transition put in jeopardy
This was later to transition into a civilian-led government. But when the rotational council leadership was given to a civilian – Abdalla Hamdok – the two generals again accused the civilian-led government of “wrangling” and in October 2021 ousted Hamdok, putting the transition to a civilian authority in jeopardy.
But then, the two generals later disagreed. And on April 15 this year, conflict broke out pitting the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) led by Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Hemedti.
As of Tuesday, more than 550 people were reported killed and more than 4,900 wounded in the Sudan conflict. Thousands of people, both foreigners and citizens, have fled the country, with the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR earlier this week saying it was bracing for the possibility that over 800,000 people may flee the fighting in Sudan to neighbouring countries.
And now, rights groups have accused the two factions of worsening the humanitarian crisis by “using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas – including tanks, artillery, rockets, and air-delivered munitions in the case of the SAF – that frequently result in indiscriminate attacks in violation of the laws of war”, the HRW statement says.
The watchdog argues that the rival factions have also targeted water treatment plants and healthcare facilities, forcing residents to keep indoors despite the dwindling supply of basic needs, while the conflict also prevents them from getting help, restocking supplies or even repairing damages to their property.
‘Civilian lives disregarded’
Mohamed Osman, a Sudanese researcher at Human Rights Watch, says “Sudan’s warring armies are showing reckless disregard for civilian lives by using inaccurate weapons in populated urban areas…Rockets, bombs and other types of explosive weapons are killing and wounding civilians and damaging infrastructure critical for access to water and medical care”.
Following the outbreak of the conflict, several nations and humanitarian organisations have evacuated their citizens and staff. Other foreigners and Sudanese nationals fled the country through borders with neighbours.
HRW has called on the warring factions to respect “laws of war” and take measures to ensure no harm to civilians. At the same time, it called for regional organisations to help protect civilians.
Abide by laws of war
“Both sides should abide by the laws of war, including the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks, take all feasible measures to reduce civilian harm and allow the safe movement of civilians, treat everyone in custody humanely, and facilitate humanitarian access to people in need,” HRW said.
“Sudan’s regional and international partners, the African Union Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council should adopt concrete measures to reduce harm to civilians, including an arms embargo and targeted sanctions. The UN Human Rights Council, which has been silent on the conflict, should hold a special session and create a mechanism to gather and preserve evidence of crimes under international law for possible future prosecutions.”
The watchdog further called for humanitarian aid supplies and urged parties to the conflict to allow delivery and access to aid and other necessary services to civilians, and also ensure “medical staff, humanitarian and medical facilities and supplies are protected from attacks and looting and that medical staff and aid agencies are able to carry out their work free of harassment or other interference”.
HRW also joined the rallying call by global partners urging Sudan’s neighbouring countries — including Egypt, Chad, Ethiopia and the Central African Republic — to allow those fleeing the conflict to cross into their borders and give them humanitarian assistance as well as asylum where needed.