LOMÉ, TOGO – July 25, 2023
The consultative meeting to discuss an action plan for Darfur, which ended yesterday, has been criticised by rebel movements and Darfuri unions as an initiative that is meant to provide a “way out” from accountability for recent war crimes committed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allies.
The two-day consultative meeting that included the RSF, former officials, political leaders, and armed movements kicked off on Sunday in Lomé, Togo, to agree on an action plan to avoid Darfur sliding into ‘full-blown civil war’.
Mohamed El Taayshi and Nasreldin Abdelbari, who served as a member of the Sovereignty Council and minister of justice respectively during the government led by Abdallah Hamdok (2019-2021), were among the 25 people who attended the meeting, and so was Yousef Ezzat, advisor to RSF Commander-in-Chief Lt Gen Mohamed ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo.
Ezzat told AFP that the RSF are “willing to participate in any kind of meeting for peace and bringing people together and stop the war in Darfur and in Sudan. This is the time to end the war, to start a new future for Sudanese people with peace, development, equality”.
‘We are willing to participate in any kind of meeting for peace’
RSF advisor Yousef Ezzat
Some prominent rebel movements in Darfur, however, declined to participate in the meeting.
The mainstream Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led by Acting Minister of Finance Jibril Ibrahim, the New Justice and Equality Movement (NJEM) breakaway faction led by Mansour Arbab, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction led by Sovereignty Council member El Hadi Idris, and the Sudan Liberation Forces Gathering led by El Tahir Hajar all said that they had not attended.
In separate statements, Darfuri unions in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands rejected the conference in Togo and warned of the serious consequences the conference could have on the situation in Darfur. They called on politicians and movements to refrain from participating in the meeting.
Whitewashing war crimes
The Darfur Union in the UK (DUUK) said that the meeting aims to “whitewash RSF/janjaweed* war crimes in the region” and shift the narrative about who is responsible for the widespread killing and sexual violence in the region, especially in West Darfur.
They explained that the list of participants, and naming Hemedti’s political advisor as one of the main speakers, clearly demonstrates “the relentless pursuit of these politicians to provide political cover and a “way out” for the RSF and their leaders from accountability regarding recent war crimes”.
Many refugees who fled from El Geneina, capital of West Darfur, to Chad have told Radio Dabanga of horrors, including the alleged killing of 20 children by the RSF. Over 8,000 are estimated to have been killed and many refer to the violence as a genocide.
The fact that the meeting agenda referred to the systematic killing and abuse of civilians, especially members of the Masalit tribe, by members of the RSF and their allies as a “tribal conflict” angered the union.
“We believe that this meeting is an attempt to change the narrative of what is happening in Darfur and to cover up the war crimes of the Rapid Support Forces and the Janjaweed,” they wrote in a statement on Sunday.
“The lead participants in the meeting have already put forward a pre-determined agenda that distorts the truth about Darfur. They have described the violence in Darfur as a ‘civil war’ and ‘tribal fighting’, rather than as war crimes.”
‘This is a clear attempt to whitewash the crimes of the RSF and the Janjaweed’
“This is a clear attempt to whitewash the crimes of the RSF and the Janjaweed, who have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of people and the forced displacement of a quarter of a million to eastern Chad after the heinous crimes in El Geneina, Misterei, and other west Darfur localities.”
The union is “concerned that the meeting in Togo is providing political cover to the RSF,” giving them “a green light to continue the ethnic cleansing campaign in Darfur”.
They called on all potential attendees to “show some dignity and refrain from participating in such farce”. “The people of Darfur deserve justice, and the only way to achieve that is to hold the perpetrators (RSF/ Janjaweed) of these crimes accountable.”
‘The people of Darfur deserve justice, and the only way to achieve that is to hold the perpetrators (RSF/ Janjaweed) of these crimes accountable’
Such ‘whitewashing’ attempts are not new. The RSF have previously been called out for “hypocritical” attempts to reframe their image.
Given the fact that the RSF were set up by the Al Bashir regime and deployed to commit genocide in Darfur, and are widely seen as the aggressor in the recent war with the army, Hemedti’s reputation at home and abroad is “dreadful” at the moment, as the International Crisis Group (ICG) explained in their most recent analysis of the Sudan conflict.
* Many refugees from El Geneina link their attackers to the janjaweed militias who fought for the Sudanese government in Darfur since the war broke out in 2003 and were recruited from Arab herding tribes. They are held responsible for the genocide against Darfuri farmers and other non-Arab/African groups, to which the Masalit belong, and were also called ‘devils on horsebacks’.
The RSF are so contentious in Darfur because they were established by the Al Bashir regime in August 2013 and grew out of the janjaweed. They have in the past been predominantly recruited from the Rizeigat Arab herding tribe, which RSF Commander Mohamed ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo hails from.