Photo Source: © Scott Peterson via Getty Images
Photo Source: © Scott Peterson via Getty Images

Atrocity Alert No. 357: Sudan, Ukraine and Ethiopia

26 July 2023

Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.


Monday, 24 July, marked 100 days since the outbreak of the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which has devastated populations across Sudan. Rocket shells, bombardments and heavy artillery continue to hit densely populated urban areas, destroying large parts of cities, and killing and injuring civilians. On 21 July at least 16 civilians were reportedly killed by rocket fire exchange between the SAF and RSF in Nyala, South Darfur. On 8 July, during one of the deadliest airstrikes since the beginning of the conflict, at least 22 civilians were killed in the city of Omdurman. The widespread use of conventional weapons, including field artillery, mortars, air-dropped weapons and anti-aircraft guns, has left unexploded ordnances in Khartoum and other urban areas, leaving civilians at risk.

Despite various diplomatic and mediation efforts by regional and international actors, the fighting between the SAF and RSF has shown no signs of abating. Multiple ceasefire agreements have repeatedly been violated and civilians continue to be caught in the middle. As of 5 July, at least 1,136 people have reportedly been killed and 12,000 injured, according to Sudan’s Federal Ministry of Health. The actual figures are estimated to be much higher because these totals only reflect data collected from hospitals. The current conflict has also triggered an alarming escalation in inter-communal and ethnically motivated violence in various parts of the country, particularly in the Darfur region.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Clementine Nkweta-Salami, said that the ongoing fighting has “turned a dire humanitarian situation into a full-blown catastrophe. It is a devastating situation, with the surging violations increasing the suffering of civilians… [Many] remain without the most basic services – water, health care and food.” Markets, hospitals and water and electrical installations have been damaged and destroyed while shortages of food, fuel and medication have impacted millions of people. Humanitarian facilities have also been attacked, with at least 50 humanitarian warehouses looted, 82 offices ransacked and more than 200 vehicles stolen. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of increasing reports of attacks on health care, with at least 50 verified attacks that have resulted in 10 deaths and 21 injuries between 15 April and 11 July. WHO also reported that ongoing fighting has left more than 80 percent of the country’s hospitals out of service.

The international community must take timely and decisive action to protect vulnerable populations in Sudan by compelling the warring parties to immediately sign an unconditional and indefinite ceasefire agreement. The international community should also impose targeted sanctions on leaders of the RSF and SAF and others responsible for atrocities. States need to increase humanitarian support for aid programs in Sudan and neighboring countries.


On 17 July Russia announced it was suspending its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Brokered by the UN and Türkiye in July 2022, the initiative restored the flow of grain from Ukraine, as well as fertilizer and grain from Russia, through an agreed-upon corridor in the Black Sea following a months-long blockade. The initiative helped ease shortages around the world as Ukraine and Russia provide 25 percent of the global supply of wheat.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned “with the termination of the Black Sea Initiative, the most vulnerable will pay the highest price. When food prices rise, everybody pays for it. This is especially devastating for vulnerable countries struggling to feed their people.” Aid programs like the World Food Programme source upwards of 80 percent of their grain from Ukraine to support populations experiencing food insecurity, including in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen, among others.

Following the suspension of the deal, Russian forces have carried out a spate of aerial attacks on the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odesa, a key hub for exporting grain. The strikes have destroyed critical port infrastructure, including grain and oil storage facilities, and have killed and wounded dozens of civilians. In recent days, Russian forces have expanded their aerial attacks, targeting shipping infrastructure along export routes on the Danube River. On 24 July Russian strikes destroyed grain warehouses in the town of Reni, an important transport hub only 200 meters from the Romanian border.

The strikes have also hit several cultural sites in Odesa’s city center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. According to Ukrainian officials, the strikes have destroyed 25 heritage sites across the city, including the historic Transfiguration Orthodox Cathedral, the House of Scientists and Zhvanetsky Boulevard. Throughout the conflict, Russian forces have destroyed and looted Ukrainian cultural centers, including during the occupation of the city of Kherson, where Russian forces looted art museums, cathedrals and the national archives. Since the beginning of the conflict on 24 February 2022, UNESCO has verified damage to at least 270 cultural sites, including 116 religious sites. The intentional destruction and looting of cultural heritage is prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Russian authorities should immediately rejoin efforts to ensure safe shipping corridors on the Black Sea and prevent blockades of food supplies to global markets. Russian forces must immediately cease targeting civilian areas and infrastructure, including protected cultural heritage sites. Russian authorities should comply with their obligations under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1972 World Heritage Convention.


On 13 July a group of UN experts released a statement decrying the mass forcible deportation of hundreds of Eritrean migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from Ethiopia at the end of June. Several cases of family separation were reported, with parents forced back to Eritrea and children left behind in Ethiopia. There has been no information on the fate and whereabouts of the deported Eritreans since their return to the country.

The group of UN Special Rapporteurs stressed, “deporting migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers without conducting an individual and objective risk assessment of their exposure to human rights violations, including torture and enforced disappearance, upon return is refoulement.” Refoulement of persons to a situation where they will likely face threats to their lives or freedom or the risk of torture is prohibited under international law, including under the Convention Against Torture.

Those who have been forcibly deported back to Eritrea face an uncertain future. The Eritrean government has committed longstanding crimes against humanity against its population, according to findings reported by the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry in 2016. In April 2023 the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Mohamed Babiker, reported ongoing abuses against civilians, including arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances of journalists, perceived draft evaders and returned asylum seekers. According to previous reporting by Special Rapporteur Babiker, forcibly returned Eritreans have also faced torture, ill-treatment and trafficking.

The UN experts also expressed concern for the wellbeing of the at least 140,000 Eritrean refugees remaining in Ethiopia amidst reports of prolonged arbitrary detentions and arrests of Eritreans. Individuals are reportedly detained without charge, without access to a lawyer and without judicial process. The UN experts reported that Ethiopian authorities are seemingly targeting Eritreans with detention, a practice that constitutes discrimination.

Although Ethiopia had a long history of providing “prima facie” recognition to Eritreans fleeing persecution, forced conscription and other abuses in their country, in January 2020, Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs stopped registering some categories of new arrivals, including unaccompanied children, for reasons not made public. The Ethiopian government’s refusal to recognize the status of Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees has prevented them from accessing and applying for protection in violation of international human rights and refugee law.

Sarah Hunter, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect’s Horn of Africa expert, said, “Eritreans have faced abuses by their government for decades, causing hundreds of thousands to flee. For Ethiopia to abuse their rights and forcibly deport them back to Eritrea where they face further abuse is deplorable. The Ethiopian government must end the forcible deportation of Eritreans and immediately resume allowing them to apply for protected status.”

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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