Rwanda witnessed unrest, political divisions and violent and bloody internal conflicts, to the point of civil wars, for many years. From 1991 to 1994 the violence culminated in the Rwandan genocide, one of the most heinous crimes in contemporary history. In just 100 days, cruelty and brutality killed more than a million men, women and children. With no place to run or hide, about 75 per cent of the country’s ethnic minority, the Tutsis, were wiped out.
The crime was committed by the majority Hutus, even those who were former friends and neighbours of the Tutsis. More than 30,000 Hutus who refused to participate in the genocide were considered “traitors” by the thugs, and were also killed. As a result of the atrocities, more than a third of the population, two million Rwandans, had taken refuge in neighbouring countries by August 1994.
Throughout the genocide years, international and regional bodies remained content with making calls for an end to the fighting, and condemning those responsible. No practical steps were taken to save the people of Rwanda, despite such action being stipulated in international and regional charters and covenants.
Fast forward to this year, on 15 June, and 30 Sudanese civil society organisations wrote an open letter to the UN, the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the EU and its member states, and other regional and international actors concerned with the situation in Sudan, including the US, the UK, Canada, Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council states. The letter alerted them to the escalating violence against civilians in Sudan, specifically in the city of El Geneina, in West Darfur, which reflects a pattern of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
A day before this letter was issued, the governor of West Darfur spoke to the world via an Arab channel, describing what is happening in El Geneina as genocide, and seeking help from the international and regional community. He was murdered most brutally within hours of his appeal.
The organisations which signed the letter demanded that measures should be taken to protect civilians in Darfur, especially the residents of El Geneina; indeed, across Sudan. They also demanded that the Rapid Support Forces should be held accountable for their failure to stop the widespread and systematic killing of civilians by their soldiers. Likewise, that the Sudanese Armed Forces should be held accountable for their alleged crimes, including the failure to exercise the army’s constitutional duty to protect civilians from heinous crimes such as those being committed in West Darfur.
All indications are that Sudan is heading rapidly down the same path as Rwanda. The fighting in Sudan is dominated by killings on the basis of ethnicity,as we are witnessing in El Geneina and other parts of Darfur, Kordofan and elsewhere, and as we have witnessed before in the south of Blue Nile state and some regions of eastern Sudan. The war in Khartoum has escalated hate speech and racism, which was already raging before the outbreak of the fighting in April and the subsequent destruction of Sudan’s capital. As with Rwanda, though, the international community and regional bodies remain content to condemn the fighting and call for its end, with no tangible result other than hearing the sound of their own voice. The horrific Rwandan scenario haunts Sudan, as history repeats itself in Africa; the resultant stigma and shame is becoming more and more attached to the international community even as it fails to avert disaster in Sudan, just as it failed in Rwanda in the 1990’s. Saving civilians and averting the catastrophe requires direct intervention in Sudan by international and regional actors, who can and should impose an end to the fighting and establish demilitarised zones to allow the flow of humanitarian aid to civilians. Such direct intervention is essential.
The political aspect of stopping the war and starting a new political process is one of the tasks of the Sudanese civil society and political forces, represented by elected unions, caretaker committees, professional bodies, resistance committees, armed parties and movements, civil society groups and organisations for the Sudanese people in exile, as well as national figures. This requires all of them to be organised into a flexible coordinating body whose main goal is to stop the war, restore the course of the December 2018 revolution, and preserve the structure and institutions of the Sudanese state, including the unified army.
The link between stopping the war and restoring the course of the revolution is based on the fact that the main goal of the remnants of the ousted Al-Bashir regime is to ignite sedition that could have been extinguished in its infancy, and the exploitation of friction between the leaderships of the army and the Rapid Support Forces to return themselves to power. Such a coordinating body is important, working with a flexible structure both within and outside Sudan according to a focused programme. The first objective should be the creation of mechanisms to coordinate with international and regional bodies to agree on how to achieve a permanent cessation of hostilities.
Sudanese civil society and political forces should be part of a unified representation with an agreed position on the features of the new political process; communication with neighbouring countries as well as the international community is an essential part of the process. In all of this, the need for humanitarian aid to reach the civilian population in Sudan is paramount, building upon networks of courageous initiatives by Sudanese youth.
The war raging in Sudan is taking on genocidal proportions with crimes that require accountability and punishment. It must not become another Rwanda.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 18 June 2023
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.