Niemat Ahmadi has seen unthinkable horrors – the kind that haunts a person with the most formidable nightmares for the rest of his or her life.
She has witnessed her relatives being marshalled, burnt, and then buried alive with their livestock. The bloodcurdling screams of children as they were tossed into raging fires, still echo in her mind. She recalls the bawling of women and girls, as young as 7-years-old, as they were being raped. Some of them would die due to the sheer brutality of the rape. Discomfort seeps into the pit of her stomach with the memory of the scarf that was bound tightly around her neck, as an armed Janjaweed man reached for his knife to try to slaughter her.
Yet, Niemat is one of the lucky ones. She escaped the genocide in Darfur; it is described as the first genocide of the 21st century. Yet, few speak about it – or are even aware of the atrocities occurring in this dusty region of Western Sudan. Since the continued mass rape and execution of Darfuri men, women, and children began in 2003, it is estimated that over 480,000 people have been killed.
Initially, government armed forces and Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, carried out most of the brutal rampage. Then, in 2013 Rapid Support Forces (RSP) was formed, launching counterinsurgency campaigns in Darfur under General Mohammed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo, who recently assumed power of Sudan after President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown.
In 2008, the UN created the United Nations-African Union Mission (UNAMID) to try to resolve the strife in Darfur. Initially, they anticipated sending 26,000 troops, but only 9,000 troops were sent and their efforts soon fell short.
“When a woman is raped, it demonstrates to men that they cannot protect their own, so the attack is two-fold. On one hand, it destroys a women’s identity, and on another, it destroys the social fabric,” Niemat said. “Throughout the region of Darfur, systematic rape, arrest, torture, restriction of humanitarian access, and the forced removal of UNAMID continues.”
“Over 3 million people who have been forced to leave their homes, continue to live in makeshift camps and are still subject to systematic attack. Forty villages in Darfur have been burned as recently as Monday. Amongst them is the village of Deliage — a camp for internally displaced people. At least 16 people were killed, hundreds wounded and thousands of people displaced yet again.”
Fifteen years ago and after several attempts on her life for speaking out against the war crimes, Niemat left Darfur for the US. Since then, she has founded Darfur Women Action Group to provide support to survivors and to raise awareness for Darfur’s tragic demise. Campaigning relentlessly, she endeavours to draw attention to the plight of those left behind. She says that she refuses to be silenced, irrespective of any threats to her life that she may face.
“Al Bashir was systematically intent on eliminating the indigenous Africans and removing them from their land. He recruited, mobilized and equipped militias from Arab origins and tasked them with carrying out attacks: burning, looting, and using rape as a weapon of war and as a method of ethnic cleansing,” Niemat explained.
“Historically, Sudan has been led by Arab elites from the centre and the north who continue to exclude and marginalise indigenous Africans. Since Al Bashir came to power, he has continued this.”
This week, Amnesty International revealed that they had “disturbing new evidence, including satellite imagery, showing that Sudanese government forces, including the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias, have continued to commit war crimes and other serious human rights violations in Darfur.” They stated that in the past year this has included the complete or partial destruction of at least 45 villages, unlawful killings, and sexual violence.
The government of former President Omar al-Bashir has refuted the allegations about Darfur. But after months of mass protests about his thirty-year authoritarian rule, Al Bashir was overthrown on April 11.
“The international community has failed to hold the government in Sudan accountable for the genocide in Darfur. Al-Bashir has been indicted by the ICC for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur 10 years ago, but he has not been arrested to stand trial,” Niemat said.
“Secondly, there are too many regional and international political dynamics. For example, the US collaborated with the Al-Bashir regime to pursue normalisation instead of holding Sudan accountable for their crimes. And the EU initiative to work with Al-Bashir to limit the flow of African refugees to Europe has resulted in Al-Bashir receiving millions of euros – most of which have been used to pay the Rapid Support Forces who are the perpetrators of genocide in Darfur.
“And the support from Middle Eastern and some African countries to the Al-Bashir regime has emboldened the genocide, as they know that the international community is not serious in holding them accountable – despite Al-Bashir’s indictment by the ICC.”
The current crisis in Sudan is partly due to the continued blatant disregard for the carnages in Darfur. Failure to act or be held responsible sets a dangerous example – one that promotes negligence and nonchalance for a serious crime like genocide.