By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Sexual violence is being perpetrated in Sudan on a “sickening scale” as fighting in the Darfur region is reopening “old wounds of ethnic tension” that could engulf the country, UN officials told the Security Council on Wednesday. .
“The alarming reports of sexual violence being heard from people who have fled to Port Sudan are only a fraction of the messages being repeated on a sickening scale from conflict zones across the country,” senior UN aid officer Edem Wosornu said.
The war broke out on April 15 – four years after the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising. Tensions between the military (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which jointly staged a coup in 2021, erupted over disagreements over a plan to transition to civilian rule.
“The fighting in Darfur continues to reopen the old wounds of ethnic tension from past conflicts in the region,” Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, a senior UN official for Africa, told the council. “This is deeply concerning and could quickly engulf the country in a protracted ethnic conflict with regional spillovers.”
In the early 2000s, “Janjaweed” militias – from which the RSF was formed – helped the government put down an insurgency by mainly non-Arab groups in Darfur. According to UN estimates, some 300,000 people were killed and Sudanese leaders are wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity.
The current war has caused more than 4 million people to flee their homes, of whom 3.2 million are internally displaced and nearly 900,000 people have crossed borders into Chad, Egypt, South Sudan and other countries, the UN said.
“The humanitarian consequences are compounded by credible evidence pointing to serious violations of international humanitarian law by both the SAF and the RSF, which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” British UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward told the Security Council. .
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Anna Evstigneeva said Moscow was concerned about the situation in Sudan and pledged support to the Sudanese authorities. She accused Western countries of interfering in the Sudanese internal political process and denounced the use of unilateral sanctions.
Both sides in the conflict in Sudan have claimed military advances in recent days, but there are no signs of a decisive breakthrough. Attempts by Saudi Arabia and the United States to negotiate a ceasefire have stalled.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters after the council meeting that both sides were responsible for ethnic and sexual violence, adding, “There are no innocents here.”
Sudanese UN Ambassador Al-Harith Idriss Al-Harith Mohamed told the Security Council that Sudanese forces “are not involved in any sexual or gender-based violence and that the party involved in this atrocity is very well known”.
There was no immediate response from the RSF to the UN Security Council meeting. The RSF has said it is committed to upholding international humanitarian law and will work to prevent abuses by its armed forces or others against civilians.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Cynthia Osterman)