DARFUR: The road from Misterei is full of corpses; the town empty save for the Janjaweed and RSF
Two more mass graves with over 146 bodies in West Darfur are only the “tip of the iceberg”, residents say. As peace efforts stall and the ICC opens a new investigation, when will the Security Council act?
Local people were forced to dig a mass grave for 87 bodies on 20 and 21 June in an area near the Central Reserve Police Station in the state capital, Geneina, the UN Human Rights office reported last week. UN Spokesperson Seif Magango told us they fear there may be other mass graves unreported in West Darfur State and call for further investigations.
“The recent discovery of a mass grave outside West Darfur’s capital, El Geneina, is only the latest evidence pointing to a resurgence in ethnic killings in the region,” says the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths. “The international community cannot ignore this harsh echo of history in Darfur.”
Another mass grave was found after an attack in late May with at least 59 bodies identified in Misterei village, south of Geneina, the human rights organization Human Rights Watch reported.
A war of domination between Sudan’s military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) erupted three months ago with the latter now in control of large swathes of the capital and Darfur region. Since then, the RSF and allied Arab militias have targeted predominantly African residents of Darfur, especially those from the Masalit people in West Darfur.
“At each checkpoint we are asked a question,” says Juma Dawood, a Masalit who fled Geneina to Chad and told us of his experience leaving Geneina in June. “They [RSF] ask us if Geneina is an Arab place or is it for the Masalit – if you answer ‘Masalit’ you will be killed directly.” During the interrogation, Dawood said, the RSF referred to him and others as “slaves” and warned them never to return.
The conflict has so far forcibly displaced at least 668,000 Darfur civilians internally – roughly half of these from West Darfur State. Another 217,000 Darfur residents have fled to Chad and this number is set to increase, as a constant stream of refugees from Darfur cross the border to escape the violence.
Based on satellite research from two separate investigations that are monitoring burn marks in the region, the RSF and aligned militias have razed or partially burned around 30 different locations across Darfur. In some cases, as cited by digital investigator Mark Snoeck, perpetrators have attacked locations on multiple occasions, burning villages to the ground. According to one of the research teams, the Conflict Observatory, their data indicate RSF and aligned forces as the perpetrators: they are the only forces in the area and the only ones capable of committing such widespread attacks.
In the case of the mass grave found near Geneina, the UN Human Rights Office says those buried in the grave were killed by RSF and allied militia between 13 – 21 June in Geneina’s Al-Madaress and Al-Jamarek districts. Some of those found, the UN reported, are victims of the violence that followed the 14 June killing of the Governor of West Darfur, Khamis Abdallah Abkar.
Juma Dawood was already displaced from the previous 2003 Darfur conflict and had lived for decades in a shelter within Geneina. “But as the war intensified, especially after the killing of the governor, Khamis Abkar on 14 June, we decided to flee to the army command base, north of the capital,” he said. Dawood tried to move with roughly 100 people – family members and neighbours, but the RSF and allied militias prevented them, shooting several people in the process. So instead, they sought protection at the Central Reserve Police, but “the force commander there refused to receive us and ordered us to leave the area immediately.” While attempting to leave Geneina for the Adré refugee camp in Chad, Dawood told us, assailants killed his wife, leaving him a single father of three children.
At least 59 people were buried in mass graves in the town of Misterei after RSF and allied militia attacked them in the early hours of 28 May, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). In a systematic assault where RSF allegedly raided homes and shot at civilians who attempted to flee the scene, RSF and allied militias pursued scores of civilians who sought to hide in schools, HRW reported, allegedly shooting all the men and robbing the women and children.
Walid Yahya recalls well the horrors of the attack on 28 May, and even helped bury the dead. Yahya believes more were buried than reported: “Some people from Misterei and I buried over 70 bodies in a mass grave that was dug inside the city. It was too insecure to do anything else but quickly bury them,” Yahya told us from the refugee camp, Adré, Chad. “The road between Misterei and Chad is full of decomposing corpses and the town [Misterei] has no one except the Janjaweed (allied militia) and Rapid Support Forces.”
The attack on Misterei was well planned, he said, as RSF and allied militias had gathered around the town on the evening of 27 May. “We were afraid, but there was no way out because the city was completely surrounded.” At around five in the morning, the RSF started shooting everywhere – the wounded who were carried to a mosque in Misterei were shot inside, he told us. Anyone who attempted to flee was shot. “When I was in the east of the city, I witnessed the killing of more than 10 people –three of whom I knew personally. Among the dead were women and children,” Yahya added. “We are now in Adré, none of us [from Misterei] can understand how we survived that day.”
The RSF, however, have denied responsibility for events in Misterei and Geneina and claim the violence witnessed in both locations is a “longstanding tribal conflict, which does not involve the RSF.” This tribal conflict, the RSF spokesperson says, was ignited by military intelligence, “which armed both sides of the conflict.” The Spokesperson claims they are willing to cooperate with all international bodies to “promote, ensure, and protect justice and human rights in Sudan.”
The RSF Spokesperson’s willingness to work with international bodies to protect human rights may be put to the test sooner than expected. Soon after the UN reported the discovery of the mass grave site in Geneina, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that a new investigation into current events in Darfur is underway.
According to a statement by the ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan, they are tracking reports of extrajudicial killings, burning of homes and markets, and displacement of civilians in Geneina and other parts of Darfur. “The simple truth is that we are […] in peril of allowing history to repeat itself -the same miserable history,” Khan told the United Nations Security Council. “If this oft repeated phrase of ‘never again’ is to mean anything, it must mean something here and now to the people of Darfur that have lived with this uncertainty and pain and scars of conflict for almost two decades,” Khan said as he announced the new probe.