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Sudan: Disturbing new evidence of government war crimes in Darfur

Aerial view of South Darfur
Aerial view of South Darfur © UN Photo/Fred Noy

New evidence that ‘scorched earth’ attacks continue

UN and African Union set to vote to close peacekeeping mission on 27 June which would expose civilians to brutal tactics of Sudanese security forces

‘It’s hard to imagine a worse time to decide to close UNAMID’ - Jonathan Loeb

Amnesty International has disturbing new evidence, including satellite imagery, showing that Sudanese government forces have continued to commit war crimes and other serious human rights violations in Darfur.  

Satellite evidence and testimonies confirm that government forces and associated militias damaged or destroyed at least 45 villages in Jebel Marra between July 2018 and February this year. Amnesty has also documented other abuses by security forces, including unlawful killings, sexual violence, systematic looting and forced displacement.

Despite severe government restrictions on access to Jebel Marra. Amnesty has also been able to confirm recent attacks against the region’s civilians, much of which have gone unreported by the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“In Darfur, as in Khartoum, we’ve witnessed the Rapid Support Forces’ despicable brutality against Sudanese civilians – the only difference being in Darfur they have committed atrocities with impunity for years.

“Sudan’s Transitional Military Council must immediately withdraw the Rapid Support Forces from any policing and law-enforcement operations, especially in Khartoum and Darfur, and confine them to their barracks in the interests of public safety.”

UNAMID withdrawal

In 2017 and 2018, the UN and African Union decided to dramatically reduce the number of UNAMID troops, close the majority of its bases, and reconfigure the remainder of the mission to focus on the protection of civilians in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur, where the human rights and protection concerns were greatest. At the end of June, the African Union and UN are considering voting to withdraw all the remaining peacekeepers from Darfur by June 2020, including the majority of the remaining team sites by this December.

Amnesty is concerned that tens of thousands of civilians currently protected by UNAMID peacekeepers in Jebel Marra, Darfur would consequently be placed at the mercy of the Rapid Support Forces, a ruthless Sudanese security force that has committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Brutal history of the Rapid Support Forces

The closed UNAMID bases were supposed to be handed over to the government to use for civilian purposes but are nearly all being used by the Rapid Support Forces. This same Sudanese government security force carried out crimes against humanity in North and South Darfur in 2014, in Jebel Marra in 2015 and 2016, continues to carry out war crimes and other serious human rights violations in Jebel Marra, and was chiefly responsible for killing scores of protesters in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum last week. Sudan’s current governing body – the TMC – has demanded that the remaining UNAMID bases be handed over directly to the Rapid Support Forces.

Jonathan Loeb, Amnesty International's Senior Crisis Adviser, said:

“Given the Rapid Support Forces’ history of brutality in Jebel Marra, North Darfur, South Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile, and the shocking violence the very same forces have been meting out against protesters in Khartoum in recent days, it is bewildering that the UN and AU would even consider removing the last peacekeepers from Darfur, effectively handing over control of civilian areas in Jebel Marra to them at this time.

“The logic behind the drawdown was premised on the idea that peacekeepers should withdraw once conditions on the ground had sufficiently improved. This arguably made sense in certain parts of Darfur, but it is not the case in Jebel Marra. Perversely, the UN is using its own failure to document the violence in Jebel Marra as the basis for it argument that the mission should close.”

Jebel Marra civilians taking refuge at UNAMID base
Closing the mission could have a devastating impact on the displaced population in and around Jebel Marra, many of whom rely on UNAMID bases for protection.

UNAMID’s Sortoni base in northern Jebel Marra is one example of where UNAMID’s presence is still vital. In 2016, tens of thousands of civilians fled to the area immediately around the base after the Sudanese government forces destroyed their villages. Many remain there today unable to go home because of fear of ongoing attacks by security forces against people who attempt to return to their areas to farm. Closing the base will leave people exposed to attack by the very same fighters who destroyed their villages and still carried out attacks in the area during the past year.

Amnesty interviewed people living around Sortoni and other UNAMID bases in Jebel Marra, nearly all of whom said they feared a return to large-scale violence if UNAMID left, and that they would be forced to flee again if this happens.

Adam, a 54-year-old man who was displaced to Sortoni by violence in 2016, told Amnesty that his brother was killed in late 2018 when he tried to return to his farm in northern Jebel Marra. Adam told Amnesty that he is fearful of UNAMID leaving:

“UNAMID, even though they are not doing much… their existence is a threat to the [security forces] who want to mistreat people… that is why [those forces] don’t commit atrocities. If UNAMID is not there then they will have nothing to fear. If no-one is protecting then there will be unimaginable behaviour. Anyone who is armed can do anything.”

Crackdown in Khartoum
The case against closing UNAMID has been made even stronger by events in Khartoum on 3 June, when the Rapid Support Forces swept into protest sites and opened fire on unarmed people, killing more than 100 and injuring many more. Senior commanders in charge of the TMC – which includes the Rapid Support Forces – are the same individuals responsible for carrying out atrocities in Darfur.

Jonathan Loeb, said:

“It’s hard to imagine a worse time to decide to close UNAMID. Sudan is in the middle of a political crisis. And given that the men who have retained political and military power are the architects of many of the most violent campaigns during the Darfur conflict, it would be dangerously naive for the UN Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council to dismiss the possibility of an escalation of violence against civilians in Darfur.

“A decision to remove the last remaining peacekeepers from Darfur at this time would reveal a shocking lack of understanding about the current reality in Sudan.”

Conflict in Darfur

Hundreds of thousands of people have died from direct violence and conflict-related disease and starvation during the conflict in Darfur. According to the UN, approximately two million people remain displaced by violence in Darfur, many of whom remain refugees in neighbouring Chad.

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