UN rights chief ‘appalled’ at Sudan killings, demands probe

GENEVA— The UN human rights chief expressed outrage after dozens were killed in three days of violence in Sudan’s West Darfur, and demanded “impartial and independent” investigations into the attacks.

Michelle Bachelet called on Sudanese authorities to protect the population of West Darfur, following days of deadly fighting between Arab and non-Arab groups left at least 213 dead, according to an official toll from the state governor.

“I am appalled,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a Wednesday statement, pointing to the numerous deaths and injuries in Krink, a locality of nearly 500,000 people and mostly inhabited by the African Masalit tribe.

“I am concerned that this region continues to see repeated, serious incidents of intercommunal violence, with mass casualties,” she said. “While initial measures taken by the authorities to calm tensions are welcome, I urge the authorities to address the underlying causes of violence in this region and fulfil their responsibility to protect the population.”

Her comments came as the UN Security Council in New York prepared to hold an informal, closed-door meeting about the crisis.

The violence first broke out on Friday and escalated when armed men attacked villages of the non-Arab Masalit in retaliation for the killing of two tribesmen, according to the General Coordination for Refugees and Displaced in Darfur, an independent aid group.

The UN rights office said that more than 1,000 armed members of the Arab Rzeigat community had attacked the town, and said at least eight men belonging to the African Masalit tribe and seven Arab men were killed that day alone.

The state governor blamed government forces tasked with securing Krink and its environs for “withdrawing without any justification” as the main attacks began early Sunday.

The UN rights office said that the Rzeigat assailants had taken control of the town for several hours on Sunday, looting and torching hundreds of shops and houses and opening fire on public buildings where many had sought shelter, including a hospital.

At least 151 people were killed, including at least 27 women and 17 children, it said. The fighting on Monday spread to Geneina, the provincial capital of West Darfur.

Witnesses have accused the Janjaweed militia of orchestrating the violence. The Janjaweed was an Arab militia which gained notoriety for its role in the repression of an ethnic minority rebellion in Darfur in the early 2000s under then autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Bachelet urged authorities to take immediate action to protect the population and assist the wounded and displaced, and get to the bottom of what had happened.

“I call on the Sudanese authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, and independent investigations into these attacks and hold all those responsible to account in accordance with international human rights law,” she said. “The victims and their families have a right to effective remedies.”