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'RSF committed horrific crimes against civilians in Darfur'

September 9 - 2015 NEW YORK
Paramilitary forces with the vehicles they claimed to have captured from armed rebel forces in East Jebel Marra in January 2015. The RSF are under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) (SAF)
Paramilitary forces with the vehicles they claimed to have captured from armed rebel forces in East Jebel Marra in January 2015. The RSF are under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) (SAF)

The Rapid Support Forces of Sudan have committed ‘systematic’ and ‘horrific’ abuses against civilians in Darfur, including torture, extrajudicial killings and mass rapes. That concludes Human Rights Watch in an investigative report published today, stating that the violence constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Rapid Support Forces (El Quwat El Da’m El Sari’ in Arabic) is a government force under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). The forces were created in 2013 to defeat armed rebel groups in the states of South Kordofan and Darfur. The RSF has also become active outside the rebel areas. Radio Dabanga showed recent pictures of RSF troops extorting money from bus passengers north of the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

The abuses also include forced displacement of entire communities. Human Rights Watch (HRW) started their investigations after a Dutch journalist, Klaas van Dijken, and cameraman Adriane Ohanesian accessed the East Jebel Marra region in Darfur in early 2015. It was the first time in years that journalists were able to enter the area. They recorded testimonies on camera. The international human rights watchdog was able to cross check their report.

The United Nations estimate that at least 130,000 people are trapped in these areas without access to humanitarian aid. The RSF is also responsible for the destruction of wells and food stores, and HRW reports plundering of the collective wealth of entire families, such as livestock.

Several victims interviewed in- and outside Darfur are quoted in the report ‘Men with no Mercy’. A woman of 38 from Golo from Central Darfur told in July 2015: “The government soldiers confiscated our belongings. They took our livestock. They beat the men. And then they raped us. They raped us in a group. Some women were raped by 8 or 10 men. Seventeen women were raped together. All of us were raped. Even the underage girls were raped.”

The woman is one of the more than 151 survivors and witnesses interviewed by HRW. Many fled Sudan to Chad and South Sudan, but 16 of them were interviewed inside Darfur, and an additional 45 victims and witnesses in Darfur by telephone.

The paramilitaries' atrocities were part of a widely announced government offensive against armed rebels in Darfur called Operation Decisive Summer. Jointly with the Sudan Air Force, RSF troops repeatedly attacked villages.

Rape

As researchers found, the members of the RSF committed rape in several towns and villages over an extended period of time. First-hand accounts of orders from commanders to commit such crimes indicate that they were systematic, the researchers conclude.

Golo, southwest of Rokoro in central Jebel Marra

The attack on the town of Golo in central Jebel Marra at the end of January 2015 was emblematic of RSF atrocities. The rebel Sudan Liberation Army led by Abdel Wahid El Nur (SLA-AW) has contested control of Golo at various times since the Darfur conflict erupted in 2003. On 24 and 25 January, the RSF took over the town burning buildings, looting possessions, and raping women. Some RSF attacks occurred in towns or villages that were already entirely under government control.

During the three weeks after they attacked Golo, the RSF continued to rape scores of girls and women in the town and neighbouring village Bardani. Women were gang raped, often in front of community members who were forced to watch. Those who resisted the paramilitaries were killed. The naked bodies of many dead women were later discovered in the streets; other women were burned alive. The survivors of the Golo mass rape have not had access to medical or psycho-social services.

 “They killed my father. My father was defending us so that we would not be raped and he was beaten to death… After they killed my father they raped the three of us. Me and my two sisters. … After they raped us they stole everything.” - Victim Nur El Huda, Golo, 2015

Unamid, ICC urged to act

The government of Sudan should immediately disarm and disband the Rapid Support Forces and withdraw them from Darfur, HRW concludes. The government should also allow the African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (Unamid), humanitarian agencies, and human rights organisations unfettered access to all areas of Darfur.

If the government continues to refuse access, Unamid should investigate and publicly report allegations of serious abuses through telecommunication and other remote research methods, the rights organisation stresses. The UN should also impose travel bans and asset freezes on individuals responsible for the attacks on civilians in Darfur, and for the continued obstruction of peacekeepers and UN investigators.

The European Union and Member States of the International Criminal Court, the report reads, should send a clear message to the government of Sudan that continued crimes will result in the imposition of targeted punitive EU sanctions against individuals and entities deemed responsible.

HRW concludes that the opposition groups in rebel-controlled areas should facilitate access of humanitarian personnel and the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance to all civilians living in and around rebel-controlled territory.


Read our background story: Who are the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan?


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