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  • Najlaa Ahmed & Emily Green

Not enough to Prevent Genocide: Briefing on Identity-based Violence in Sudan

June 19 marks the International Day for the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict, and coincides with the streaming of our video "CRSV Survivors call for Justice in Sudan" at the 56th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Rights for Peace is briefing delegates at a side event to highlight the horrific, systematic and widespread international crimes and human rights violations being committed against civilians in Sudan, with a particular focus on patterns of ethnically-motivated violence and conflict-related sexual violence.

Citizens are suffering famine, shelling, bombardments, massacres, conflict-related sexual violence including rape, abductions, captivity and sexual slavery, forced marriage, as well as arbitrary detentions, torture and even beheadings.

Illustration showing civilians fleeing an urban area in Sudan

8.8 million people have been forced to flee their homes, since the conflict erupted in Khartoum on 15 April 2023, with hospitals and infrastructure badly affected. There have been 15,550 reported fatalities and over 1,400 violent events targeting civilians.

In just March and April 2024 year, 1 million people were denied humanitarian aid as a result of conflict and administrative blockages. For months there have been warnings of famine.

Hunger and Famine as a war crime?

We are no longer speaking of the risk of famine as deaths resulting from hunger are a reality and are set to increase across the country, with concentrations in Darfur, Kordofan, Khartoum and Al Jazeera State where access to food is being deprived. According to one study, the tipping point at which acute malnutrition converts to large-scale death may already have been reached in May in some areas.

The bombing and shelling of Al Fasher must cease immediately in line with Security Council Resolution 2736 (2024) of 13 June 2024. Despite the resolution, the war is still raging. According to Médecins Sans Frontières, more than 1,300 people were injured in Al Fasher between 25 May and 6 June in El Fasher. Access to food is an absolute priority for displaced persons. The importance of humanitarian access and free movement for civilians to leave or move cannot be overstated. Intentionally allowing civilians to starve and impeding relief supplies is a war crime,  and an alarming 18 million people face acute hunger across Sudan, with an estimated 2.5 million ‘excess deaths’ due to famine expected by the end of September 2024. This accounts for 15% of the population of Greater Darfur and Kordofan, where non-Arab groups are specifically being targeted, and where conditions of life being inflicted could be genocidal.

 Conflict-related sexual violence

The sexual violence we are seeing in Sudan is not private or incidental; it is violence that is deliberately intended to subjugate, torture, persecute and destroy groups of civilians – based on their identity – as a “weapon of war”.

Reporting sexual violence in the conflict context of Sudan is difficult. There are barriers for survivors at every level including stigmatising attitudes, inability to access services, as well as lack of services, including trauma-informed support. Reported cases are just a snapshot. We are aware of:

  • 96 women who have disappeared,

  • 13 cases of abduction of women and girls with forced marriage,

  • 169 incidents of rape.

  • Numerous cases of gang rape, including of a thirteen-year-old girl by seven men, who are now sharing this girl amongst themselves as their wife in sexual slavery.

  • Patterns of forced marriage inflicted on vulnerable daughters of precarious workers who have moved to cities to escape conflict zones.

Ethnically-motivated violence

It is vital to highlight that ethnic hatred is a key feature of this conflict, just as with the genocide in Darfur 20 years ago. The war is not just between the two fighting parties, the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. This is also a war against civilians along ethnic grounds. Civilians are being bombed, massacred, disappeared, tortured, sexually enslaved and looted.

The ethnic and discriminatory intent behind RSF’s crimes can be evidenced based on systematic patterns of violence as well as accompanying hate narratives.  We want to echo the findings of genocide made by the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and others.

States have international obligations to both prevent and punish such acts. Not enough is being done to prevent what may be a large-scale genocide.

There is a systematic pattern of attacks against civilian populations with apparent intentions to destroy non-Arab groups such as the Masalit either in whole or in part. These attacks involve killings, physical and mental harm, including sexual violence, and inflicting conditions of life that could bring about the destruction of whole communities. These violations amount to persecution, ethnic cleansing and genocide against non-Arab ethnic groups like the Masalit in Darfur.

The massacres of El Geneina (West Darfur), which took place over roughly 2 months in June-July 2023, are reported by victims to have been accompanied by racial insults such as “no slaves will live here”, “no Masalit here”, “this is the land of the Arabs” and references of “cleaning” the area[1] that could demonstrate genocidal intent. The UN Panel of Experts estimates some 15,000 people were killed in the El Geneina massacre.

Finally, there is an acute concern that, in this highly polarised environment the battles largely between RSF and SAF could translate into a wider inter-communal conflict between civilians. Virulent hate speech and active recruitment of youths into armed groups along ethnic lines raise fears that without strong and positive leadership at all levels, this war could spill over and unleash mass atrocities between communities. States have international obligations to both prevent and punish such acts. Not enough is being done to prevent what may be a large-scale genocide.


View the full briefing.


International crimes related to the current famine in Sudan

[1] Article 6 (c) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court provides that 'deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part' is an act that constitutes genocide when accompanied by the intent to destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group in whole or in part.

[2] Article 7 (1) (b) of the Rome Statute describes extermination as a constituent act of crimes against humanity, including 'the intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population'.

[3] Article 8 (2) (xxv) of the Rome Statute further provides that 'intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including willfully impeding relief supplies as provided for under the Geneva Conventions' is a war crime.


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