UN rights chief Volker Turk warns of catastrophe in Sudan's al-Fashir

Friday May 17 2024

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Volker Turk. PHOTO | REUTERS


The UN human rights chief said on Friday he was “horrified” by escalating violence near Sudan’s al-Fashir and held discussions this week with commanders from both sides of the conflict, warning of a humanitarian disaster if the city is attacked.

Hundreds of thousands of people are sheltering in al-Fashir without basic supplies amid fears that nearby fighting will turn into an all-out battle for the city, the Sudanese army’s last stronghold in the western Darfur region.

Its capture would be a major boost for the rival Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as regional and international powers try to push the sides to negotiate an end to a 13-month war.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for High Commissioner Volker Turk, said Turk had held two parallel phone calls this week with Sudan army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the leader of the RSF, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, urging them to de-escalate.

“The High Commissioner warned both commanders that fighting in (al-Fashir), where more than 1.8 million residents and internally displaced people are currently encircled and at imminent risk of famine, would have a catastrophic impact on civilians, and would deepen intercommunal conflict with disastrous humanitarian consequences,” she said at a UN press briefing in Geneva, adding that Turk was “horrified” by recent violence there.

Read: Truce crumbles in Sudan army's last Darfur holdout


The UN human rights office said at least 58 people had been killed around al-Fashir since last week. The United States on May 15 imposed sanctions on two commanders of the Sudanese rebels RSF commanders for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Ali Yagoub Gibril and Osman Mohamed Hamid Mohamed after RSF vicious attacks in al-Fashir.

In Executive Order 14098, the Treasury said that RSF’s attacks in North Darfur have caused dozens of civilian casualties, including children.

Gibril is the RSF Central Darfur commander. He has been instrumental in the RSF’s operations in Darfur, including recent RSF offensives in North Darfur. Gibril currently commands RSF troops around al-Fashir. Hamid is a major-general in the RSF and the group’s head of operations.

“Attacks by the RSF, the Sudanese Armed Forces and allied forces have caused civilian casualties and must immediately cease, as should the external support for warring parties. All impediments to humanitarian access – at a time when millions are at risk of starvation due to conflict – must be removed,” the edict says.

The US has warned that it is ready to take additional measures against those individuals and institutions that actively escalate the war – including any offensive actions on al-Fashir – commit atrocities or create barriers to humanitarian access, in violation of international humanitarian law and commitments made in the Jeddah Declaration.

This comes after the RSF in late April posted a self-implicating video on social media showing mercenaries from some of the neighbouring countries such as the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Mali, South Sudan, Libya, Ethiopia, boasting of their ability to bring Sudan to its knees.

Capturing scenes in Khartoum and Darfur, the video shows victims, both men and women, being whipped with their hands tied behind their backs.

Some of them are shot while lying on the ground, while some are put in shallow graves and shot. The video also shows a group of young men raping one woman.

The RSF fighters say in the video that they are fighting to restore democracy. However, the video shows them targeting civilians and infrastructure. The group attacked Morowe Airport as well as planes. The RSF burnt down the only money-printing firm in Sudan—the Sudan Mint Company Ltd, the Sufyan Oil Field and company buildings in eastern Darfur.

All foreign embassies in Khartoum and offices of NGOs have been attacked. Churches, especially those of the Coptic Church, have been attacked and some clerics killed. In some sections of Khartoum under the control of RSF, civilians are trapped in their houses where humanitarian organisations are unable to reach them.

According to the first issue of Al-Hakika, an electronic magazine dedicated to documenting human rights violations in the Sudan war, the RSF has looted 1,273kg of gold, destroyed electronic metre factories in Khartoum, and grabbed 7 million barrels of oil in areas under their control.

RSF controls most of Sudan’s western region Darfur and parts of Khartoum. The RSF has recently taken control of Wad Madani, one of Sudan’s major cities.

A January report by the UN Sanction Monitoring Committee accused the paramilitary group, along with Arab armed groups, of killing up to 15,000 non-Arabs from the Masalit tribe in attacks that “may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

What started as a coup on April 15, 2023, has now turned into a mindless destruction of infrastructure and indiscriminate killing of civilians—mainly by foreigners.

Additional reporting by Reuters