KHARTOUM, — Sudanese security forces have continued to commit “war crimes and other serious human rights violations” in the Darfur region, Amnesty International said on Tuesday, as the African country has been rocked by political turmoil following the military’s ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April.
Based on “disturbing new evidence, including satellite imagery,” Amnesty said the abuses in Darfur at the hands of Sudanese paramilitary units, the Rapid Support Forces, include the destruction of entire villages, as well as “unlawful killings and sexual violence.”
The RSF grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias mobilized by al-Bashir during the Darfur conflict in the early 2000s. The militias were widely accused of crimes against humanity, and al-Bashir — now jailed in Khartoum — was indicted on charges of genocide.
RSF commander Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, now serves as deputy head of the ruling military council. The coup leaders are locked in a growingly violent confrontation with a protest movement that is demanding they hand power over to a civilian leadership, now that al-Bashir is gone.
A spokesman for the military council did not immediately answer calls and messages seeking comment.
“In Darfur, as in Khartoum, we’ve witnessed the Rapid Support Forces’ despicable brutality against Sudanese civilians – the only difference being, in Darfur they have committed atrocities with impunity for years,” said Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of Amnesty International.
He urged the U.N. and the AU “not turn their backs on people in Darfur who rely on peacekeepers for protection.”
He warned if the joint force, known as UNAMID, is dismantled and the peacekeepers pull out of Darfur, this “would recklessly and needlessly place tens of thousands of lives at risk by removing their only safeguard against the government’s scorched earth campaign.”
The U.N. said Monday that Sudan’s military rulers issued a decree demanding the mission in Darfur hand over its premises as part of its withdrawal plan next year.
The U.N. is to vote at the end of the month about the future of the already reduced force. The target for ending the mission is June 30, 2020.
The Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that, based on the peacekeeping mission’s own reports, the Rapid Support Forces now occupy nine of 10 sites vacated by the peacekeepers within the past eight months.
The Security Council “should halt all handovers, re-assess downsizing plans, and refocus its attention on UNAMID’s core mandate to protect civilians,” said Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at HRW.
The New York-based group said the RSF violently broke up the protesters’ main sit-in camp outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum on June 3.
Over 100 people were killed in the deadly crackdown on the pro-reform demonstrators in Khartoum and elsewhere across Sudan, according to protest organizers.
The opposition started a general strike Sunday, the first day of the workweek in Sudan, in a bid to pressure the military council to hand over power to civilians.
The Sudanese Professionals Association urged Sudanese to continue in their general strike, part of a planned civil disobedience campaign.
The strike was successful in the first day, according to protest leaders, but on Tuesday shops and businesses reopened and there was visibly more traffic in the streets of Khartoum and its sister city of Omdurman.
The U.N. humanitarian agency said customs offices at the Port Sudan, the country’s main port, were open on Monday and resumed their functions with limited capacities.
Also the U.N. humanitarian air services operated as normal Monday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.