As the escalation in violence between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) spreads throughout Sudan, civilians in Darfur continue to suffer due to the country’s authorities failure to provide security, and their inability to deliver justice and accountability for war crimes and other violations 20 years after the Darfur conflict began, Amnesty International said today.
The Darfur conflict erupted on 25 April 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement attacked Sudanese military forces at the al-Fashir airport in North Darfur. In the years that followed, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, and millions more displaced as the war raged between rebel forces and the military.
Longstanding impunity has allowed those suspected of war crimes in Darfur to remain in leadership positions today, contributing to the current violence in Sudan. Amnesty International is calling for all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and the safe passage of humanitarian aid.
It is shocking that 20 years after the Darfur conflict began, the Sudanese authorities are still failing to protect civilians.Tigere Chagutah, Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, Amnesty International
“The Darfur conflict caused human suffering on a horrendous scale, and the ongoing lack of justice and accountability only ensures that suffering continues,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.
“In recent days, civilians have again been killed due to heavy weapons being used in densely-populated areas. It is shocking that 20 years after the Darfur conflict began, the Sudanese authorities are still failing to protect civilians or to investigate and prosecute those allegedly responsible for crimes committed during the conflict. Civilians in Sudan are caught in unending cycles of indiscriminate armed attacks, as well as other serious crimes and abuses.
“The government of Sudan must fully cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s ongoing investigations into Darfur, including by transferring former President Omar Al-Bashir and others suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity to The Hague.”
Amnesty International continues to call on the international community – particularly the UN and the African Union Peace and Security Council – to increase efforts to ensure those responsible for crimes committed in Darfur face justice.
Amnesty International is also calling on the UN Security Council to ensure the arms embargo in Darfur remains in place until the Sudanese government ends the ongoing violence, commits to protecting civilians, and ensures accountability for human rights violations.
Extreme violence against civilians in Darfur
Since 2003, civilians in Sudan have been subjected to extreme violence. Following attacks by armed opposition groups, Sudanese government forces responded by targeting not only the fighters, but also the civilian populations of certain ethnic groups that the government accuses of supporting the insurgents.
This counterinsurgency strategy, which the government continues to deploy, has resulted in horrendous amounts of death, destruction, and displacement. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have also been killed and affected by conflict-induced starvation, dehydration, and disease; hundreds of villages have been destroyed; countless livelihoods have been ruined; and rape and other sexual violence against women and girls has been widespread. In 2016, Amnesty International documented how government forces used chemical weapons against civilians in the Jebel Mara region of Darfur.
Following former President al-Bashir’s deposition in 2019, a power-sharing compromise between military and civilian leaders led to the formation of a transitional government. Violence has continued in Darfur since the transitional government took power, and despite the Sudanese Peace Agreement which was signed in 2020. The ongoing attacks have included unlawful killings, beatings, sexual violence, lootings, and the burning of villages.
It is shameful that people in Sudan are still living in fear every single day.Tigere Chagutah
The government has yet to show that it is willing or able to protect civilians, or to hold perpetrators accountable. Sudanese government forces and RSF members are still responsible for launching attacks. Government-affiliated militia groups have also targeted civilians throughout the conflict.
In December 2022, civilian leaders and the military signed a ‘framework agreement’ to create a new two-year civilian transitional authority. The agreement establishes accountability for crimes under international law as a general principle, and tasks the transitional authority to launch a new process aimed at providing justice to victims and holding perpetrators of serious crimes to account. Sudanese authorities must also ensure that those responsible for these crimes cannot benefit from immunities, nor amnesties.
“Today, Darfur’s civilians remain at the mercy of the same security forces who committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur and other parts of Sudan,” said Tigere Chagutah.
“It is shameful that people in Sudan are still living in fear every single day. All survivors who suffered violations or abuses of human rights must be afforded effective remedies and reparations. Time must not be a barrier to justice being delivered.”
Since 2003, Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations have repeatedly documented evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by Sudanese government forces, including the unlawful killing of civilians; the unlawful destruction of civilian property; the rape of women and girls; the forced displacement of civilians; and the use of chemical weapons.
In 2005, the UN Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In 2009 and 2010, the ICC issued arrest warrants for President al-Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The ICC has also issued arrest warrants for three other government officials, and three members of armed opposition groups. In April 2022, the trial of Ali Kosheib, believed to be the principal leader of the Janjaweed militia, began at the ICC. However, Sudan has not sufficiently cooperated with the ICC; in particular, it has yet to transfer former President al-Bashir and several other government officials to the ICC.
Full details on the human rights situation in Sudan can be found in Amnesty International’s 2022 Annual Report update.