Sexual assault is on a “sickening scale” in Sudan, while war in the Darfur region is reopening “old wounds of ethnic tension” that threaten to envelop the country, UN officials told the Security Council on Wednesday.
“The disturbing accounts of sexual violence heard from people fleeing to Port Sudan are only a fraction of those being repeated on a sickening scale from conflict hotspots across the country,” said a senior United Nations official. Edem Wosornu, an aid official.
War broke out on April 15 – four years after the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir during a popular uprising. Tensions between the army (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which jointly staged a coup in 2021, erupted over disagreements about a plan to transition to civilian rule.
“The fighting in Darfur continues to reopen the old wounds of ethnic tension of past conflicts in the region,” Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, a senior U.N. official on Africa, told the council. “This is deeply worrying, and could quickly engulf the country in a prolonged ethnic conflict with regional spillovers.”
In the early 2000s “Janjaweed” militias – from which the RSF formed – helped the government crush a rebellion by mainly non-Arab groups in Darfur. Some 300,000 people were killed, the U.N. estimates, and Sudanese leaders are wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity.
The current war has seen more than 4 million people flee their homes, of which 3.2 million people are internally displaced and nearly 900,000 people have crossed the borders into Chad, Egypt, South Sudan and other countries, the U.N. said.
“The humanitarian impacts are made worse by credible evidence to suggest serious violations of international humanitarian law by both the SAF and the RSF which could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward told the Security Council.
Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Anna Evstigneeva said Moscow was concerned by the situation in Sudan and pledged support for the Sudanese authorities. She accused Western countries of interfering with the Sudanese internal political process and slammed the use of unilateral sanctions.
Both sides in the Sudan conflict have claimed military advances in recent days but there are no signs of a decisive breakthrough. Efforts by Saudi Arabia and the United States to secure a ceasefire have stalled.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters after the council meeting that both sides were responsible for ethnic and sexual violence, adding: “There are no innocents here.”
Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Al-Harith Idriss Al-Harith Mohamed told the Security Council that Sudanese troops “are not involved in any sexual or gender violence and the party involved in this atrocity is very well known.”
There was no immediate response from the RSF to the U.N. Security Council meeting. The RSF has said it is committed to upholding international humanitarian law and would work to prevent any abuses by its forces or others against civilians.