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Sudan: Departing UN envoy says West Darfur had 13 mass graves

Volker Perthes' resignation comes months after he was declared persona non grata by Khartoum
Volker Perthes (C), Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, oversees the evacuation of internationally-recruited personnel in Port Sudan on April 24, 2023 (AFP)
Volker Perthes (C), who quit as UN special representative for Sudan on Wednesday, seen here in Port Sudan on 24 April 2023 (AFP)

Thirteen mass graves have been discovered around the West Darfur city of El Geneina, said Sudan's UN envoy as he announced his resignation from the role on Wednesday.

In a final speech to the UN Security Council, Volker Perthes said the violence in Darfur had "worsened dramatically", particularly at the hands of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

"The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office received credible reports about the existence of at least 13 mass graves in El Geneina and its surrounding areas as a result of the RSF and Arab militias’ attacks on civilians, with the majority of these civilians from the Massalit community," Perthes said, referring to a non-Arab ethnic group in the region.

"[United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan] and UN colleagues are documenting these violations and recall that these acts, if verified, may constitute war crimes."

Perthes, who was appointed as special representative in 2021, was accused of bias by the military-led government in Sudan and on 8 June told the UN that he had been declared persona non grata.

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The UN hit back at the move, saying it went against the UN Charter.

The army and the RSF began fighting on 15 April, after tensions arose over the integration of their troops in a new transition to democracy.

Nearly 7,500 people have been killed in the war, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

The real death toll is presumed to be much higher, with many of those wounded and killed never reaching hospitals or morgues.

Access to many areas has been cut off completely and the warring sides have not declared their losses.

In addition to the capital, the fighting has been concentrated mainly in the western region of Darfur, where violence linked to the RSF and its allies has prompted the International Criminal Court to open a new investigation into alleged war crimes.

Fighting in cities such as El Geneina has been catastrophic, with widespread killings, markets and homes looted, and women and girls targeted with sexual violence, Middle East Eye has previously reported.

'The war is destroying the lives of the Sudanese men and women, violating their basic rights and depriving them of the future they deserve'

Volker Perthes

“We have seen the corpses decomposing and can smell them rotting," an aid worker in El Geneina told MEE in June.

"The bodies are scattered randomly everywhere. Unless this situation is sorted soon, this will cause widespread health issues, diseases and more deaths.”

In his speech on Wednesday, Perthes said there was still scope for the fighting in Sudan to morph into "a full-scale civil war”.

"Each side is still waiting for the other side to be weakened into surrender. This is futile. The war is destroying the lives of the Sudanese men and women, violating their basic rights and depriving them of the future they deserve," he said.

Over five million people have been forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations, one million of them across borders.

In the early months of the war, multiple truces brokered by the United States and Saudi Arabia were systematically violated before the two mediators adjourned talks in June.

Recent moves by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, including trips to Egypt, South Sudan and Qatar, signalled a potential return to diplomacy, though both he and RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo continue to trade hostile statements.

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