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Conflict Briefing: Sudan

Casualty data accurate as of 17 August 2023

On April 15, a full-scale armed conflict broke out between General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, de-facto ruler of Sudan, and General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Initially focused in the streets of Khartoum, the country’s capital, the insecurity and armed violence has since spread to other cities, displacing thousands and exacerbating Sudan’s existing humanitarian challenges, as well as compounding the challenges of an eventual transition to civilian, democratic rule. 

Sudan has been mired in conflict and violence for decades, having experienced more coups than any other African nation: since gaining independence from the UK in 1956, there have been coups in 1958, 1969, 1985, 1989, 2019, and 2021. Omar al-Bashir seized power in a military coup in Sudan in 1989, while the country was in the midst of a 21-year civil war between north and south, with another civil war breaking out in the Darfur region in 2005. After a brutal three-decade long rule, Bashir was ousted in a military coup in 2019, following which the military and a pro-democracy movement came to an agreement to share power for the next three years. The alliance was uneasy, and tensions continuously escalated as politicians pushed for a full transition to civilian rule. On 25 October 2021, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the top general in the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), dissolved the power sharing agreement and the transitional government, temporarily detaining the civilian Prime Minister and effectively taking control of the country. Key opposition leaders were detained in a wave of arrests.

In a televised address following his take-over, Burhan declared he would hold elections in July 2023 and hand over to an “independent and fair representative government” then.

Since the 2021 coup, Sudan has therefore been led by the SAF, with Burhan acting as the de-facto ruler. The RSF, a paramilitary group led by General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, have worked alongside the army to maintain the military’s ascendance.

While it appears clear that neither general had any intention of relinquishing power to a civilian government, growing tensions between the two armed forces coalesced into an intractable power struggle, which exploded into a violent armed conflict on April 15. Burhan and the SAF were increasingly concerned that the RSF was seeking to control more of Sudan’s economic assets, and a disagreement over how RSF paramilitaries should be incorporated into the SAF boiled over when RSF soldiers were deployed around the country without the SAF’s permission.

Since then, AOAV has recorded 60 incidents of explosive violence reported in incident-specific English-language media, which have caused at least 1,094 civilian casualties – 422 of whom were killed, and 672 injured. Civilians and civilian objects have been continuously targeted across Khartoum (485 civilian casualties), Omdurman (196), El Fasher (194), Nyala (116) El Geneina (90), El Obeid (6), El Farshaya (4), and Zalengie (3), with multiple cease-fires crumbling within hours. 

AOAV has recorded attacks targeting urban residential areas (390 civilian casualties), police stations (231), markets (208), multiple urban areas (166), hospitals (33), public gatherings (29), encampments (19), schools (11), roads (4), and transport-related infrastructure (3).

Non-specific shelling has caused the majority of civilian harm since April 15, killing and injuring at least 529 civilians, followed air strikes (151), tanks shells (133), artillery shelling (90), RPGs (57), combined explosive weapons (55), ground-launched missiles (27), combined ground-launchde weapons (20), ground-launched rockets (17), and mortar shelling (2). Landmines have killed and injured four civilians, while weapons of unclear launch method have caused 9 civilian casualties.

For 69% (754) of civilians killed and injured since April 15, it was reportedly impossible to isolate whether the casualties were caused by the SAF or the RSF, however, the SAF allegedly caused at least 20% (220) of civilian casualties in that time, and the RSF 11% (120).

Overall, AOAV has recorded 197 incidents of explosive weapon use in Sudan, which have killed at least 768 civilians and injured 1,194 since 2010. Civilians represent 96% (1,962) of all 2,889 casualties recorded in the country in that time.

AOAV’s casualty figures represent the lowest of estimations in terms of the number of people killed and injured by explosive weapon use. In an effort to quantify the explicit harm caused by specific explosive weapons, AOAV solely records incident-specific casualty figures, as reported in English-language media.

AOAV condemns the use of violence against civilians and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. All actors should stop using explosive weapons with wide-area effects where there is likely to be a high concentration of civilians.