Independent UN experts accuse Sudan’s warring parties of using starvation as weapon

CAIRO (AP) — Human rights experts working for the United Nations on Wednesday accused Sudan’s warring parties of using starvation as a war weapon, amid mounting warnings about imminent famine in the African nation.

Sudan plunged into chaos in April last year when simmering tensions between the country’s military and a notorious paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, exploded into open fighting in the capital, Khartoum and elsewhere in the country.

Fourteen months of fighting have killed more than 14,000 people and wounded 33,000 others, according to the United Nations, but rights activists say the toll could be much higher.

There were widespread reports of rampant sexual violence and other atrocities that rights groups say amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The conflict created the world’s largest displacement crisis with over 11 million people forced to flee their homes.

“Both the SAF and the RSF are using food as a weapon and starving civilians,” the experts said, using initials for the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. “The extent of hunger and displacement we see in Sudan today is unprecedented and never witnessed before,” they said.

Neither the military nor the RSF returned phone calls seeking comment.

The experts warned that famine has become imminent in the country as humanitarian aid has been blocked and harvest season was disrupted because of the war. They added that more than 25 million civilians in Sudan and those who fled the country are being starved and need urgent humanitarian assistance.

A report by Clingendael Institute said last month that around 2.5 million people in Sudan could die from hunger by the end of September, with about 15% of the population in the regions of Darfur and Kordofan being likely the worst affected.

The independent experts said local efforts in response to Sudan's hunger crisis have been hampered by unprecedented violence and targeted attacks on civil society and local responders. Dozens of activists and local volunteers have been arrested, threatened and prosecuted in recent weeks, they said.

“The deliberate targeting of humanitarian workers and local volunteers has undermined aid operations, putting millions of people at further risk of starvation,” they said. “Local responders are risking their health and lives and working across battle lines.”

They urged both sides to “stop blocking, looting and exploiting humanitarian assistance.”

The experts are part of the Special Procedures, which is the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights system.

The fighting has in recent months centered around el-Fasher, the capital city of North Darfur province, trapping hundreds of thousands of civilians. At least 143,000 people have been forced to flee el-Fasher over the past three months, according to the U.N.

The U.N.’s Security Council earlier this month demanded the RSF to immediately end its siege of the city, which is the military’s last stronghold in the sprawling Darfur region.


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