NEW YORK: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk has expressed grave concerns that other “opportunistic” armed groups and militias could exploit the current instability in Sudan, underlined by impunity, to escalate violence even further.
Turk decried the “disastrous, senseless” war “borne out of a wanton drive for power” that has ravaged the country, resulting in thousands of deaths, the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, and vital services, widespread displacement, and sexual violence that may amount to war crimes.
As the ongoing conflict enters its fifth month, Turk said his office has strong grounds to believe that the Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces have committed grave violations of international law, and must be held accountable.
The regions worst affected by the fighting include Khartoum and its environs, El Obeid in North Kordofan and areas of the Darfur region, particularly West Darfur, where civilians have been attacked based on their ethnicity.
While the exact death toll remains elusive due to intense fighting and challenges in collecting and identifying remains, the UN estimates that more than 4,000 people have so far been killed, including hundreds of civilians, 28 humanitarian and health workers, and 435 children. The actual number of casualties is likely to be much higher.
“Many civilians were reportedly killed in the Khartoum area as they resisted attempts by the RSF to loot their houses or rape female family members,” Turk said, adding that others fell victim to crossfire or shelling that hit their homes.
West Darfur’s El Geneina people were killed both inside their homes and as they were attempting to flee on the road to Chad.
The rise in sexual violence is equally alarming, said Turk.
He said: “My office has also received credible reports of 32 incidents of sexual violence against 73 victims as of Aug. 2. This includes at least 28 incidents of rape. Men in RSF uniform were implicated in at least 19 incidents as perpetrators. The actual number of cases is likely much higher.”
Turk has repeatedly urged officials in Sudan to issue clear instructions to all those under their command that there is zero tolerance for sexual violence.
Beyond violence, both parties in Sudan have arbitrarily detained hundreds and held them incommunicado, with more than 500 political activists and human rights defenders, including 24 women, missing.
These detainees often endure maltreatment and, in some instances, torture.
The toll of the conflict also manifests in economic collapse, food insecurity, and a crumbling healthcare system, said Turk. Over 20.3 million people face food insecurity, with 700,000 children at risk of malnutrition. The Sudanese health system is on the brink of collapse, as 100 out of 130 hospitals in Khartoum have ceased operation.
Human displacement also continues with over 4 million people displaced due to the ongoing conflict. The dire living conditions in refugee camps and internally displaced persons sites exacerbate vulnerabilities, especially for women and girls susceptible to sexual abuse, according to Turk.
The UN human rights chief said: “The parties to the conflict must immediately stop the fighting, resume political talks, (and) comply with their legal obligations under international humanitarian law.
“They must investigate all the violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that have occurred during the conflict (and) hold those responsible accountable.
“I also urge the international community to increase political and economic pressure on the parties to the conflict to stop immediately the fighting, and increase financial support for humanitarian agencies responding to the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict, including displacement and refugee crises.”