Militia besieges Darfur – is genocide imminent?


Lerato Khumalo

In the shadow of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, a bloody civil war is raging in Sudan. There is a threat of genocide and the consequences of this catastrophe could also affect Europe.

A storm of crises is currently sweeping the world. First the corona pandemic, then the start of the Russian war of aggression in February 2022 and in October 2023 the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. In addition to these wars, other major conflicts in the world receive little attention in the West; they are often overshadowed by these challenges. This includes the bloody civil war in Sudan.

Since April 2023, ruler Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has been fighting with the national army against his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the African country. Both sides are supported by numerous militias.

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Sudan: Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in the province of Darfur. (Source: IMAGO/David Allignon/imago-images-bilder)

There is complete chaos and nothing like the war in Ukraine, where two armies are fighting each other on long front lines. In Sudan, fighting is taking place everywhere and the militias show no regard for the fate of civilians.

That is why the extent of the conflict in Sudan is difficult to quantify. Estimates of the number of deaths range from several tens of thousands to 150,000. According to UN figures, almost twelve million people are on the run – that’s a quarter of the population. Both sides are committing serious human rights violations in the war and all of this is only possible because the world is looking the other way.

But how much longer can it continue to do so? The atrocities in Sudan are getting worse and worse. Now the siege of the city of Al-Fashir threatens to become a massacre. Civilians are becoming targets. And Germany is looking the other way, even though the crisis could trigger new refugee movements to Europe.

The capital Khartoum has been largely destroyed since the civil war broke out, and heavy fighting is currently taking place in the province of North Darfur in particular. Al-Fashir is the capital of the state in western Sudan and the last large city in the region that is not under the control of the RSF. In view of the current siege, experts warn that crimes like those in Srebrenica could be repeated there: Serbian paramilitaries killed 8,000 Bosniaks in the Bosnian war in July 1995.

Darfur experienced a humanitarian catastrophe in the early 2000s when the Arab Janjaweed militia attacked ethnic Africans there. The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people were killed in the genocide. Now the paramilitary RSF – the successor to the Janjaweed – is besieging Al-Fashir and is apparently close to taking the city. International observers are accordingly very concerned.

In an analysis, the New York Times warned of an “ethnic bloodbath” and quoted Alice Nderitu, the UN Secretary-General’s special adviser on the prevention of genocide: “The situation today shows all the signs of the danger of genocide.” Nderitu had warned several weeks ago of a “Rwanda-like genocide.” “I’m trying to make myself heard,” she said. “But all attention is focused on Ukraine and Gaza.”

The fear is justified. The United Nations fears that the Arab RSF fighters will act in the city as they did in previous sieges in the civil war: they will kill, rob, rape and drive away members of black African ethnic groups.

Al-Fashir was considered a safe zone for many months because the local rulers had negotiated ceasefires with the warring parties. The city then became a place of refuge for hundreds of thousands of people seeking protection. But now the city has been completely sealed off by the RSF, it no longer offers protection, but has become a trap.

The horror is omnipresent on the streets of Al-Fashir. Tanzil, a resident of the city who works in the health sector, told the German Press Agency: “We feel very alone.” All of the city’s hospitals are no longer functional, and many people who are injured in the air raids or fighting have no chance of survival. “After two or three days they are dead because there is no treatment.” Some districts are inaccessible, and escape routes are cut off.