Sudan: SAF soldiers accused of war crime after executions video emerges
Editor's note: This report contains some distressing images.
The emergence of a video purportedly showing Sudanese soldiers killing blindfolded detainees has become the latest example of potential war crimes in Sudan’s conflict and has sparked a blame game between belligerents.
In the video, circulated online and seen by Middle East Eye, three men - who are bound, have their faces covered and are stripped nearly naked - are seen being forced to crawl into a shallow pit by gunmen.
Pointing at the pit, one gunman says: “You lay down here now, go down right now. You lay inside right now. Close your eyes dog.”
Turning to the camera he says: “Hello everybody, those are traitors and mercenaries. They are snipers. They have killed a lot and rape our women.”
A second gunman is then seen saying: “Those are the mercenaries we have caught and we won’t tolerate them.”
The gunmen, who are wearing uniforms common among soldiers in the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), begin repeatedly shooting the detainees while shouting “God is great”.
The detainees are believed to be members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group that has been at war with the SAF since mid-April when tensions over a political transition deal that would have merged the two broke out into conflict.
Thousands are believed to have been killed in the war since then, while more than 4.2 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Over a million of those have found shelter in neighbouring countries.
From the conflict’s earliest days, the SAF and RSF have accused each other of committing various crimes and atrocities, including rape, ethnic-based killings, looting and the occupation and bombardment of civilian homes. Much of this has been documented by various local and international human rights organisations.
There have also been several accusations of prisoners of war and other detainees being killed by both forces. In July, a former captive of the RSF detailed to MEE various killings and other abuses he witnessed during his detention in Khartoum.
In response to the video, the RSF described the perpetrators as “Islamic extremists” led by army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan and linked to the administration of former president Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party.
“Their chanting of ‘God is great’ reminds us of the terrorist attacks committed in different parts of the world and prove the background of these militias,” the RSF said.
It said the organisations responsible should be placed on the list of international terrorist groups.
SAF spokesman Nabil Abdullah, meanwhile, denied that SAF soldiers had been responsible for any such crime, instead accusing the RSF of committing war crimes in Khartoum, Darfur’s el-Geneina and elsewhere.
“SAF forces are disciplined and couldn’t commit such crimes. These are fake allegations and lies by the rebel militia. We believe that the RSF is circulating such allegations to cover their crimes that we have already documented,” Nabil said on a SAF Facebook page.
In August, a similar video circulated by SAF supporters appeared to show RSF soldiers shooting captive Sudanese soldiers in Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city that lies across the Nile.
In the video, purported RSF fighters are seen insulting SAF soldiers using racist slurs related to their ethnical background from Gezira and River Nile states.
The Sudanese army accused the paramilitary force of killing prisoners of war in this way to foment tribalism and racism to escalate the civil war.
Yet later that month, the RSF circulated a video that it said showed the men supposedly killed in that footage alive and well, accusing the Sudanese army of fabricating the killings.
Pattern of behaviour
Human rights activists say they believe both sides have been involved in the killing of prisoners of war - among other atrocities - and are hard at work trying to verify video footage such as the video released this week.
Moneim Adam, of the NGOs, Access to Justice and the Sudan Human Rights Hub, told MEE that the new footage of the SAF killings is likely real and intended to frighten people into not backing the RSF.
Adam said that the video needs to be verified carefully, but added that detainees have been killed several times by both warring parties.
He noted that killing prisoners of war violates international law and perpetrators must be stopped, investigated and brought to justice – whether locally or internationally.
“The videos that appeared recently of the prisoners of war being killed are real because [the perpetrators] have recorded themselves, so no one can deny this. We saw the soldiers accuse the militia soldiers of being snipers working for the RSF, so it’s an intentional killing as well,” he said.
Adam said the attitude of the soldiers in the video was reminiscent of Bashir’s era, citing the example of Ahmed Haroun, a former official indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity after he ordered his troops to shoot prisoners that he deemed were a burden.
“That attitude was rooted in the practices of the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Similarly, SAF is believed to be intentionally assassinating people, as it did in previous civil wars against rebels,” Adam said.
“On the other side, we have seen the same practices by the RSF, like what happened in el-Geneina, including the brutal assassination of the governor of West Darfur state last July.”
Sudanese civil society has called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to open an investigation into abuses in Sudan.
Though the Sudanese foreign ministry has rejected the prospect of an investigative committee being formed, the UN Human Rights Council this week discussed a mechanism to establish one.