ICC to investigate 87 murdered Muslims dumped in a mass grave

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, announced Thursday 12th July, that he would open an investigation into what he believes may amount to ‘extrajudicial killings, war crimes and crimes against humanity’ committed by the Rapid Support Forces in West Darfur. The announcement followed revelations by the UN Human Rights Office, that they had evidence of the Mass Graves found just outside the city of el-Geneina in West Darfur, Sudan.

We are in the midst of a human rights catastrophe

Addressing the UN Security Council 12th July, ICC Chief Prosecutor, Karim Khan said:

‘we are now in peril of allowing history to repeat itself…we are not on the precipice of a human rights catastrophe, we are in the midst of one’

The UN Human Rights Office published a report 13th July 2023, which described the discovery of a mass grave containing the bodies of at least 87 ethnic Masalit Sudanese in the West Darfur region of Sudan. According to eye witness reports, the bodies which were of individuals from the Muslim Masalit tribe, were dumped in the grave at intervals between 13th and 21st June by Rapid Support Force military and their affiliate militia, in an action which has been described by human rights experts as having all the hallmarks of a genocidal programme.  

Volker Türk , the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, made a public plea to the rebel militia to allow searches for the dead and their evacuation in accordance with international law. He was unequivocal in his outrage at the discovery and issued the following statement:

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

He added that the RSF leadership should immediately and unequivocally condemn and stop the killing of people, and end violence and hate speech against people on the basis of their ethnicity.

Masalit flee Darfur and find safe haven in Chad

Simultaneously on 13th July 2023, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that he had opened an investigation into fresh allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur region, including the recent killings of 87 members of the ethnic Masalit community, carried out by the Rapid Security Forces and its militia.

Dead bodies left on the streets

There have additionally been numerous reports of dead bodies lying rotting in the streets of el-Geneina, the capital city of West Darfur, as local attempts to obtain access to the bodies to afford them a proper burial have continually failed. One case which was cited in the UN report indicated that a family were forced to wait for almost two weeks before being allowed to collect the body of a family member – an unarmed dignitary and high profile member of the Masalit community, who was allegedly killed in cold blood by RSF militia.

The US State Department’s spokesperson, Mathew Miller issued a statement on 13th July, which for the first time since the conflict began on 15th April focused specifically on the atrocities committed by the Rapid Support Forces. He said:

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the continued atrocities and ethnically targeted killings committed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and its allied militias in West Darfur, as reported by credible sources.  The destruction of the village of Misterei and mass killings of its inhabitants, reportedly at the hands of the RSF and allied militias, and the report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of a mass grave found near El Geneina containing the bodies of 87 people, including women and children, are but the latest examples of the horrific human cost of this war.’

Mathew Miller added his endorsement of the decision by the ICC Prosecutor to investigate the events in West Darfur for war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying that this should act as a warning ‘that such crimes are an affront to humanity’.  

Outside intervention rejected by Sudan government

The ICC investigation comes as the government of Sudan completely rejected the idea suggested by the members of the East African bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) that they should deploy troops in Sudan in order to provide civilian protection and humanitarian access. The government of Sudan has made clear its opposition to the appointment of the recently announced President of the bloc, the President of Kenya, William Ruto, who it says has been openly partisan in support of General Hemeti. There have even been suggestions that the Kenyan President is currently providing safe haven for an injured Hemeti.

The change of tone at the UN, and the US State department in recent days shows a clear departure from earlier statements which have been at pains not to point blame for atrocities on any one side of the conflict. It would seem that overwhelming evidence has pushed the hand of the international community to reframe the prevailing narrative.

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