Conflict in Sudan | Saving El-Facher

Conflict in Sudan | Saving El-Facher
Conflict in Sudan | Saving El-Facher

An oasis of life in a desert of human distress. This is what El-Facher, the largest city in North Darfur, Sudan, was until May 10.


Published at 12:59 a.m.

Updated at 6:00 a.m.

Long spared from the war that has raged across Sudan since April 2023, the regional capital of a million inhabitants has become the nerve center of humanitarian aid and the place of asylum for hundreds of thousands of people, fleeing the fighting in the rest of the country.

But for two weeks, El-Facher has fallen into a nightmare, a nightmare that the population of Darfur knows too well, having already lived through hell 20 years ago, having experienced nothing less than the first genocide of the 21st century.e century when the Sudanese army and Arab militias, the Janjawids, attacked the non-Arab populations of Darfur, including the Masalits.

Today, we fear neither more nor less a repetition of the past in this city still scarred by the – unpunished – crimes of yesteryear. And you don’t have to look very far to see that these fears are well-founded.

Since May 10, El-Facher has been stormed by the Rapid Support Forces (FSR) led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, nicknamed Hemetti. This paramilitary force has replaced the Janjawids of the past and has even more weapons than its former version.

The army led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane, also de facto president of Sudan since the November 2021 coup, is trying to repel the RSF.

During the 2003 genocide, these two forces worked together. Today, they oppose each other in one of the worst cockfights of the contemporary era between their two commanders who have become sworn enemies.

The impact on civilians promises to be just as disastrous. At the moment, they are caught in a vice. “The situation is terrifying. We are lost. We are waiting for our destiny and we cannot protect ourselves,” one resident told the BBC.

Hospitals are particularly targeted. Recently, an army bombing that fell a few meters from a pediatric hospital caused the death of two children. A few days later, RSF militiamen entered another hospital in the south of the city. “They opened fire, they looted the pharmacy and stole the hospital cash register. Then they were pushed back by the army. Today, the hospital is empty,” Michel Laliberté, head of emergency operations at MSF France, told me on Thursday. The organization alone was able to count 200 deaths and 1,600 injured in recent weeks.

Humanitarian aid – blocked by the belligerents – does not reach people in need, whose numbers are constantly increasing. It is estimated that one in three children suffer from malnutrition. We fear famine.

And we fear that the demons of the past will wreak havoc again: ethnic cleansing, sexual violence, the systematic elimination of members of non-Arab groups.

We have already seen the outlines of this kind of atrocities in El-Geneina, another town in Darfur, from June to November last year. A Human Rights Watch report details how Rapid Support Forces opened fire on a convoy of civilians, accompanied by Masalit guards. Women, men and children were shot or drowned while trying to flee. Others were beaten and tortured.

If the conflict in Sudan is in the shadow of the two other major global conflicts in the Gaza Strip and Ukraine, it returned to the forefront this week when the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan , made a video statement to draw the eyes of the world to El-Facher and Darfur.

“I am extremely concerned by the allegations of large-scale crimes being committed in El-Facher as I speak to you,” he said, calling for the help of anyone who has videos or documents. other evidence to help him conduct his investigation. An investigation he can carry out because a United Nations Security Council resolution gave him jurisdiction over Darfur two decades ago.

Not on the rest of Sudan, which is being tested more than ever by this conflict. It is estimated that in 14 months, the fighting forced 10 million people to flee, or a fifth of the population.

However, since the warlords are the same in Sudan as in Darfur, the prosecutor’s actions can have an impact on the entire country. In 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s former president, Omar al-Bashir, for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur during the genocide. The repercussions were national. In 2019, he was overthrown after many months of discontent and popular protests, then imprisoned.

But, as we see now, it was far from enough. “The impunity of military leaders after the Darfur genocide led us to the war in which Sudan is plunged today. We see now that the genocide never ended,” Nisrin Elamin, an anthropology professor at the University of Toronto originally from Sudan, told me.

The professor is particularly concerned about foreign interference in the conflict. The FSR is supported by Russia’s Wagner Group and the United Arab Emirates. The Sudanese army has the support of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

At the key to the conflict, which is also a regional chess game, are gold reserves, control of oil, but also agricultural land, emptied of its population by the war, explains Mme Elamin.

It was therefore no great surprise that we saw Russia abstain on Thursday when the Security Council adopted a resolution “demanding” that the Rapid Support Forces end their siege of El-Facher and “calling” to the de-escalation of fighting.

A resolution full of good intentions, but unfortunately devoid of means to save the last major city of Darfur, left to its own devices once again.

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