There is no end in sight for conflict in Sudan
The discovery of a mass grave in West Darfur containing 87 men, women and children has sent shock waves through even the most hardened of Sudan watchers.
When the two generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, started fighting each other in Khartoum in April, news broke simultaneously of a likely recurrence of the genocide in Darfur of 2003 when 300,000 or more died and 2.5 million people were displaced. Now that this has been identified, at least in the mind of human rights campaigners and those who follow Sudan, any such description will have to go through a long international legal procedure.
Darfur is not on the precipice of a human catastrophe but in the very midst of one
Genocide is not an easy term to define, but most people think of the killings in Rwanda, China and Iraq where minorities have been persecuted, oppressed and in some cases, like the Yazidis, almost obliterated. In the context of Darfur, the Arab militia known as the Janjaweed, now transformed into the Rapid Support Force (RSF) under General Hemedti, are progressively attacking and destroying the local African ethnic groups such as the Fur, Masalit, Zaghawa and others.
Hemedti and the RSF are also hated in Khartoum for causing a massacre of over 100 innocent civilians in June 2019. Darfur is almost a separate war. The main action is in Khartoum and Omdurman, but fighting has been equally fierce around El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, where thousands are fleeing across the border to UN shelters in Chad. Outside the city cattle and crops are being destroyed and entire villages burned. With many cease-fires already broken, there seems no end in sight.
The RSF, having broken away from the Sudanese army, can hardly expect to form a government and replace the national army itself. While highly disciplined, it is seen internationally as a pariah force. Sudan analyst Alex de Waal says this war belongs to “a 70 year process of militarisation consuming the nation”. In the 20 years after independence in 1956, he says, army officers staged three successful coups and approximately 17 unsuccessful ones. Nevertheless both sides have a strong stake in the Sudanese economy which is already dominated by the army, with over 70 per cent of the financial sector controlled by the military. The RSF controls private companies especially in gold mining. Both forces have access to an extensive network of funds in the Gulf States.
The International Criminal Court, having been constrained since it first took out a warrant against former president Omar al Bashir, has at last announced a new investigation. The United Kingdom, with its special role in Sudan alongside the United States and others and a backer of previous prosecutions, will be under pressure to gather whatever evidence and international support it can find.
The ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan KC, told the Security Council last week that we are “in peril of allowing history to repeat itself”. He said that Darfur is “not on the precipice of a human catastrophe but in the very midst of one. It is occurring”. Meanwhile UK sanctions have been applied to six large commercial entities close to the army but the government will need to target other Sudanese companies and their subsidiaries that have first or second degree relationships with UK entities.
On the humanitarian side, food insecurity could rise to 20 million people by August, exacerbated by the looting of UN food stocks in Khartoum. The coming rainy season, causing widespread flooding, will add to the number of internally displaced persons.
South Sudan, which also suffers similar conflict and climate change, now also has to look after thousands of southerners who had sought refuge in Sudan. In Westminster, the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Sudan and South Sudan, chaired by Vicky Ford, has been busy since April when it launched a report on the 20th anniversary of the 2003 genocide. The report was the result of an inquiry chaired by Lord Alton, who has also been recently active in raising questions about Darfur and other examples of genocide.
The Earl of Sandwich, crossbench peer
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.