Mass graves found in Sudan, as displaced people surpass 3 million

July 13, 2023
3 mins read
Image: Twitter

Hundreds of mutilated bodies, including those of children, have been left lying on roads in Sudan’s Darfur region amidst worsening violence in the war-torn African nation where the number of displaced individuals has surged past three million.

Adding to this tragic situation, the UN Human Rights Office (UN HRC) has also reported that the bodies of dozens of Masalit ethnic group members and others, allegedly killed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allied militia in West Darfur, have been buried in a mass grave outside the capital city of El-Geneina.

Humanitarian agencies report a surge in violence, with first-hand accounts from West Darfur painting a horrifying image of indiscriminate killings targeting men, women, and children. Armed assailants enter villages, engaging in looting, arson, and firing upon fleeing residents, exacerbating the already dire situation.

Aid and rights organizations are issuing cautionary statements regarding the alarming prevalence of ethnic violence, targeted assaults on civilians, and rampant instances of sexual violence against women and girls in the ongoing conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). These warring factions persistently strive to gain dominance over the northeastern African nation, exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation.

Save the Children, a global organization dedicated to protecting the rights of children has provided chilling accounts of summary executions and deliberate attacks on civilians along the road connecting Geneina to the border. “Community leaders estimated that over 5,000 people have been killed. Four more schools have been looted and burned to the ground in Geneina. There are no more civilians left, only soldiers — everyone else has escaped or died,” a local aid worker with the organization in West Darfur said.

Arif Noor, Save the Children’s country director in Sudan further noted that some parts of the region remain completely lawless. “Without strong action from the international community… we may well see the situation deteriorate further,” he added.

In one report, 20 children were claimed to have been murdered in a town in West Darfur. In another attack on a town in West Darfur in May, documented by Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least 40 civilians were killed and 14 civilians injured, including five women and four children. Child survivors had to witness the brutal murders and armed men then pillaged and burned most of the town, forcing thousands of residents to flee across the border to Chad.

In South Darfur, 30 civilians were killed and 45 injured between 23 and 27 June in clashes in Nyala town, according to the Sudanese government. Across Darfur, the increase in violence has significantly restricted humanitarian access. Widespread destruction and razing of civilian structures in Genenia have also been documented, with schools targeted and destroyed.

According to the UN HRC, local people in West Darfur were forced to dispose of the bodies in a mass grave, denying those killed a decent burial in one of the city’s cemeteries. At least 37 bodies were buried on June 20 in the approximately one-metre-deep mass grave in an open area in western El-Geneina while another 50 bodies were buried at the same site on 21 June. The bodies of seven women and seven children were among those buried.

“I condemn in the strongest terms the killing of civilians and hors de combat individuals, and I am further appalled by the callous and disrespectful way the dead, along with their families and communities, were treated,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said. “There must be a prompt, thorough, and independent investigation into the killings, and those responsible must be held to account.”

Witnesses said that local mediation efforts for access to and burial of the dead have generally taken long, leaving many bodies lying in the streets for days on end. One family said it had to wait 13 days before being allowed to collect the body of a family member, a Masalit dignitary killed on or around 9 June by the RSF and their allied militia.

Witnesses told the UN Human Rights Office that in the instances where the RSF have allowed the collection of the dead – following mediation with Arab and other community leaders – they have refused to allow the removal of the injured to hospitals for medical treatment.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported that nearly 3 million people have been displaced internally and across borders by the conflict in Sudan, in less than three months. 

In addition to the more than 2.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), nearly 700,000 others have fled into neighboring countries, according to the latest figures by the IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM). 

Egypt is hosting the largest number of those who fled — more than 255,500 people — followed by Chad with more than 238,000 and South Sudan with around 160,800, the IOM said. More than 62,000 people fled to Ethiopia, more than 16,700 to the Central African Republic and around 3,000 to Libya, it added.

Most of the people displaced in Sudan have fled from Khartoum state (67%) and Darfur (33%) towards the Northern state (16%), River Nile (14%), West Darfur (7%), and White Nile states. Food, access to health services, and essential relief items remain critically lacking. While most IDPs live with the host community, over 280,000 of them are currently living in last-resort shelters such as camps, public buildings, and improvised shelters, particularly in White Nile state.

The continued escalation of violence is compounding an already dire humanitarian situation in the country and the region. At least 24.7 million people – about half the population of Sudan – are in urgent need of humanitarian aid and protection, one-third of whom are in Darfur, where the situation is deteriorating dramatically. 


Mariya Nadeem Khan

Mariya is a researcher within the Urban Socio-Spatial Development department at Erasmus University Rotterdam. She has an MA in Development Studies from Erasmus University and a Bachelor’s in International Relations from Leiden University. Her research builds on violence, nationalism, and social movements in South Asia and the GCC. Her other areas of interest include non-Western historiography, alternatives to the capitalist world economy, and Urdu literature.

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