10,000 murdered and 5.6 million displaced.
For the past eight months, Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been decimating the Masalit ethnic group native to the nation’s Darfur region.
Following the country’s 2021 military coup, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the RSF, a parliamentary force under the command of Mohamend Hamdan Dagolo, have been wrestling for power. Violence erupted between the two factions this past April in the capital city of Khartoum, which the RSF besieged. Simultaneously, the parliamentary force began committing the genocide in Darfur. However, this massacre is not just the product of current political strife — its roots can be found in a similar rampage that occurred in the region two decades ago.
In the early 2000s, rebel movements sprung up in Darfur in protest of the centralized control Khartoum held over the rest of the country. In 2003, one of them attacked an airport and destroyed the military equipment stored there. The Sudanese government was shocked by this act because they had long dismissed these armed coalitions as mere “bands of robbers.” As the national army was stretched thin due to the Second Sudanese Civil War, they engaged in perverse tactics to defeat the insurrection. Taking advantage of the cultural differences of the region, they created the Janjaweed, an Arab militia, and mobilized them against the insurgents, most of whom belonged to black Sudanese tribes. The Janjaweed commenced an ethnic cleansing in Darfur — raping, murdering, and seized land indiscriminately, leaving 300,000 dead and two million displaced.
The international community was ineffectual in its attempts to address this conflict. To begin, while Darfur was dying, global powers like the US and the UN were debating whether the violence would constitute genocide or not. Although the US labeled it as such, the United Nations disagreed, believing that the key element of “genocidal intent” was missing. Regardless, the US and Europe chose not to intervene militarily and so-called compromises, like the Darfur Peace Agreement, were ineffectual. Furthermore, the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that aimed to end the Second Sudanese Civil War only focused on the problems between the North and South, completely ignoring the plights of innocents in other parts of the nation.
This year’s combat reflects a continuation of the carnage from twenty years ago, though with a key difference: the RSF is now specifically attacking Masalit communities. The “genocidal intent” that the UN previously deemed as absent is now harder to deny. Witnesses report that a Masalit accent is enough to be killed, and that RSF fighters shout, “You are Masalit! You are not allowed in this town!”
To escape this onslaught of terror, up to 2,000 Sudanese have been crossing the humanitarian corridor to Chad every day since the conflict began. However, fleeing is becoming a death sentence too. Groups heading towards the border are ambushed in the middle of their journey, rounded up, and shot. Men have been particularly targeted — for every two women who cross the border, only one man does. The RSF kills them all, even infants, because they consider any escaped Masalit man to be a potential fighter against them.
Furthermore, the weapons possessed by the RSF are far more advanced this time. Supplied by the UAE under the guise of humanitarian aid, as reported by The New York Times, they now have drones, rocket launchers, and machine guns. All of these outmatch the rifles and other armaments the Masalits were haphazardly able to obtain to defend themselves.
There is greater international acknowledgment that the onslaught of violence occurring against the Masalit is genocide — the governor of the Central Darfur State, Adeeb Yousif tells NPR that it constitutes an “ethnic conflict” rather than a political one. However, there is still limited, if any, foreign aid. The United Kingdom has imposed penalties on businesses connected to the RSF and SAF. The US has also sanctioned the coalitions, but hesitates to comment, ostensibly because it does not want to jeopardize the peace talks happening in Jeddah between the RSF and SAF. Although the UN had sent in peacekeepers in June 2020 — with the UN Integrated Transitional Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) — they voted to recall them on December 4th of this year. The Human Rights Watch called this decision a “catastrophic abdication” of the UN’s duty to the people of Sudan, who are facing one of the worst human rights atrocities in history. Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, dismissed such accusations and maintained that the only ones responsible for any failure to uphold the rights of Sudan’s population are Burhan and Daglo, who are “two generals that completely disregard the interests of their population.”
But in the midst of this international blame game, the Masalits are once more being overlooked. Pointing fingers amounts to nothing for the people in this nation who are being raped, starved, and killed. Only cohesive, intentional, and direct global action can make an impact and that is what the world owes the Sudanese.