In Darfur, an area of Sudan, massacres have been taking place on a daily basis for several decades. This is happening everywhere in the country. But who is talking about it? Pictured: Militiamen of the Sudanese regime's Rapid Support Forces prepare to receive then President Omar al-Bashir during his visit to the town of Umm al-Qura in South Darfur province, on September 23, 2017. (Photo by Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty Images)
In Darfur, an area of Sudan, massacres have been taking place on a daily basis for several decades. This is happening everywhere in the country.
But who is talking about it?
The Western world seems lack empathy, perhaps due to its weariness in the watching this tragedy for so long, and masked by geopolitical and economic interests.
As for the international community, it remains focused on a conflict between two nuclear superpowers, the US and Russia, at the gates of Europe, Ukraine, and that could degenerate into a world war.
For anyone following the media, it would seem that, with the exception of the fighting there, the rest of the planet is experiencing an unprecedented period of peace.
The United Nations, for its part, has long been bogged down in various obsessions, not the least of which is its favoring numerous dictatorships and systematically condemning Israel. The UN "peacekeeping" forces in Africa were keen to save their resources by fleeing an area that was consuming most of them with little result -- thanks to the alibi put together by the violent regime in Khartoum: that they were committed to a democratic transition that was actually a long-lasting coup.
The UN, therefore, is actually paying lip service to daily murders committed by the forces of the Islamist government in power against its "opponents". They are called "armed and tribal rebels" to disqualify them in the eyes of the media. The term includes villagers, whether or not they are Muslim, African tribes in regions coveted for their natural resources, Christians living in the south of the country and, more generally, anyone who does not please the militias in the pay of the regime. These militias are the dreaded Janjaweed, associated with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and armed groups linked to the current government, the result of yet another military coup led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his sidekick with a genocidal reputation, Vice President Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (often referred to as Hemedti).
After a recent four-day visit to Sudan, UN human rights expert Adama Dieng expressed deep concern about the situation. A comprehensive report, presented on June 15 at the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, documented unprecedented violence, particularly against peaceful protesters opposed to the Khartoum regime and villagers who dared to resist the imposed Islamic laws. However, according to the South Sudan-based human rights lawyer and democratic opposition leader, Abdelwahid El Nur, what the report details is "a drop in the bucket compared to the daily atrocities committed by the government.
To understand the current situation, it helps to realize that Sudan -- after centuries of Egyptian, Turkish and British colonization, and after finally gaining its independence in 1956 -- immediately fell into a cycle of civil wars, coups and revolutions, until 1972. Of the 160 ethnic groups that make up its population, a small majority of individuals of Arab origin continues to dominate social and political life while oppressing local Cushitic and Nilo-Saharan minorities.
In 1983, a civil war in the south was reignited after the government imposed a policy of Islamization, including enforced Sharia law. In six years, more than four million people in southern Sudan were displaced or fled from the massacres.
On April 6, 1985, a group of military officers led by Lieutenant General Siwar adh Dhahab overthrew President Jaafar Nimeiri, who took refuge in Egypt. That coup was followed by a coalition government, headed by Sadiq Al Mahdi, a soft and weak leader.
In 1989 a new coup, fomented by the junta of Omar al-Bashir, a fundamentalist from the Muslim Brotherhood, installed him as head of state, a post he would for three decades.
Under Bashir's presidency, sharia law was quickly imposed again. Education was overhauled to emphasize the importance of Arab and Islamic culture. Memorizing the Koran became mandatory in religious institutions, school uniforms were replaced by combat fatigues and a religious police force was established to compel strict sharia law, especially for women, who were forced to wear veils in public.
This period, according to human rights groups saw a proliferation of torture chambers used by security agencies and known as "ghost houses". Al-Qaeda members, including Osama bin Laden, were given sanctuary and assistance; this this policy of complacency towards fundamentalism and loss of human rights led to the US listing Sudan as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.
It was not until 2003 that El Nur's Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) tried to obtain rights for the people of Darfur, who had been victimized by Khartoum's policy of forced Islamization. After the violent reactions of the regime against demonstrators and countless massacres against the civilian population -- and in the absence of any possibility of a real ceasefire, because the UN failed to protect the civilian population against militia attacks -- the SLM formed a civilian protection force, the Sudan Liberation Army or SLM/A.
In contrast to the radicals in Khartoum, the SLM favors a secular and democratic government, close to the West. The SLM includes the recognition of Israel and the establishment of a peaceful, inclusive regime. El Nur, because he never compromised with the regime, became the idol of millions of Sudanese. Successive governments tried to lure him on their side, while hating him for what he represented: a promoter of human rights, in the manner of South Africa's Nelson Mandela, who must be prevented from taking power.
Meanwhile, the Janjaweed militias, taking advantage of the conflict that opposed Khartoum's regime in Darfur and South Sudan, began ethnically cleansing the area and committing atrocities on a grand scale. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, in a country torn apart by civil war, were once again displaced. As thousands of civilians were killed, rare lulls in the fighting, international interventions, the dispatch of African Union troops and ceasefires following UN Security Council resolutions blew about in the wind.
In 2009, the International Criminal Court, accusing Bashir of crimes against humanity and war crimes, issued a warrant for his arrest. The massacres nevertheless continued, on an even more massive scale.
Finally, in 2018, El Nur and several pro-democracy organizations organized new demonstrations, which led in April 2019 to the fall of Bashir, arrested by his lieutenant, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), the head of the Rapid Security Forces, and apparently not much better. He was, it seems, only seizing the opportunity to reach the highest level of power while continuing to practice Bashir's policy of forced Islamization.
Since the fall of Bashir's government and his imprisonment, the country has been "officially" ruled by the Sudan Sovereignty Council, composed of military and civilian representatives, former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and the Council's chairman, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. The coalition, however, is fragile and does not include the popular El Nur.
After several months of discussion, Hamdok had met El Nur in Paris in September 2019, under the sponsorship of French President Emmanuel Macron. Hemedti also sent a delegation to try to win El Nur's alliance. His repeated refusals to compromise with "criminals bathed in the blood of his people" earned him the nickname "Mr. No." He had apparently not forgotten that on June 3, 2019, Hemedti had been responsible for the "Khartoum massacre" during which his Rapid Security Forces killed 128 civilians.
It was in this tenuous context that the U.S. government brought Sudan into the Abraham Accords. In October 2020, under the leadership of President Donald J. Trump, Sudan had all sanctions lifted in exchange for normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel, establishing a democratic regime, and forming an internal reconciliation leading to lasting peace.
Shortly after, Sudan went to war with Ethiopia -- a conflict that has continued since.
To this day, although the American government has scrupulously honored its part of the agreement, the Sudanese authorities have been careful not to respect the slightest paragraph.
The "transitional government" lasted until October 25, 2021, when the Sudanese military, led by Burhan, took control of the government. At least five senior officials were arrested and imprisoned. Civilian Prime Minister Hamdok, who refused to declare his support for this new coup, immediately called for popular resistance. On October 26, he was placed under house arrest.
In the face of internal and international resistance, on October 28 Burhan declared himself ready to reinstate the Hamdok cabinet, even though the deposed prime minister had declined the initial offer, making any further dialogue conditional on the full restoration of the system that had been overthrown by the latest coup.
On November 21, 2021, Hamdok and Burhan signed a 14-point agreement reinstating Hamdok as prime minister and pledging that all political prisoners would be released. Civilian groups, however, including the Forces for Freedom and Change and the Association of Sudanese Professionals -- and again El Nur's SLM/A -- rejected the agreement, refusing to share power with the military.
Many see the senior generals -- all members of a security committee appointed by Bashir in the last days of his regime -- as favoring the Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP), which imposed a strict version of sharia law when it was in power.
Hamza Balol, a leading member of the pro-democracy Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) movement, which shared power with the generals until the coup, believes the military sabotaged the transition by protecting Bashir's NCP.
Civilian institutions are concerned that this new puppet government is simply a cover for the return of Bashir and that, although he is in prison, he is behind every development in the Sudanese government.
This, apparently, is also the conviction of El Nur. He notes with distress that the massacres organized by the Janjaweed and the Rapid Intervention Forces have not seen any let up. Daily peaceful demonstrations in Khartoum and the rest of the country are interrupted by the police and state militias, who fire live ammunition at the crowds, while raids are conducted throughout Sudan. Homes are burned. Villagers are forced into the desert without food or water. Summary executions take place. Women and children are crushed by cars. Students are mown down by bullets. The daily death toll and the number of injured are in the thousands.
In northern Sudan, mercenaries from the Wagner Group, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, have, with the apparent complicity of the regime, taken over the main gold mines of Al-Ibediyya. Day and night, extracting this gold is carried out by "free" Sudanese whose symbolic salary is close to slavery. Where does this gold go? No one is sure, but reportedly it could be feeding the coffers of Moscow and perhaps those of its ally, the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, Iran.
Last month, the Biden administration suspended all aid to Sudan, including that linked to its normalization agreement with Israel, and informed Jerusalem that no support should be given to the Khartoum government until there are democratic elections.
We may have to wait for a new coup d'état. Perhaps, this time, it will be led by the Sudanese people at the instigation of El Nur, the "Mr. No" who has always refused to compromise with dictatorial regimes.
Pierre Rehov, born and raised in North Africa, is a reporter, author and the director of "Hostages of Hatred" and "Silent Exodus", documentary films about Palestinian and Jewish refugees.