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Sudan crisis: UN reports mass grave near Darfur's el-Geneina

Discovery comes weeks after locals told MEE the smell of rotting corpses had filled the streets of West Darfur capital as hundreds of bodies were left decomposing

People walk among scattered objects in the market of el-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, as fighting unfolded in Sudan on 29 April 2023 (AFP)
People walk among scattered objects in the market of el-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, as fighting unfolded in Sudan on 29 April 2023 (AFP)

A mass grave of at least 87 people allegedly killed by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) was found in Sudan's Darfur region, the UN said on Thursday. 

According to what the UN Human Rights Office described as credible information, the victims from the non-Arab ethnic Masalit group were killed by the RSF and allied armed groups between 13 and 21 June outside the city of el-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state. 

Locals were forced to bury 37 bodies on 20 June in a one-metre-deep mass grave. An additional 50 bodies were buried at the same site the following day.

The bodies of seven women and seven children were among those buried in el-Geneina’s Al-Madaress and Al-Jamarek districts.

Volker Turk, OHCHR's high commissioner, called the RSF and warring parties in Sudan to allow searches for the dead and ensure they get a decent burial.

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“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,” Turk said.

“There must be a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into the killings, and those responsible must be held to account.”

The RSF, which is led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, has been at war with the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) since 15 April after months of tensions over a transitional political plan that would have folded the RSF into the regular military.

Fighting has killed thousands of people and displaced more than three million. 

Bodies left in streets

Locals in el-Geneina told the UN that mediation efforts with the RSF to ensure the burial of people with dignity took a long time, leaving many bodies in the streets for days. 

One family told OHCHR that they waited 13 days before being allowed to collect the body of a family member, a Masalit dignitary who was killed on or around 9 June by the RSF.

'The RSF’s leadership and their allied militia are required to ensure that the dead are properly handled, and their dignity protected'

- Volker Turk, OHCHR

“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,” Turk said.

Some victims died from untreated injuries, while others were victims of violence that erupted following the killing of West Darfur's governor, Khamis Abdullah Abakar, in June.

Eyewitnesses told Middle East Eye last month that the smell of rotting corpses filled the streets of el-Geneina as hundreds of bodies were left decomposing.

An aid worker in the city, who like many sources wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, told MEE that around 1,500 people had been killed in the town since the war broke out on 15 April. At least 1,000 of those, he said, were women and children.

“So far, we have collected around 700 dead bodies, and double this number are still on streets and inside some houses, but we can’t reach them because of the intensive firing by the militias,” the aid worker said.

“We have seen the corpses decomposing and can smell them rotting. The bodies are scattered randomly everywhere. Unless this situation is sorted soon, this will cause widespread health issues, diseases and more deaths.”

On Tuesday, a shooting attack in Sudan's West Darfur city of el-Geneina killed at least 40 civilians. Human Rights Watch reported that the attack was ethnically motivated against the Masalit community. 

The city of el-Geneina in West Darfur was a battleground for attacks by RSF and allied Arab groups against the non-Arab Masalit people, who make up the largest community in the city.

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