The bodies of dozens of people allegedly killed by Sudanese paramilitary forces and allied militias have been found in a mass grave in West Darfur, the United Nations said on Thursday. According to “credible information” obtained by the UN Human Rights Office, at least 87 people – some of them from the ethnic African Masalit tribe – were killed by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and an affiliated Arab militia. The agency said their bodies were dumped in a one-meter (about three-foot) grave just outside the western Darfur town of Jenina.
Sudan has been gripped by violence since mid-April when tensions between the military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces escalated into open fighting. Darfur has been one of the epicentres of the 12-week conflict, which has turned into an area of ethnic violence with paramilitary forces and allied Arab militias attacking Masalit and other African ethnic groups. The first 37 bodies were buried in shallow graves on June 20, the UN agency said in a statement from Geneva. The next day, another 50 bodies were dumped at the same spot. Seven women and seven children are among the buried people.
The UN agency said the RSF and Arab militias forced residents to bury the bodies. It said the killings took place between June 13 and June 21 in the Al-Madares and Al-Jamrek districts of the city following violence that erupted after the killing of the governor of West Darfur. Governor Khamis Abdullah Abkar, in an interview with the Saudi-owned television station, Al-Hadath, accused the RSF and allied militias of attacking local communities in Jenina. He was abducted a few hours later and murdered under circumstances that remain unclear.
Rights groups say that over the past two months, paramilitary forces and their allies have unleashed violence in West Darfur, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes. According to recent figures from the International Organization for Migration, more than 238,000 people have crossed the border into neighbouring Chad. Amid the looting, entire towns and villages in West Darfur province were burned and looted. News of the mass graves comes just days after Human Rights Watch called for the International Criminal Court to investigate atrocities in Darfur. Highlighting its call, it pointed to the “summary killing” of at least 28 Masalit tribesmen by the RSF and allied Arab militias in the town of Mystery in West Darfur province.
The New York-based rights group said several thousand members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and their allies stormed Mystery on May 28, armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, and killed its mostly male residents. It said that a total of 97 people were killed in the attack. Darfur was the scene of a genocidal war in the early 2000s, when ethnic Africans rebelled against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination. The government of former dictator Omar al-Bashir was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes, known as the Janjaweed, who targeted civilians. Janjaweed fighters were absorbed into the RSF.