4th Dec 2023


Beyond Ukraine and Gaza, an overlooked genocide in Darfur

  • The EU limited itself to condemning the 'ethnic cleansing campaign with the aim to eradicate the non-Arab Masalit community from West Darfur' by RSF on 12 November, warning about the danger of another genocide in Darfur (Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID)
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As the world's eyes are turned to conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, few seem to pay attention to or take action against the current atrocities in Sudan, where an escalation of violence resulted in at least 1,000 deaths in just two days last week amid fears of yet another ethnic cleansing.

While Ukrainian and Palestinian flags are omnipresent in rallies in Brussels and other European capitals, the Sudanese flags (which have a similar design to the latter), are nowhere to be seen in the streets or on social media.

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Our governments, institutions, and civil societies seem to be far less vocal when it comes to grave human rights violations in Africa, which sends a sign of double standards.

Meanwhile, eyewitnesses raise alarm bells of mass killings, burned villages and aggressions by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) targeting the leaders and members of the non-Arab Masalit tribe in Ardamata, West Darfur. 100 shelters were razed to the ground in Ardamata, which is one of the numerous camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), who were forced to leave their homes during the well-documented genocide in Darfur in 2003-2008. The region is the size of France, containing six million inhabitants from nearly 100 tribes.

The EU only limited itself to condemn the "ethnic cleansing campaign with the aim to eradicate the non-Arab Masalit community from West Darfur" by RSF on 12 November, warning about the danger of another genocide in Darfur.

Between 2003 and 2008, the Sudanese government led by strongman Omar al-Bashir, supported the Janjaweed Arab militias to crack down on rebel groups protesting against marginalisation in Darfur, whose members included Masalit, leading to 300,000 killings and 2.5 million displaced persons.

While the country aspired to a democratic transition in 2019 with the toppling of al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity, a coup led by general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his then deputy general Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo ousted the civilian prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was in favour of the demilitarisation of the election process in the country.

This latest escalation of violence started in mid-April, when Dagalo mobilised the RSF paramilitary, which grew in large part of the Janjaweed militias, against al-Burhan's de facto government.

After the initial fighting in Khartoum, the RSF gained control of most Darfur, where it has been targeting the largest local ethnic group Masalit — a minority group in Sudan, which has a predominantly Arab population.

Back in June, the RSF executed the governor of West Darfur in El Geneina, Khamis Abubbakr from the Masalit tribe.

As a result, the US sanctioned Dagalo's brother Abdel Raheem Dagalo, the RSF's second-in-command, and local RSF commander Abdul Rahman Juma. The United Nations' human rights body (UNJHRO) has received reports of at least 13 mass graves in El Geneina.

In spite of peace talks mediated by the US and Saudi Arabia in Jeddah last October, a ceasefire could not be established.

According to the UN under-secretary-general Martin Griffiths, at least 9,000 people have been killed "in one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history" since the fighting began in April, leaving 5.6 million displaced (including 1.2 million seeking refuge in Chad and other neighbouring countries) and 25 million people (half of the population of Sudan) in need of humanitarian aid.

EU overspill

In view of the increased number of IDPs, food insecurity will be exacerbated with limited cultivation activity and a bad harvesting season in perspective.

Bordering Libya, Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Eritrea and Egypt, Sudan is in the immediate vicinity of the European neighbourhood and the ongoing war in Africa's third-largest country by area, could have worse repercussions than the Libyan collapse for the EU and beyond.

There is a serious risk of spill-over effects in neighbouring countries, which could fuel regional tensions.

Given that Sudan once hosted al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, fears of an Islamist resurgence in the country should not be underestimated either. There are also concerns that it could become a proxy conflict amid reports that the United Arab Emirates has been supplying weapons to the RSF.

The current funding levels are far from matching humanitarian needs, with only a third of the pledge being fulfilled.

The humanitarian emergency and the geopolitical realities in Sudan and its wider region call for a more proactive approach from the EU and other global actors. We can no longer be mere witnesses to yet another genocide unfolding at our doorsteps or selectively treat conflicts in our proximity.

The lives of people of Sudan matter as much as those of Ukraine or Gaza. Caring more about one side and being in oblivion about the other is not an option.

Author bio

Eli Hadzhieva is founder and director of the Brussels-based think tank Dialogue for Europe.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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