By Michelle Nichols
N’DJAMENA (Reuters) – The US ambassador to the United Nations arrived in Chad on Wednesday to meet Sudanese refugees who have fled ethnic and sexual violence in Darfur, which he described as a “reminder” of atrocities 20 years ago. Washington declared genocide.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is a member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet, is expected to visit Chad’s border with Darfur in western Sudan to draw attention to the worsening conflict and the growing humanitarian crisis.
War broke out in Sudan on April 15 – four years after former President Omar al-Bashir was ousted by a popular uprising. Tensions erupted between the army (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who staged a joint coup in 2021, to fight over a plan to transition to civilian rule.
“We have certainly reached a level of serious atrocities being committed and it is very reminiscent of what we saw happen in 2004 which led to the genocide decision,” said Thomas-Greenfield before arriving in Chad.
“We hear from women who are brutally gang-raped again and again, villages are looted, pictures from the air show mass graves. There are signs,” he said.
In the early 2000s the United Nations estimates that around 300,000 people were killed in Darfur when the “Janjaweed” militia – from which the RSF was formed – helped the army crush a rebellion by mainly non-Arab groups. Sudan’s leaders are wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity.
“Once again, Darfur is descending into an abyss without mercy or hope,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said in a statement. “Civilians have been enslaved, targeted, raped and murdered. It’s illegal and it’s disgraceful.”
Thomas-Greenfield first visited Chad’s border with Darfur in 2004 as a senior State Department official – the same year Washington described the violence there as genocide.
“I went before the genocide was declared, but I saw all the evidence that genocide was happening,” he said. “I had seen that before, after going to the refugee camps in Goma (Democratic Republic of the Congo) after Rwanda and seeing the tortured look on people’s faces, the terror on their faces.”
Genocide was committed in Rwanda in 1994 when Hutu majority extremists killed over 800,000 minority Tutsi and Hutu people in 100 days.
‘RACING AGAINST THE CLOCK’
The United Nations says that around 380,000 refugees – mostly women and children – since the start of the Sudanese war in April – have fled to Chad. Hundreds of thousands more have fled to the Central African Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has appealed for $1 billion to help provide aid and protection to more than 1.8 million people expected to flee Sudan this year. Nearly 7.1 million people are internally displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Griffiths said that those within Sudan who had managed to escape the violence were now facing starvation.
“More than 60 percent of people in West Darfur are very food insecure, as is over half of the population in East and South Darfur,” Griffiths said. “We are in a race against the clock.”
In recent weeks the UN has been able to provide aid to Chad’s West Darfur and has aid trucks ready to reach other parts of the region, but he said “relentless conflict” was preventing them from reaching the people in need.
“The people of Darfur are caught in a state of almost complete deprivation. Our message is urgent: Stop the fighting and let us through,” said Griffiths.
In Sudan the United Nations says that half of the country’s 49 million people need help and has appealed for $2.6 billion – so far, it has secured only 26% of this amount. Washington is the main donor, followed by the European Commission, Germany and Canada.
The fighting across Sudan has caused a “humanitarian disaster,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council last week in a report seen by Reuters.
“The growing ethnic mobilization and increase in ethnically motivated attacks could trigger a full-blown civil war, with an even more devastating impact on the people of Sudan, the region and beyond,” Guterres wrote.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Grant McCool)