Sudan’s transition overlord Hemeti still wreaking havoc in Darfur
With the Sudan Uprising nearing its two-year anniversary, the country’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) is sticking to their old formula: using force to suppress Sudanese citizens.
Throughout the revolution, which started in December 2018 and led to toppling of Omar Al-Bashir, the RSF were seen using munition and according to witnesses, opened fire at protesters, sometimes even at students between the ages of 14-17.
These systematic and repeated attacks were orchestrated by Brigadier General Mohammed Hamdan Dagolo, referred to as ‘Hemeti’, who started off as a border guard and later became a Janjaweed militia leader.
Today, Hemeti is making life difficult for the civilian Prime Minister of Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, as the military seek to continue their hold on state machinery.
While the RSF might have started in Darfur, marginalising and oppressing scores of people, but RSF’s legacy of rape, extrajudicial killings and torture extend far beyond to Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
The RSF claim they are enforcing the rule of law by cracking down on illegal immigration and trafficking explosives, or protecting borders. Activists, however, denounce the use of brute force against unarmed civilians and displacing thousands.
Who are the RSF?
The RSF was not always a recognised entity; the group, previously called ‘Janjaweed’, swiftly rose to power during the Darfur civil war, in 2003, with impunity and armed support from the Sudanese government.
Both the Janjaweed and the government asserted that any conflict in the Darfur region was only tribal between the Arab tribes and African ones known as Masalit, Zaghawa and Fur.
But according to human rights organisations, the Janjaweed have systematically displaced thousands and killed, burnt and looted swathes of land in an act of ethnic cleansing.
While the Janjaweed have been operating for over a decade, they were only given a “regular force” status in 2015, to act under the National Security Services Act (NISS) of 2010.
Since then, what the RSF committed in Darfur, extends beyond that region, all the way to the capital city of Khartoum, where a sit-in was violently dispersed resulting in over 100 dead and several hundreds injured. The RSF – along with other security forces – were accused for what is now known as, ‘the June 3rd massacre’.
Post-revolution killings in Darfur
Following the ousting of Al-Bashir, Hemeti took the role of vice president of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), during which many atrocities took place all over the country. But one thing remained a constant: organising and aiding several attacks in Darfur and camps harbouring internally-displaced persons (IDPs).
On the evening of 29 December 2019, one of the Masalit tribes killed a herdsman from an Arab tribe called ‘Maaliya’. In revenge, the victim’s family attacked the assailant’s family, killing two, injuring others and burning down a market in Kerending, a camp for IDPs in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state.
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According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the following morning over 30 men from the Arab Rezeigat tribe – wearing RSF uniforms and carrying machine guns and knives – attacked the camp indiscriminately. A witness told FIDH that the attackers stormed into the camp in Land Cruisers which are usually used by RSF.
“I saw bodies on the ground, some belong to neighbours. I saw the burning and looting, it was so scary. We called on the security forces to intervene but they were either watching or participating,” said Ahmed Sheikh, a herder from the Masalit tribe.
Sheikh further added that the attackers were stealing and destroying phones so there would not be visual evidence of what happened. “Security forces, including RSF, only showed up on the third day to stop the killing,” stated Sheikh.
According to the High-level Crisis Management Committee for the Events in El Geneina, the attack resulted in over 8o in deaths, 190 in injuries and robbed millions of Sudanese pounds in cash, livestock and goods.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced that the attack had forced 11,000 to seek refuge in Chad and internally displaced 46,000 in Sudan who are living in makeshift camps.
An investigation was supposedly launched and 32 out of 69 suspects were arrested but not much was concluded since then or reported on that since March.
Same violence, different Darfur
Another alleged attack took place in Fataburno,a town near Kutum in North Darfur where armed militia reportedly attacked a sit-in, killing 12 and injuring 14 others. The sit-in had been in place since Fataburno citizens protested against persistent attacks and lack of security on lands due to systemic attacks by armed militia.
More abuse of Darfuri citizens is happening to this day, either by RSF or armed militias in plain clothes backed by RSF.
A woman told The Africa Report, on condition of anonymity, that she spotted men in beige fatigue like that of the RSF. “There were two [trucks] and everyone had a weapon. We ran inside [the] building but some trailed behind and they were shot,” the woman recalls, saying that the trucks looked like those used by the RSF.
While other sources insist the attackers are armed Arab tribesmen backed by the RSF, there does not appear to be consensus on who is the main culprit.
The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies called on government officials to take immediate measures to secure civilians and disarm armed militias while being granted the right to protest without any hindrance or violence.
The support of the RSF by government bodies
More abuse of Darfuri citizens is happening to this day, either by RSF or armed militias in plain clothes backed by the RSF. The most recent is another attack on Masteri, a town mostly populated by the Masalit tribe in West darfur killing 62 and injuring 52, including minors.
They seem to fear upsetting Hemedti as he is being viewed as ‘the guardian’ of democratic transition in Sudan.
The incessant attacks against peaceful civilians and the targeted looting and pillaging of their lands are but a pattern laced with impunity. Mutasim Ali, legal consultant at Project Expedite Justice (PEJ) attributes the RSF’s immunity to the support from the Sovereign Council’s head, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. “RSF are not just Sudanese, others join from neighbouring countries such as Chad, Central African Republic and Niger, with zero accountability.”
“Unfortunately, none of the investigations resulted in anything thus far. I had a conversation with some government officials, and they seem to fear upsetting Hemeti as he is being viewed as ‘the guardian’ of democratic transition in Sudan. Investigation committees are established to captivate the public’s outrage and to armour the perpetrators,” adds Ali.
“[The] Transitional government should immediately put in place measures to protect civilians by disarming and removing all militias, including the RSF from all areas in Darfur, and hold to account those who bear the responsibility for the crimes,” says Mossaad M. Ali, executive director of ACJPS.
“Dissolving the RSF forces and integrating them into the Sudanese armed forces in the long run should be [considered],” he adds.
Mossad attributes Hemeti’s heavy clout to being the chairman of the Sudanese Soreign Council. “The RSF has control over the gold from the rich ‘Jebel Amir Mountain’’ in Darfur and thus they become one of the richest and most powerful bodies in Sudan,” he says.