© UNHCR/Ala Kheir People fleeing violence pass through a transit centre in Renk in the north of South Sudan.

A Genocidal Massacre is Looming in Darfur

El Fasher is the largest city in Sudan’s Darfur region. It is also one of the few major cities in Darfur that has not fallen to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) during the civil war that broke out last year. However, an attack on El Fasher seems imminent. The RSF has surrounded the city and is laying siege to it. The United States, the United Nations, and key players around the world are urging against this impending attack, but it’s unclear whether the RSF will be deterred.

There are deep concerns for the fate of at least 800,000 people trapped in El Fasher, given that the RSF is a genocidal militia. The RSF is the re-branded Janjaweed Militia, which carried out the Darfur genocide 20 years ago. Since the full-scale civil war in Sudan began in April 2023, the RSF has reprised many of its genocidal tactics, targeting non-Arab ethnicities in Darfur for annihilation.

My guest today is Mutasim Ali, Legal Advisor at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. The Wallenberg Centre recently published a report compiling evidence that genocide is ongoing in Darfur, with the RSF perpetrating it against non-Arab groups. We discuss at length how they came to this conclusion. Mutasim Ali is also from El Fasher, so we talk about the looming RSF assault on the city and what, if anything, can be done to prevent this attack.

Sudan represents the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. This episode is part of our ongoing series on the atrocities in Darfur and the civil war in Sudan, which is receiving scant media attention despite the sheer scale of this ongoing calamity. The podcast episode is freely available across all podcast listening platforms.

Transcript edited for clarity

Mark Leon Goldberg: So, we are speaking on Thursday, May 2nd. By the time this episode is released, it may be the fact that the RSF is attacking or has already attacked one of the largest cities in the region, El Fasher. The United States government, the UN, everyone is saying, ‘Please do not attack this city. This is going to cause a humanitarian catastrophe.’ If indeed the RSF does carry out this attack on El Fasher, what would you expect to happen based on all that you know about the RSF?

Mutasim Ali: So, definitely the consequences will be more catastrophic in terms of numbers than what we have seen in El Geneina.

Mark Leon Goldberg: You are referring to a different city that the RSF attacked last summer. El Geneina is the capital of West Darfur, which RSF sacked in June. Hundreds of thousands of people fled that city and there is evidence of mass atrocities.

Mutasim Ali: Right. And there are a couple of reasons why I believe that El Fasher will be more tragic. El Fasher now is home to, according to the UN, 800,000 people. And I’m from North Darfur, El Fasher, and I believe this number is inaccurate. The population in El Fasher is way, way bigger than this. But let’s rely on the UN numbers, that there are about 800,000 people — most of these people are already displaced from other places that are captured by the RSF. Others have been displaced persons for more than 20 years since the first genocide. They live in an IDP, internally displaced person’s camp around El Fasher. And so because of this huge number of people in El Fasher, the attack on El Fasher by the RSF would definitely result in more casualties. This is number one.

Number two, in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, there was a walkable distance to Adre refugee camp in Eastern Chad. In El Fasher, there’s no possible way that people can flee to Chad. El Fasher is in the middle of pretty much nowhere. And it is now encircled by the RSF. And so basically people have nowhere to flee to. Adding to this, it’s now dry season in Sudan, and El Fasher is surrounded with desert lands. And so, even if people were able to flee the city of El Fasher, probably they would not be able to survive the desert. And therefore, an attack on El Fasher would definitely be a lot more tragic, and it is exactly that reason why we think our report is timely in alerting the international community and people of conscience to prevent what we have seen already in El Geneina and other parts of Darfur from happening again in El Fasher or anywhere else in Darfur.

Mark Leon Goldberg: Yeah, I mean, this is the same set of actors, once again, surrounding and trying to sack a city. You’ve well documented their intent to be genocidal. You said you are from El Fasher. What are you hearing from people in the city right now who are essentially trapped, presumably some of your friends and family?

Mutasim Ali: I’ve been speaking to people there just to know how they’re doing and how they feel about the situation, what are the ways we can help? And people are just scared. A lot of people actually gave up. I mean, there is nowhere they can go. And even if there are some pathways, people don’t have the means to leave El Fasher, and therefore people are just giving up. And they say, “We’ll wait for our fate.” This is not the first time they think of fleeing for safety. This has been a consistent way of life for them. The saddest part about this is that for a lot of people in El Fasher, it became part of their daily experience to hear gunshots and people being killed here and there. And it is unfortunate to normalize something like that. And therefore, I think people are really, really nearly giving up for what is to come because they just do not see a way out of this unless the international community acts decisively and change the course of history.

But people, they’re not really hoping a lot because the international community has already failed several times in the context of Darfur. And so that is the saddest thing that we continue to hear from people there.

Full transcript here

This episode is part of our community supported initiative to cover the ongoing crisis in Sudan — even as many media outlets continue to overlook it. Please support this work by becoming subscribing to the Global Dispatches newsletter