US imposes sanctions on leaders in Sudan’s RSF over ‘extensive’ abuses

Washington accuses paramilitary group’s deputy commander and top general in West Darfur of human rights violations.

A Sudanese woman, who fled the conflict in Geneina in Sudan's Darfur region, mourns her relative who according to her, was killed by Rapid Support Forces (RSF) relocation from makeshift shelters to refugee camp in Ourang on the outskirts of Adre, Chad July 25, 2023 [File:Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

The conflict in Sudan has displaced more than four million people [File: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

Washington, DC – The United States has imposed sanctions on top commanders in Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF), accusing the group of committing “extensive” rights violations during its months-long conflict with the Sudanese military.

The measures on Wednesday targeted Abdelrahim Dagalo, the RSF’s deputy commander and brother of the group’s chief Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, as well as Abdul Rahman Juma, the paramilitary organisation’s top general in West Darfur.

The US Treasury froze Abdelrahim Dagalo’s assets in the country while the State Department imposed visa restrictions on Juma.

The two are the most senior RSF leaders to face direct US sanctions since the fighting in Sudan broke out earlier this year.

“The United States continues to call on all external actors to avoid fueling the conflict,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement outlining the moves.

“We will not hesitate to use the tools at our disposal to hinder the ability of the RSF and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) to further prolong this war, and we will also use such tools to deter any actor from undermining the Sudanese people’s aspiration for peace and civilian, democratic rule.”

The RSF and the Sudanese military have been locked in a fight for control of Sudan since mid-April.

The violence has killed thousands and displaced more than four million people, prompting warnings from the United Nations that the country faces a “humanitarian emergency of epic proportions”.

Efforts to end the conflict, including mediation by the US and Saudi Arabia, have only produced short-lived ceasefires.

Meanwhile, civilians continue to be caught in the crossfire. The crisis also has spurred ethnically targeted attacks against African, non-Arab communities in the western region of Darfur, which rights groups have blamed on the RSF and its allies.

“Since the beginning of conflict between the RSF and Sudanese Armed Forces on April 15, 2023, both sides have failed to implement a ceasefire, and the RSF and allied militias have been credibly accused of extensive human rights abuses in Darfur and elsewhere,” the US Treasury said on Wednesday.

Washington also said RSF members had committed gross human rights abuses, including “conflict-related sexual violence and killings based on ethnicity”.

The State Department accused forces led by Juma of abducting and killing Khamis Abbakar, the governor of West Darfur, and his brother in June. Abbakar had alleged that the RSF killed civilians in the region.

The RSF has denied allegations of abuse and accused the army of bombing civilian areas.

The Sudanese Armed Forces, which are led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, also have denied wrongdoing during the conflict and in turn accused the RSF of war crimes.

The US says its primary aim in Sudan is to reduce the violence before working towards a permanent end to the fighting and a return to civilian rule.

In June, Washington sanctioned companies controlled by RSF chief Hemedti and two defence firms linked to the military as part of that push.

On Wednesday, Blinken called on all sides to “comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, hold accountable those responsible for atrocities or other abuses, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and negotiate an end to the conflict”.

After years of animosity, ties between Khartoum and Washington had been warming since the Sudanese military removed longtime President Omar al-Bashir from power in 2019 following antigovernment protests.

The two countries re-established diplomatic ties in 2020, and in the following months, Sudan also agreed to normalise relations with Israel and was removed from the US’s list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism”.

But in October 2021, the Sudanese military staged a coup against the civilian government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, leading to his resignation in early 2022.

Al-Burhan, the head of the military-dominated Sovereign Council, has practically governed the country since Hamdok’s departure.

Hemedti served as his deputy, but he was removed from that position after his fallout with the army.

Source: Al Jazeera