Sudan: At least 87 buried in mass grave in Darfur as Rapid Support Forces deny victims decent burials

GENEVA (13 July 2023) – The bodies of at least 87 ethnic Masalit and others allegedly killed last month by Rapid Support Forces and their allied militia in West Darfur have been buried in a mass grave outside the region’s capital El-Geneina on the orders of the Rapid Support Forces, according to credible information obtained by the UN Human Rights Office.

Local people 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 20 June in the approximately one-metre-deep mass grave in an open area called Al-Turab Al Ahmar (Red Soil), in the Ranga area, about two to four kilometres northwest of the headquarters of the Central Reserve Police in western El-Geneina, sources said. Another 50 bodies were buried at the same site on 21 June. The bodies of seven women and seven children were among those buried.

According to credible information gathered by the Office, those buried in the mass grave were killed by RSF and their allied militia around 13-21 June in El-Geneina’s Al-Madaress and Al-Jamarek districts and include many victims of the violence that followed the killing of Khamis Abbaker, the Governor of West Darfur, on 14 June, shortly after he was taken into custody by the RSF. They also include individuals who died from untreated injuries.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk today called on the RSF and other parties to the conflict to allow and facilitate prompt searches for the dead, their collection and evacuation without distinction, including based on ethnic background - as they are obliged to do under international law.

“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,” 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 RSF’s leadership and their allied militia as well as all parties to an armed conflict are required to ensure that the dead are properly handled, and their dignity protected,” Türk said.

The RSF must record, or allow relief workers to record, all available information related to the dead, including taking proper photos of the bodies and marking the location of the graves, with a view to identification to facilitate the return of the remains of the deceased to the families upon their request.

Under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, all parties to the conflict must ensure the injured receive medical care.

The High Commissioner called on the RSF leadership immediately and unequivocally to condemn and stop the killing of people, and to end violence and hate speech against people on the basis of their ethnicity.