Creating new perspectives since 2009

Sudan’s humanitarian catastrophe under the RSF militia

February 24, 2024 at 12:07 pm

Internally displaced Sudanese citizens suffer humanitarian aid shortage as they take shelter in a school building after migrating to the east due to the ongoing civil war between the army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Port Sudan, Sudan on January 03, 2024 [Ömer Erdem – Anadolu Agency]

The war that broke out in April 2023 between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudan Armed Forces left a devastating impact. Thousands were killed and millions displaced, in addition to massive destruction of infrastructure, with millions left facing acute hunger.

Ten months into the war, while the RSF militia seized its power in many parts of the country, it continues to commit all types of crimes in the areas under its control, failing to act as a de facto ruler that provides the essential needs of life and security while causing an ongoing humanitarian crisis and the suffering of millions.

In 2013, the RSF primarily emerged from restructuring the notorious Janjaweed militia to support the central government’s counterinsurgency operations in Darfur and South Kordofan. The official recognition of the militia was in 2017 when the Sudanese parliament passed a law legitimising its activities, even though the militia has reportedly committed countless crimes and atrocities during the ongoing war, including the destruction of villages, the killing of protesters, sexual violations and rape, mass killings, unlawful detentions, the targeting of hospitals and churches and attacks on journalists and media institutions.

For months, the areas under the RSF militia have been suffering the consequences of the absence of the state; to illustrate, the militia members raided and looted houses and cars in Khartoum. Testimonies of displaced persons in Khartoum exposed the militia in actively bringing in their soldiers’ families to live in their evicted houses. These violations also occurred in Wad Madani in El-Gezira state, a town considered a shelter for millions. The militia also looted markets and university buildings. The looting operations extended to the Kenana sugar factory and agricultural projects—the primary source of income for residents of the area. But looting is now becoming a core part of life for militia members. Dagalo markets, named after the militia leader, are widely spread to sell stolen goods. Religious places were also subjected to attacks. In December 2023, militia members occupied the Coptic monastery in Wad Madani and used it as a military base. The residents of the church, including priests and labourers, were harassed and their whereabouts remain unknown.

Disturbingly, in other parts of Sudan, living under the militia is even worse and an unbearable nightmare, especially for the Black minorities. The Arabic tribes’ militias backed the RSF and engaged in massive ethnic cleansing in the west of Sudan, where the militia controlled most of Darfur state. A recent report by the United Nations (UN) exposed that in one town, the militia killed 15,000. El-Geneina, one of the largest cities in the state, was captured by the militia, innocent citizens were targeted, women were sexually assaulted and men were enslaved. Mass graves were discovered where women and children were buried; some of them died of untreated injuries as a result of the militia attacks.

War in Sudan continues... - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

War in Sudan continues… – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

To cover up its ongoing violations and keep the world oblivious to the dire situation, the militia cracked down on journalists, detaining some and silencing others by killing them, leaving the space for the official RSF militia outlet to share its reports from the ground that only peddles its biased propaganda.

Read: Sudan warring sides commit abuses, including strikes on fleeing civilians – UN report

To further worsen the situation, the RSF militia decided to take down the telecommunication and Internet networks from the entire country. The reckless decision restricted the voluntary work carried out by the response room assisting with food and medical needs. Moreover, people could not connect with their family members, and some had to find other ways to inform them about those who died.

In the face of these violations and the unknown future, many citizens were forced to flee and seek refuge. Lately, credible reports showed that thousands had fled Wad Madani and Darfur to other safer places outside the country in Chad after the militia stormed their areas. But not all of them were lucky enough to escape, as in some cases, they were either barred from moving out or targeted and killed by the militia en route to their next destination. Others who opted to stay were chased by the militia and detained. In July 2023, human rights groups revealed that about 5,000 were detained in Khartoum under inhumane conditions, and some were tortured or abducted and kept as enslaved people or exchanged for ransom.

To date, the RSF militia has been implementing different tools and approaches to demonstrate that it governs the areas it already controls, such as establishing federal police units and field courts to address violations by its own soldiers, appointing military leaders as governors, striking security deals with local residents and even capitalising on the residents’ need for security by offering to protect villages in exchange of recruiting youth to its rank. Still, all these solutions have failed to return these areas to their normal status, and most of them could be seen as mere PR campaigns to improve the image of the militia.

Thankfully, the UN and aid agencies have filled some of this vast gap by providing nutritional supplies, especially to those in refugee camps where a child dies every two hours. Camps were also established in neighbouring Chad, where the UN shelters tens of thousands. The UN also warned of impending famine in the country and appealed to the world for $4.1 billion in funding to meet the needs. But the militia targeted this humble aid that gave a glimmer of hope. For instance, in December 2023, the RSF militia members broke into the World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse. They looted 2,500 metric tonnes of life-saving food intended to prevent and support malnutrition treatment for more than 20,000 children and pregnant and breastfeeding women and, consequently, the WFP was forced to halt its operation in El-Gezira state.

The RSF militia recurrently threatened it would expand the war to the rest of Sudan. It is evident that the militia is solely driven by rapid military expansion and has no consideration for the humanitarian cost that innocent civilians are paying. One can imagine the grim scenario awaiting the Sudanese if this becomes a reality.

It’s time for the international community to act and stop a whole country from falling into the abyss.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.