Sudan war spurs ethnic cleansing in Darfur, says rights group

Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group blamed for thousands of targeted killings

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militia groups in Sudan led a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region last year, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Over the course of an eight-month period in 2023, soldiers from the Arab-led RSF targeted unarmed civilians, including young boys, women and children, as well as lawyers, doctors, human rights defenders, academics, community leaders and religious figures belonging to the non-Arab Masalit community, the New York-based advocacy group said in a report published on Thursday.

The RSF has origins in the government-backed Janjaweed militias that perpetrated the Darfur genocide in the early 2000s.

“During their campaign, RSF fighters and allied militias used derogatory racial slurs against Masalits and people from other non-Arab ethnic groups,” it said. “They told them to leave, that the land was no longer theirs, and that it would be ‘cleaned’ and become ‘the land of the Arabs’.”


A spokesperson for the RSF did not immediately respond to questions about the report sent by email. HRW cited an RSF statement from July 2023 in which the militia reiterated its denial that its forces committed any abuses, describing the unrest in West Darfur as a “purely tribal conflict” in which the RSF is “not a party,” according to the report.

Conflict erupted in Sudan last April, when a long-simmering dispute between the army and the RSF exploded into a full-blown civil war. As many as 150,000 people may have been killed since then, according to US estimates, and the violence shows no sign of abating. Millions have fled their homes, leading to what the United Nations describes as the world’s biggest displacement crisis.

Many of the killings documented by HRW occurred in June, when violence gripped the city of El Geneina in West Darfur and Masalit forces lost the ability to fight back against RSF attacks. Thousands of people were killed as they fled the city and attempted to reach the border with neighbouring Chad.

The Human Rights Watch report was based on interviews with a total of 221 people and analysis of videos, photographs and satellite imagery, it said. – Bloomberg