Children ‘piled up and shot’: new details emerge of ethnic cleansing in Darfur

Children ‘piled up and shot’: new details emerge of ethnic cleansing in Darfur

Gruesome new testimony details one of the worst atrocities of the year-long Sudanese civil war – the large-scale massacre of civilians as they desperately tried to flee an ethnic rampage in Darfur last summer.

Witnesses describe children, still alive, being “piled up and shot” by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as they attempted to escape the regional capital of El Geneina in June last year during a bout of ethnic violence in which thousands of civilians were killed.

Together, the 221 witness statements collated by Human Rights Watch offer the latest evidence that the Arab-led RSF has orchestrated a concerted 12-month campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sudan’s non-Arab Masalit tribe in West Darfur.

The United Nations and African Union should, says HRW, urgently impose an arms embargo on Sudan and deploy a mission with a robust police force to Darfur, the sprawling region in the west of the country, to protect civilians.

A HRW report published Wednesday calls for sanctions for those ultimately responsible for widespread war crimes, including the West Darfur RSF commander Abdel Rahman Joma’a Barakallah, along with the notorious commander of the RSF, Mohamed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo, and his brother Abdel Raheem.

Since fighting erupted between the RSF and Sudan’s military in April 2023, more than 8 million people have fled their homes amid a humanitarian crisis that the UN warns is one of the largest in decades.

The current flashpoint, El Fasher, is the last city held by Sudan’s military in Darfur. The city is encircled by the RSF, and diplomats fear it is on the “precipice of a large-scale massacre”.

Tirana Hassan, the executive director at Human Rights Watch, said: “As the UN security council and governments wake up to looming disaster in El Fasher, the large-scale atrocities committed in El Geneina should be seen as a reminder of the atrocities that could come in the absence of concerted action.”

One of the worst episodes of Sudan’s civil war was in June when the RSF and its allies attacked a kilometres-long convoy of civilians as people tried to leave El Geneina, escorted by Masalit fighters.

Three trucks full of armed menView image in fullscreen

Witnesses told HRW researchers that the RSF had chased, rounded up and shot men, women and children who ran through streets or attempted to swim the fast-flowing seasonal Kaja River that cuts through the city. Many drowned.

A 17-year-old boy described the killing of 12 children and five adults on 15 June, saying: “Two RSF forces … grab[bed] the children from their parents and, as the parents started screaming, two other RSF forces shot the parents, killing them.

“Then they piled up the children and shot them,” he said. “They threw their bodies into the river and their belongings in after them.”

For the rest of the day and subsequent days, the attacks continued on tens of thousands of civilians as they tried to reach the border with Chad.

Other attacks chronicled by HRW include another RSF attack on 15 June on a makeshift medical clinic in El Geneina, where 25 injured patients were seeking treatment.

Ali, who had been shot in the leg during a previous attack, said: “They started shooting at us and killed everyone except me and a woman [who was also wounded]. They shot me in the right arm. I slumped over, pretending I was dead.”

Surrounded by corpses for 10 hours, Ali and the woman stayed still as the RSF continued their assault on the city.

At about 5pm, seven armed men in uniform came into the clinic, beating him and using racial slurs.

“One said, ‘We won’t kill you! We want to torture you, Nuba [an ethnic slur]!’”

Ali was rescued by his family hours later after the gunmen left the clinic.