The Guardian: The Sudan War is a Humanitarian Catastrophe We Choose to Ignore

The Guardian reports that the ethnic cleansing and war crimes in Darfur have left 25 million people in dire need of assistance, yet the West’s attention is focused elsewhere. Fathers are killed in front of their children. As they cry for help, the children die too. Terrified people fleeing attacks become moving targets. Entire communities are burned and destroyed. This leads to chaos, hunger, and thirst, preludes to famine and death. Abandoned, terrified, unprotected, invisible, people are desperate. This isn’t a description of Gaza today; it’s war-torn and largely ignored Sudan.

Estimates suggest that since the outbreak of a senseless civil war just over a year ago, up to 150,000 people have been killed. About 9 million people have been displaced, mostly in the western Darfur region. Aid agencies report that 25 million people urgently need help. The future cohesion of a country already divided by South Sudan’s secession in 2011 and the disintegration of neighboring Libya is now at stake. On the Richter scale of modern horrors, such dreadful statistics make Sudan the world’s worst humanitarian emergency.

There are, of course, other conflicts of similar magnitude—the strife threatening to tear apart Myanmar, the chaos in Yemen, the looming famine in Ethiopia, and the endless misery in Somalia and Haiti. However, regardless of how these massive humanitarian tragedies are measured and tallied, they, unlike the widely covered and scrutinized war between Israel and Hamas, share a fundamental commonality: neglect.

Sudan briefly made headlines last week, not because the wealthier nations and their leaders or media had a sudden bout of conscience, but thanks to a well-documented and highly illustrated investigation by Human Rights Watch. The report concluded that a seven-week campaign of killing and abuses last summer by Sudanese rebel Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied Arab militias against the Masalit people and other non-Arab communities around West Darfur’s capital, El Geneina, amounted to multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity, reaching the level of ethnic cleansing.

The RSF systematically targeted unarmed civilians, particularly boys and men, for killing. Human Rights Watch stated, “They also unlawfully killed injured people, including children and women.” Large swathes of El Geneina were destroyed. The attacks peaked in mid-June, as tens of thousands of civilians tried to flee to Chad. “As part of this campaign, the RSF and its allies committed looting, torture, rape, and other sexual violence, and deliberate killings… and forcible displacement. As a result of these heinous crimes, nearly half a million refugees fled West Darfur to Chad.”

Severe violence in Darfur is not new. The mass killings from 2003 to 2004—when an estimated 300,000 people were killed—were largely attributed to the RSF’s government-backed predecessors, the so-called Arab Janjaweed militias. Those massacres eventually led to charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court against Sudan’s then-dictator, Omar al-Bashir, and others in his regime.

Now, the conflict rooted in ethnic, religious, and regional rivalries dating back hundreds of years is burning again, this time under the guise of a power struggle between the Sudanese army, which ousted Bashir in a 2019 coup, and the RSF. The crisis is far from over. What happened in El Geneina last year, when the UN reported that 15,000 people might have died, could happen again soon. The RSF surrounds El Fasher in North Darfur, the last major regional city under Sudanese army control, home to an estimated 1.8 million people, including many refugees.

There are fears that another wave of violence is about to erupt, unrestrained by effective international intervention, largely unnoticed by the world outside Sudan. U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, recently warned that the city “is on the brink of large-scale slaughter.” “History is repeating itself in Darfur in the worst possible way.” Reports indicate that some countries, like the UAE and Russia, are actively fueling the war. The Wagner Group, an independent mercenary organization used by the Kremlin under Vladimir Putin to expand its influence in the Sahel in competition with the West, is said to have supplied the RSF with missiles early in the conflict. Russia has long held port facilities in Port Sudan on the Red Sea. The UAE insists it only sends aid, not weapons.

Meanwhile, on the other side of this undeclared proxy struggle, Egypt and Iran support Sudanese army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against RSF commander and former Janjaweed leader Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti. Human Rights Watch proposes establishing a new UN mission to protect civilians, imposing more sanctions on RSF leaders, enforcing an international arms embargo on Sudan, and accelerating ICC investigations into war crimes. This is entirely correct and reasonable. But will it happen fully or even partially? It is doubtful. The U.S., UK, and EU have so far taken only limited action. After Ukraine and now Gaza, their attention is clearly elsewhere. But this neither explains nor justifies the indifference. Things would likely be very different if all this were happening in Europe, not Africa.

Human Rights Watch’s report conclusion is blunt but accurate: “UN Security Council members have deliberately failed to fulfill their responsibilities to prevent further atrocities.” Commentators lament the world’s disregard for Sudan. The truth may be worse. The world knows but simply doesn’t care enough.

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