Sudanese activists have lambasted a peace proposal from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which they accuse of committing atrocities throughout the war-torn country.
The head of the RSF, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, posted the 10-point plan to X, formerly Twitter, late on Sunday. In the proposal, Hemedti called for federalism, social justice and a unified army even as his group has been accused of abducting residents, looting homes and killing unarmed civilians in the capital, Khartoum.
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“[Hemedti] is the reason for this war and for so much killing, … so how could he offer a detailed solution when he’s the problem?” asked Zuhair al-Dalee, a member of a Khartoum resistance committee, which are neighborhood groups spearheading local relief and calling for democracy.
“There will be no peace or democracy coming from a gangster like him.”
Activists and analysts say the RSF’s initiative makes a mockery of Sudan’s pro-democracy movement, which has been calling for full-civilian rule since former President Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power in 2019.
Rights groups and the United Nations have accused the RSF, which has been fighting the Sudanese army since April, of torturing civilians, commiting extrajudicial killings and using rape as a weapon of war. The army has also been implicated by rights organisations of arresting hundreds of activists, stealing aid and indiscriminately killing civilians. It denies the allegations.
Observers accused the RSF of now using a liberal peace proposal to portray itself as an indispensable part of Sudan’s future.
“Nobody in their right minds thinks this peace proposal is genuine. It’s a political ploy. This is war by other means, and it is targeted towards [possible] mediation actors and efforts,” said Kholood Khair, a Sudanese expert and the founding director of the Confluence Advisory thinktank.
Sudan’s army has refused to negotiate an end to the war with the RSF. The army has labelled it a rebel militia and has promised to fight on against the paramilitary, which controls most of Khartoum and the western region of Darfur.
“We do not make deals with traitors. We do not make deals with anyone who has betrayed the Sudanese people,” army commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said during a speech on Monday at an army base in Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
The army’s refusal to engage in peace talks may help the RSF appear to some observers as more reasonable and cooperative in comparison, according to Sharath Srinivasan, co-director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights at the University of Cambridge and an expert on the failures of peacemaking in Sudan.
“[Hemedti] is saying [with this peace proposal] that we are real political players and that we deserve a seat at the mediation table to talk about the political future of the country,” Srinivasan told Al Jazeera.
Bedour Zakaria, a human rights monitor from West Darfur, warned that the RSF should not be trusted with ushering in peace or democracy. She said the paramilitary and allied Arab militias killed her brother and burned her village as part of what she described as an ongoing “genocidal” campaign against the non-Arab Masalit ethnic group.
Rights groups and the UN have also accused the RSF of committing summary executions and burying bodies in mass graves in West Darfur. The allegations have prompted the International Criminal Court to launch new investigations into abuses taking place in Darfur.
“The RSF’s peace proposal is useless,” Zakaria said just days after fleeing Darfur to Uganda. “After all the violations that the RSF committed, the people of Darfur won’t accept any initiative that is associated with Hemedti.”
The same mistakes?
Srinivasan suspects that Western diplomats will hesitate to engage with Hemedti, but they may do so at a later time in an attempt to end the war. Such a tactic would repeat what he believes is the same mistake the international community made in 2019.
After al-Bashir fell from power, Western countries supported a civilian-military partnership that made al-Burhan chairman and Hemedti deputy chairman of the Sovereign Council, the highest body in the transitional government.
The decision was made several weeks after security forces killed more than 120 people at a sit-in on June 3, 2019. Survivors said the RSF spearheaded the killings and the army closed its gates to protesters trying to escape the violence.
“It’s impossible to imagine that the international community will look the other way after all the atrocities the RSF has committed in this war. But it is worth remembering that Hemedti did not enter the [democratic] transition in 2019 with a squeaky clean record either,” Srinivasan said.
He added that Hemedti’s use of liberal and human rights language in his peace proposal was a clear attempt to resonate with some Western leaders.
“Hemedti is trying to play back to external actors the very language and the very ideas of peacemaking [recycled] from the 2019 transition and even from further back to [claim] that I’m still the actor looking to protect a political transformation in the country,” Srinivasan told Al Jazeera.
Despite a sophisticated campaign, mounting reports of grave human rights abuses have hurt the RSF’s political credibility, according to Khair. She warned that the group may exploit mediation efforts as a way to deflect attention away from its actions on the ground.
“If they show they are at the table and being involved in these mediations, then it allows them some wiggle room and removes attention from what they are doing on the battlefield. It’s a perfect red herring,” she told Al Jazeera.
During talks in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah, where multiple ceasefires have been signed and then violated, the RSF and army were accused of being more committed to strengthening their positions on the battlefield than protecting civilians.
Both sides had inked a declaration of principles to uphold international law, yet activists and rights groups said the RSF is still violating several of the principles by abducting civilians, occupying water stations and hospitals, and looting homes and markets.
The army has also been accused of violating the declaration by impeding relief and resorting to indiscriminate fire.
Fadel Omer, a spokesperson for a resistance committee in Khartoum, said that neither of the sides can be trusted with bringing peace or democracy to Sudan. He specifically criticised Hemedti’s proposal as being full of deceit and lies.
“The same words have been repeated from Hemedti’s tongue for ages, but he has never been committed to [democracy] since the establishment of the RSF,” Omer told Al Jazeera.
“The RSF continues to kill us and loot under the guise of democracy.”