CSW is calling on the international community to maintain close scrutiny on the situation of Sudanese citizens as the evacuation of foreign nationals gathers pace, and to ensure that perpetrators of violations targeting civilians or civilian objects are held to account.
The call follows news of the murder of Dr Bushra Ibn Auf, a Sudanese American Professor at the Faculty of Medicine in Khartoum, who was stabbed to death outside his home on 25 April. In addition, Ali Hussein, a prominent lawyer, has been missing since 19 April.
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the violence that erupted on 15 April between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), headed by General Abdel Fattah al Burhan, who led the coup against the transitional government in October 2021, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF, formerly the Janjaweed militia) led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemedti. The fighting erupted as the forces were due to merge in line with an internationally supported framework agreement on a transition to democracy.
According to the Sudanese Doctors Syndicate, 291 civilians had lost their lives, including five humanitarian aid workers, and 1,699 were wounded as of 24 April. Fighting continues in residential areas, including aerial bombardment, amid reports of home invasions by armed men seeking to use roof tops as vantage points. Severe violations targeting civilians have been reported in cities in Central, North, South and West Darfur, Khartoum, Northern State, and North Kordofan State. There have also been consistent reports of medical facilities being targeted by both warring parties, of attacks on medical personnel, and of shortages of food, water and essential medications.
Prior to the murder of Dr Ibn Auf, Sudanese civil society organisations and individuals had written an open letter on 17 April to members of the Security Council appealing for urgent intervention and warning that ‘Medical professionals are being sought out in their homes and executed for performing lifesaving duties, targeted by armed forces.’ More recently, the Sudanese Doctor Syndicate stated that accommodation for nursing staff at Ibn Sina Hospital in central Khartoum had been shelled, although no casualties were reported.
Places of worship have also been violated. CSW learned that on 17 April an Anglican church in central Khartoum was seized as a military base by suspected RSF fighters, who damaged six cars, and forced 42 people who were sheltering there, and who included the church leader and his family, to leave the building after physically assaulting several of them. The church is a five-minute drive from the army headquarters. In Bahri, Khartoum North, the Evangelical Church was bombed and partially burned.
The perilously insecure situation of civilians was exacerbated by the RSF’s decision to break into five prisons and release detainees, including some who are wanted by the International Criminal Court. Additionally, in what a World Health Organisation official has described as an ‘extremely, extremely dangerous’ development, the RSF has also seized control the central public health laboratory in Khartoum, which holds microbiological material, forcing technicians to leave.
While fighting is severe in areas across the country, the situation in the fragile Darfur region, where levels of violence were already worrying prior to the outbreak of current hostilities, is particularly alarming. Not only does the RSF have a substantial presence in the area; in El Geneina, western Darfur, the SAF has aggravated ethnic tensions by withdrawing its forces to other affected areas while the police handed weaponry to members of African tribes, who have had no choice but to defend themselves against RSF, which consists of predominately Arab tribes.
Following several unsuccessful attempts, a three-day humanitarian ceasefire was negotiated by the US Secretary of State on 25 April, but was not fully implemented in several areas. As both the violence and the international evacuations gather pace, Sudanese activists on Twitter are trending the hashtag #KeepEyesOnSudan in an appeal for sustained attention on the human rights situation.
CSW’s CEO Scot Bower said: ‘Four years ago, Sudanese civilians toppled a dictatorship in an heroic, unarmed struggle, hoping to create a country governed by rule of law, justice, equality and equity, only for their efforts to be hijacked by men whose sole ambition is for absolute power. The international community must now stand resolutely with the Sudanese people, putting pressure on both belligerents to agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and making it clear that attacks on civilians and the targeting of human rights defenders, medical personnel, humanitarian workers, hospitals and places of worship constitute gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law which border on war crimes, and will not go unpunished.’
There are also fears the fighting may degenerate into a lengthy conflict with wider regional and international implications. Egypt has supported the Sudanese military since the fall of former president al Bashir in 2019, while the RSF leader has ties with the Russian Wagner Group, Libyan General Haftar, and the United Arab Emirates.
CSW recently joined over 90 Sudanese, African, and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in signing a letter reminding the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) of its responsibility ‘to respond promptly to human rights emergencies’ and urging it to convene an emergency special session on Sudan, and establish ‘an investigative and accountability mechanism addressing all alleged human rights violations and abuses’ that have occurred and are occurring.
Scot Bower continued: ‘Given the regional and international implications, CSW is calling on the international community to remain fully engaged beyond the evacuation of foreign nationals, including by convening a special HRC session as a matter of urgency, and mandating an investigative and accountability mechanism. The warring parties must be advised in no uncertain terms of their responsibility to protect all non-combatants, including refugees, and that identified perpetrators will be held accountable for their violations. We also call for the formulation of a comprehensive arms embargo to prevent the prolongation and possible regionalisation of this conflict. Finally, while cognisant of security concerns, we nonetheless appeal to Sudan’s neighbours to respond to those in search of sanctuary in accordance with the stipulations of the African Refugee Convention and in the spirit of Pan-Africanism, and to seek additional assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Red Crescent or Red Cross if and when this is needed.’