31 May 2024
Risk Level: Current Crisis

Populations in Sudan are enduring war crimes and crimes against humanity due to an armed confrontation between the Sudanese military and paramilitary forces. Non-Arab communities in Darfur are at risk of genocide as result of ethnically motivated killings.


On 15 April 2023 violent clashes broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). In their fight to preserve and expand control, both parties have perpetrated indiscriminate and deliberate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, often with rocket shells, bombardments and heavy artillery, that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project has recorded over 1,400 violent events targeting civilians across the country since the war began. The brutal and widespread use of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, exploitation and sexual slavery has been reported.

The RSF have utilized the conflict to also launch a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing and large-scale attacks targeting non-Arab communities, particularly the Massalit, in various parts of the country. Dozens of cities, towns and villages have been fully or partially destroyed across Darfur. Mass graves have been identified in El Geneina and Misterei, West Darfur. The UN Security Council (UNSC)-mandated Panel of Experts estimates that between 10,000 and 15,000 civilians were killed by the RSF and allied militia in El Geneina from April to June 2023.

Access to food, medical care and other essential services has been severely disrupted and restricted while targeted attacks and the looting of humanitarian supplies have left civilians without access to life-saving support. Nearly 25 million people urgently need humanitarian assistance and, according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost 5 million people are at risk of catastrophic hunger in the coming months. During February the SAF was accused of prohibiting and obstructing cross-border humanitarian aid and assistance from reaching vulnerable communities in RSF-controlled areas. According to the International Organization for Migration, over 6.6 million people have been internally displaced and an additional 2 million have fled to neighboring countries since April 2023.

Strong condemnation and diplomatic efforts by the African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and various countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Sudan and the United States, have yielded limited results. Despite the fighting, on 16 November the military authorities requested the immediate termination of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan. On 20 January Sudan suspended its membership with IGAD. The UN Secretary-General has appointed a Personal Envoy for Sudan while IGAD has appointed a Special Envoy.

The conflict was initially sparked by mounting tensions between General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, commander of the SAF, and General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, commander of the RSF, regarding the integration of the RSF into Sudan’s regular forces as part of a political agreement aiming to establish a new transitional civilian authority. Sudan has undergone significant political changes since former President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown after country-wide protests in 2019. Leadership was handed over to a joint civilian-military transitional Sovereign Council until the military – under the leadership of General Burhan and supported by General Hemedti – seized power on 25 October 2021. Following the 2021 coup, millions of protesters demonstrated across the country, demanding the reinstatement of a genuine civilian-led government.


Violence has dramatically escalated across North Darfur, posing an imminent threat of atrocities to civilian populations. Since April indiscriminate airstrikes and the deliberate targeting of communities in and around El Fasher has led to civilian deaths and the destruction of towns and villages. Open source and remote sensing data have confirmed arson attacks by the RSF, as well as artillery bombardments and airstrikes by the SAF. Reports claim that the RSF has encircled the city and blocked supply routes, controlling major roads and junctions surrounding El Fasher. On 22 May the RSF deliberately attacked and entered the Abu Shouk displacement camp and allegedly beat, tortured and extrajudicially detained civilians. El Fasher is the only capital in Darfur not controlled by the RSF and is home to large Zaghawa, Masalit, Fur and other non-Arab populations. Various senior UN officials have raised alarm and expressed concern about the escalation of violence and imminent attack on El Fasher.

Despite a UNSC resolution adopted on 8 March calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities during the month of Ramadan, fighting continued unabated between the RSF and SAF. According to the El Hasahisa Resistance Committee, the RSF killed at least 43 people in a series of attacks on 28 villages in El Gezira state during the first five days of Ramadan.


Since former President Bashir was ousted, General Burhan and General Hemedti have consistently obstructed Sudan’s political transition to preserve and expand their power and privileges. Both continued to recruit forces along ethnic lines and strengthen relationships with regional powers, including several Gulf states. Many civil society groups and experts did not support the transition process, warning that involving the military in negotiations legitimized the 2021 coup and rewarded actors involved in grave human rights violations and atrocities.

For decades, the Arab-dominated government imposed its control on ethnic minorities and exploited ethnic divisions and the presence of armed Arab militias – including the Janjaweed, the forerunner of the RSF – resulted in competition and deadly conflicts over shrinking resources and pastoral land. Local authorities have lacked the capacity and resources to ensure the protection of civilians. Amidst the current conflict, civilians in Darfur, particularly those from non-Arab communities, are at risk of ethnic cleansing and genocide given the region’s genocidal history, entrenched impunity for past crimes and the ethnically charged nature of the ongoing violence. A ceasefire agreement between the SAF and RSF will not bring an end to this parallel campaign of identity-based mass violence.

Impunity has allowed those responsible for atrocity crimes and grave human rights violations to remain in leadership positions. During his dictatorship, former President Bashir, government officials and militia leaders were allegedly responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of genocide, for which they were indicted by the International Criminal Court following a 2005 UNSC referral. As a commander of the Janjaweed, General Hemedti was also implicated in atrocities committed during the conflict in Darfur and beyond.


    • Political instability caused by abrupt or irregular regime change and widespread mistrust in state institutions.
    • Humanitarian and human rights crisis caused by armed confrontation between the SAF and RSF, including in densely populated areas.
    • Deliberate targeting of civilians based on their ethnicity, which may amount to ethnic cleansing and genocide.
    • Past or present serious discriminatory practices, policies or legislation against marginalized communities and persons belonging to minority groups, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity and acts of genocide.
    • Absence of reconciliation or transitional justice processes following decades of conflict and atrocities.


General Burhan and General Hemedti must agree to a permanent cessation of hostilities and ensure adherence to international humanitarian and human rights law by all forces under their command. In addition to ceasefire negotiations, the international community must assess the risk of further atrocities, including evaluating which communities are at imminent risk, and determine appropriate response.

It is essential that humanitarian organizations are allowed safe and unhindered access. International donors must utilize more innovative ways of delivering aid to vulnerable populations across Sudan, including by supporting civilian-run Resistance Committees and neighborhood communities and disbursing cash grants.

The UNSC, AU, IGAD and states with influence over the warring parties should continue to support efforts aimed at ending the fighting, while urgently prioritizing the protection of civilians and the prevention of any further escalation in civilian harm. Regional and sub-regional organizations, as well as the UNSC, must explore all options for civilian protection, including under Chapter VII and VIII of the UN Charter, to establish and maintain a permanent ceasefire and ensure humanitarian access. The UNSC must also consider expanding the existing sanctions regime, including against those responsible for conflict-related sexual violence and the targeting of communities based on their ethnic identity. States should urgently consider targeted sanctions against General Burhan and General Hemedti, including freezing personal bank accounts, as well as the accounts of companies to which they are connected.


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