Mass grave found in West Darfur after thousands have been killed


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, on Thursday called for a swift investigation into the killing of 87 people following the discovery of a mass grave near El Geneina, capital of West Darfur. 

The victims, mostly Masalit*, were reportedly killed last month by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied gunmen, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said in a statement yesterday.

Survivors were forced to dispose of the bodies in a mass grave near El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, denying those killed a decent burial in one of the city’s cemeteries.

On April 24, nine days after fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary RSF erupted in Khartoum, battles tween the two warring parties took place in El Geneina. The RSF were soon joined by large groups of armed ‘Arab’ tribesmen, the army withdrew, and the violence turned into widespread attacks on the city and surroundings.

‘Another 50 bodies were buried there the following day, including those of seven women and seven children.’ – OHCHR

The Sultanate of Dar Masalit (homeland of the Masalit) reported on June 19 that about 5,000 people were killed in El Geneina between April 24 and June 12. More than 8,000 were left wounded in the 17 attacks on the West Darfur capital in that period.

Activists reported from the city on June 7 that people could not flee the city as it was “almost entirely besieged”. Doctors in the area compared the situation with the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Volker Türk condemned the killings in the strongest terms and called for those responsible to be held to account.

At least 37 of the bodies were buried on June 20 “in the roughly one-metre-deep mass grave in an open area called El Turab El Ahmar [red soil,” OHCHR said. “Another 50 bodies were buried there the following day, including those of seven women and seven children.”

According to credible information gathered by OHCHR, those buried were killed by the RSF and allied gunmen in the El Madaris and El Jamarik neighbourhoods in El Geneina between June 13-21.

Many were victims of the violence that followed the killing of West Darfur Governor Khamees Abakar on June 14, shortly after he was held by RSF officers. Others died from untreated injuries, OHCHR reported.

‘There must be a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into the killings, and those responsible must be held to account’ – Volker Türk

The UN rights chief said he was “appalled by the callous and disrespectful way the dead, along with their families and communities, were treated.

“There must be a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into the killings, and those responsible must be held to account,” he added, and called on the RSF and other parties to the conflict “to allow and facilitate searches for the dead, their collection and evacuation, in line with international law and regardless of ethnicity or other distinction”.

OHCHR said witnesses reported that local mediation efforts for access to and burial of the dead have generally taken too long, leaving many bodies lying in the streets for days.  

Last month, the Darfur Bar Association stated that corpses remained scattered on the streets, inside homes, and in various public facilities across the largely destroyed city of El Geneina.

The family of a Masalit digniitary who was killed on or around 9 June by the RSF and their allies, reportedly had to wait 13 days before being allowed to collect the body.

Witnesses told staff that in cases where the RSF have allowed the collection of the dead, following mediation with Arab and other community leaders, they have refused to allow those injured to be taken to hospitals for medical treatment.

“The RSF’s leadership and their allied militias [!] as well as all parties to an armed conflict are required to ensure that the dead are properly handled, and their dignity protected,” Türk said.

International humanitarian and international human rights law require all warring parties to ensure the injured receive medical care.

The High Commissioner called on the RSF leadership to “immediately and unequivocally condemn and stop the killing of people, and to end violence and hate speech based on ethnicity”.  

RSF Security Advisor Ali El Tahir told Radio Dabanga in mid-June that “Our forces never target people and their properties”. He accused the SAF of “killing civilians and military officers based on their ethnicities”.

* West Darfur is the homeland of the Masalit, a non-Arab ethnic group straddling the Sudan-Chad border. Other tribes living in the region are the (African) Eringa, Gimir, Zaghawa, and the (Arab) Misseriya Jebel.