Sudan army's Burhan, RSF's Daglo face war atrocities charges

Monday October 09 2023

A man stands by as a fire rages in a livestock market area in al-Fasher, the capital of Sudan's North Darfur state, in the aftermath of bombardment by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces on September 1, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


Sudan’s warring factions are facing new pressure to end the war after rights groups lobbied the UN Human Rights Council to establish a taskforce on atrocities, potentially harming the shuttle diplomacy of junta leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan who has been seeking legitimacy over his rival Mohamed Hamdani Daglo ‘Hemedti’.

And the situation now places Khartoum where Ethiopia was two years ago after activists lobbied for the creation of a panel of experts to investigate war crimes in Tigray.

Last week, 17 rights groups across Africa wrote to the UN Human Rights Council, asking that such a team be established to place warlords at the crime scene and save the country from collapsing.

Read: Sudan rival factions blame each other of bombing embassy

“We urge the (UN Human Rights) Council members to support the establishment of this mission to increase Sudanese people’s access to justice and accountability and enhance the chances of creating a transitional justice process that will support the efforts of peace-making in Sudan,” they wrote in an open letter on Wednesday.

These include Sudanese Doctors for Human Rights, Governance Programming Overseas, Sudanese Women Rights Action, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, International Federation for Human Rights, Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (Southern Defenders), Centre for Democracy and Human Rights – CDD Mozambique and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.


They argued that the war in Sudan is “one of the worst humanitarian crises” at the moment and warring factions have closed access routes to humanitarian service for the vulnerable including women and children.

“The absence of the state institutions and the rule of law led to worsening human rights violations in the country. Local justice systems and law enforcement institutions collapsed and have not functioned in most of Sudan since the war erupted.

“There is an essential need for the establishment of an independent and international fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations and collect evidence on abuses, GBV crimes and alleged war crimes.”

Read: Sexual violence rampant in Sudan war

More than 5 million people have been displaced, at least 5,000 killed and hundreds of others sexually assaulted, data from UN agencies shows.

This week, the UN Human Rights Council is expected to decide whether a special commission of inquiry is formed to establish atrocities in Sudan, potentially attracting unwanted attention for Burhan who has marketed himself as battling a rebellion from the Rapid Support Forces of Hemedti.

The draft resolution for establishing the Panel of three experts has been circulated by the United Kingdom which argues that both sides have committed atrocities.

Burhan promptly rejected the proposal.

Read: Sudan rejects UN proposal to establish atrocities probe

Sudan has been witnessing deadly clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces (Saf) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum and other areas since April 15.

Rights groups say mounting violations and atrocities have also been seen in Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile states and include “mass killings, sexual violence, ethnically motivated violence in Darfur, forced disappearance and indiscriminate bombardment on civilian areas.” 

On Thursday, study by the Islamic Relief charity group warned of rising hunger, poverty and violence against women and children after the war in Sudan.

“Sudan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs reaffirms its categorical rejection of the draft resolution because it is wrong in describing what is happening in Sudan, and because it is prejudiced against the Saf, and does not take into account the real priorities of Sudan at this phase,” Khartoum said in a statement.

Saf under Burhan argue that they are protecting civilians from RSF. But that may not stop members of the Council in their ongoing discussions in Geneva, Switzerland, regarding a draft resolution that has also been backed by the US, Norway, and Germany.
Several nations, including Saudi Arabia, have opted not to endorse the draft resolution. And Sudan will bank on African members such as Gabon, Malawi, Cote d’Ivoire, Eritrea and Cameroon not to endorse the resolution.

If the Panel is set up, Sudan will be subjected to an international mechanism which Khartoum fear will elevate the war to a contest of equals. Burhan has portrayed RSF as a rebel group and says he stripped the group, once considered a paramilitary security unit, of legal status.

Read: Sudan's army general fires his rival deputy

“They have killed, looted, raped, robbed and seized citizens’ homes and properties, and destroyed infrastructure and Government buildings,” Burhan told the UN General Assembly on September 21 in New York, referring to the RSF.

“They attempted to obliterate the history of Sudanese people by destroying museums, court and civil registries. They had released terrorists and people wanted by international courts from prison.”

In his shuttle diplomacy that saw him travel to Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, Eritrea and Uganda, and later in New York, he promised a “a short period of transition during which the current security, humanitarian, and economic conditions and reconstruction are addressed.”

But a Panel could derail his vision of crushing the enemy unhindered. And like Ethiopia during the war with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a Panel could force Khartoum into unnecessary lobbying beyond the search for legitimacy. Ethiopia sort of managed to weaken the blow of the Panel, including an earlier resignation of members. Addis Ababa later signed a peace deal with TPLF last year and has argued the Panel’s work is no longer necessary.

“Families can’t access food or medicine, women and girls live in constant fear of attack, and communities are being trapped in poverty and debt,” said Elsadig Elnour, Islamic Relief’s Country Director in Sudan.

“Years of progress on reducing maternal mortality and child malnutrition in Darfur are now at risk of being reversed due to the conflict and lack of humanitarian access.”

Read: Hunger, disease stalk Sudan town crowded with displaced

Islamic Relief’s says the findings were compiled from interviews of 384 households in 20 villages in Jabal Marra in Darfur now hosting people fleeing fighting. Some 1.6 million people in Darfur have been displaced within the region since the conflict began.

Last week, the US imposed sanctions on former Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti, Secretary General of the Sudanese Islamic Movement, for fomenting war. Karti served in the government of Omar al-Bashir ousted in 2019. But Washington says he has “led efforts to undermine the former civilian-led transitional government and derail the Framework Political Agreement process. 

“He and other former regime officials are now obstructing efforts to reach a ceasefire between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, mobilising forces to enable continued fighting, and opposing Sudanese civilian efforts to resume Sudan’s stalled democratic transition.”