On the morning of 15 April intense fighting erupted in Khartoum between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The clashes quickly escalated, spreading to other parts of the country, including in Nyala, El Fashir, Zalingey, El Geneina, El Obeid, Port Sudan, Kassala, Kordofan states and elsewhere. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 300 people have been killed and 3,000 injured as result of heavy fighting, air bombardments and shelling.
The outbreak of violence followed weeks of mounting tensions sparked by a disagreement over the integration of the RSF into Sudan’s regular armed forces as part of a political agreement to form a civilian government. While Sudan has undergone significant political changes since former President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in 2019, its democratic transition has faltered, with General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, commander of the SAF, and General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, commander of the RSF, consistently obstructing progress in order to preserve and expand the power and privileges they gained under Bashir.
Juliette Paauwe, Sudan expert at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said, “For years people in Sudan have strongly opposed negotiating an agreement with the military leaders responsible for the 2021 coup and decades of human rights violations and atrocity crimes. While the international community continued to work with them as a legitimate partner, the aspirations of the Sudanese people were blatantly ignored – and today they are once again bearing the brunt.”
Although the initial target of the violence was primarily military installations, the impact on civilians has been significant as rocket shells and bombardments are hitting residential neighborhoods and hospitals. RSF fighters allegedly looted residential areas and have gone house-by-house to demand water and food, as well as to take strategic positions. Civilians remain stuck inside homes, schools and hospitals, without food, medical care and other essential services. Hospitals are running out of critical supplies needed to treat the injured. The World Food Programme temporarily suspended its operations after three of its employees were killed in Darfur. Civilians are also facing the risk of increased inter-communal violence as both forces fight for control and armed groups mobilize along ethnic lines.
Both sides need to urgently agree to a permanent cessation of hostilities and respect international humanitarian and human rights law. Humanitarian organizations must be allowed safe and unhindered access to deliver aid and alleviate the developing humanitarian crisis. International and regional actors, including the African Union, Arab League, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Kingdom and United States, need to ensure all parties return to a credible political transition that respects people’s desire for democratic reform.
Last Tuesday, 11 April, the Myanmar (Burma) military perpetrated an airstrike on a gathering at an administrative office in Pa Zi Gyi, Sagaing Region. The military, also known as the Tatmadaw, first bombed the village via fighter jets and then reportedly fired from Mi-35 helicopters at those escaping the destroyed buildings. Over 165 people, including women and dozens of young children, were reportedly killed, the highest death toll in an attack since the February 2021 coup. The attack was carried out with little regard for civilian lives and the rules of international law. Although the military acknowledged its responsibility for the airstrike, it claimed it was targeting members and arms of the People’s Defense Forces. One day prior, at least 12 people were also killed in an airstrike in Chin State.
Next Monday, 24 April, marks two years since the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted the Five Point Consensus, which demanded an immediate cessation of violence. In the two years since its adoption, the military has perpetrated widespread violations and abuses against civilians that likely amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes, including in the context of airstrikes and an ongoing scorched earth campaign. Over 3,400 people have been killed by their actions since February 2021 and more than 17,500 remain detained as they continue to repress and silence dissent.
The airstrikes and detentions also violate UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2669, which demanded an immediate end to all forms of violence; urged the military to immediately release all arbitrarily detained prisoners; and insisted all parties respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. Following a request by the United Kingdom, on 13 April the UNSC discussed the situation in Myanmar under “any other business,’ but failed to agree on a draft Press Statement condemning the attack.
Jaclyn Streitfeld-Hall, Director of Policy and Research at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect said that, “The military’s continued disregard for international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as the Five Point Consensus and UN Security Council Resolution 2669, shows that the international community’s existing strategies are not working and there is a need for further action.” The UNSC must adopt measures to enforce the military’s compliance with Resolution 2669 in conjunction with action to deny the junta the capacity to perpetrate further crimes, including adopting a comprehensive arms embargo and issuing targeted sanctions on the military’s leaders and financial assets, particularly the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise. During its upcoming summit in May 2023, ASEAN should also take steps to move beyond the Five Point Consensus and impose stricter measures in response to the military’s ongoing atrocities.
Since 2017 the Chinese government has arbitrary detained over 1 million people – including Uyghurs and other majority-Muslim ethnic groups – in “re-education” or “de-extremification” facilities. Various UN officials and mechanisms, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, have expressed alarm about “allegations of torture or ill-treatment, forced labour, sexual violence, arbitrary detention and related patterns of abuse” in the so-called Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XUAR). The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) determined in August 2022 that ongoing policies may constitute crimes against humanity.
Despite evidence and allegations of potential atrocities, international pressure on the Chinese government remains uneven. The actions of senior European government officials during recent visits to Beijing delivered mixed messages regarding China’s ongoing systematic persecution of Uyghurs and other majority-Muslim ethnic groups. On 5 April French President Emmanuel Macron, joined by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, embarked on a three-day trip to the country. While von der Leyen expressed concern about the situation in XUAR President Macron failed to raise China’s abysmal rights record with President Xi Jinping, prompting heavy criticism. A few days later, during bilateral strategy dialogue on 14 April, German Foreign Minister Annalena Bärbock strongly condemned systematic abuses in Xinjiang and called on the Chinese government to implement the recommendations made by OHCHR.
Uyghurs in XUAR and around the world are also facing surveillance by the Chinese government. A report published by independent experts at the University of Sheffield in early April warned that China “exports its domestic model of governance and genocidal oppression to target all Uyghurs and their family members” through transnational repression. In Turkey, home to the largest number of Uyghur diaspora outside of Central Asia, researchers documented “growing dangers of deportation, surveillance by Uyghur informants, and restrictions on civil rights, particularly for those granted temporary humanitarian visas.” Human Rights Watch has warned that China’s surveillance apparatus has also affected Uyghurs living in France and other European countries.
While Germany’s strong condemnation of systematic abuses in XUAR was welcomed by Uyghur rights and victim groups, conflicting messaging from President Macron raises concern about the lack of a strong and unified European position vis-à-vis China’s abysmal rights record. Rather than appeasing perpetrators of atrocity crimes, leaders in Europe and around the world should increase pressure on the Chinese government to end state-led repression in XUAR, including against diaspora groups in other countries. Failure to do so will further embolden the Chinese government to continue systematic state-led repression.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5203
New York, NY 10016-4309, USA