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Human Rights Watch report highlights grave violations amidst rising civilian casualties in Sudan

In their most recent report (May 4), Human Rights Watch (HRW) sheds light on the alarming human rights abuses and civilian casualties resulting from the use of explosive weapons in urban areas by the warring armed forces in Sudan. The report calls attention to the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who have repeatedly employed tanks, artillery, rockets, and air-delivered munitions in populated areas, causing indiscriminate attacks in violation of international laws. This has resulted in significant loss of civilian life, damage to critical infrastructure, and the displacement of millions, leaving them without access to basic necessities. HRW urges the United Nations Security Council to take immediate measures to deter further abuses and ensure accountability for those responsible.

The Situation in Sudan:
The report highlights the outbreak of fighting in the capital, Khartoum, on April 15, 2023, between the SAF and the RSF, an autonomous force. Both parties have engaged in the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in densely populated areas, including Khartoum, Omdurman, Bahri, as well as other towns in Darfur and North Kordofan. These weapons, ranging from tanks to air-delivered munitions, have caused indiscriminate harm, resulting in civilian casualties, damage to infrastructure, and disruption of essential services.

As recorded by AOAV, 2023 has been the most injurious year for civilians harmed by explosive weapons in Sudan since 2010. So far, AOAV has recorded 2,021 civilians killed and injured by explosive weapons in the country, or 72% of the total 2,818 civilian casualties recorded in Sudan since 2010. The majority of civilian casualties were recorded in Khartoum, the country’s capital.

Of the 14 incidents recorded so far by AOAV, all but one happened in locations reported as populated: eight took place in urban residential areas, three across multiple urban areas, two in hospitals, and one at the airport.

Impact on Civilians and Infrastructure:
Of note, the report highlights how the use of explosive weapons in urban areas has had devastating consequences for civilians. Many have been forced to remain in their homes, enduring water and power shortages in sweltering heat, and lacking access to vital medical care. Hospitals and medical facilities have been targeted and damaged, leaving them unable to operate effectively. The destruction of water treatment plants and power stations has further compounded the crisis, depriving communities of access to clean water and electricity.

The report reveals that hundreds of civilians have lost their lives, with many more injured as a result of the conflict. The actual death toll is likely to be higher than reported, as hospitals are unable to record all casualties due to the prevailing circumstances. Moreover, the conflict has triggered mass displacement, with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese fleeing to neighboring countries or other parts of Sudan in search of safety.

Ethical Concerns and Violations of International Law:
The report underscores the ethical concerns surrounding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The SAF and RSF have demonstrated a reckless disregard for civilian lives and infrastructure. Indiscriminate attacks, disproportionate use of force, and the lack of distinction between combatants and civilians are clear violations of international humanitarian law.

The Need for Accountability and Humanitarian Response:
HRW emphasises the urgent need for accountability and the importance of holding those responsible for these grave violations to account. It calls on the UN Security Council, African Union Peace and Security Council, and other international bodies to take meaningful action to address the ongoing abuses. This includes regularly convening public meetings, urging the warring parties to cease unlawful attacks, and ensuring safe and unhindered humanitarian access.

The report also highlights the necessity of imposing an arms embargo on Sudan to prevent further weapon transfers to the warring parties. Targeted sanctions against leaders responsible for the abuses are recommended, along with increased support for the humanitarian response, especially in harder-to-reach areas such as Darfur.

The Human Rights Watch report provides a distressing account of the widespread human rights abuses and civilian suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons in Sudan’s urban areas. The indiscriminate attacks, loss of life, infrastructure damage, and displacement of millions demand immediate action and accountability. The international community, particularly the UN Security Council, must take decisive steps to deter further abuses, enforce an arms embargo, and impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for the violations. Additionally, increased support for humanitarian aid and the preservation of human rights are crucial to alleviate the plight of civilians and ensure a path towards justice, peace, and stability in Sudan.