Both Of Sudan’s Warring Sides Accused Of Torture

In the chaos of a war that has killed thousands and displaced millions, egregious abuses have taken place in detention centres run by both sides.

Himalaya Times
Read Time = 4 mins

The job was simple: drive his truck from war-torn Khartoum to Al-Jazira state south of Sudan's capital. Othman Hassan was grateful for the work, until he came to a paramilitary checkpoint.

"They confiscated my truck and took me to a house in Kafouri" in Khartoum North, the 54-year-old told AFP.

In the courtyard, he found "several other prisoners and paramilitary soldiers from the Rapid Support Forces, who forced us to the ground and whipped us, accusing us of spying for the army" which has been battling the RSF since April 15.

They were whipped until one man, whom Hassan judged to be the commander, ordered them to stop. And then the "interrogation" began.

For three days in that house, and then for two weeks at the local power station, Hassan and six others were left on the ground, routinely beaten and deprived of food and water.

They are not alone in suffering such treatment. In the chaos of a war that has killed thousands and displaced millions, egregious abuses have taken place in detention centres run by both sides.

- Dozens of detention centres -
Of the dozens scattered across the war-ravaged capital, 44 belong to the RSF and eight to the army, according to a report by a committee of pro-democracy lawyers that has sought to document violations in the war.

Over two months, they collected 64 testimonies, and found that both camps had committed "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity", including "murder, kidnapping, unlawful detention, forced disappearance, torture, and rape".

Hassan can attest to that. After two weeks, he was dumped by the side of the road, but never found out why he had been released.

Mohamed Salaheldin, by contrast, knows what it took to secure his freedom: his family paid a $1,700 ransom to the RSF.

He had ventured onto Khartoum's dangerous streets to get medicine for his elderly mother, when RSF fighters asked him for ID that he did not have.

"They threatened to kill me," said the 35-year-old, who was accused of being "an army spy" and "an Islamist" from the regime of former dictator Omar al-Bashir.

The RSF has repeatedly accused the army of starting the war to usher Bashir's regime back to power, although it has never been possible to verify who opened fire first.

"I sat on the ground all day, until I was moved to the sports city" in southern Khartoum, Salaheldin told AFP. He remained there for a month.

The lawyers report that indignities suffered by detainees include severe overcrowding, no access to toilets and the withholding of water in the stifling heat.

- 'Hit by stray bullet' -
Former detainees from centres run by both sides reported "threats of rape", "repeated rape", and "one inmate being killed for resisting".

In the darkness of overcrowded rooms, the noise of war is constant, as fighter jets target RSF bases from above and street battles rage outside.

"I was hit by a stray bullet in the leg," Salaheldin told AFP from Al-Jazira, where he found refuge with his family and now awaits surgery.

In the early months of the war, 25-year-old Majdi Hussein said goodbye to his family in Khartoum.

He sent them to safety in northern Sudan, and stayed behind to guard the family home. "On July 15 there was a knock on the door. I opened it and found six paramilitary soldiers" perched on a pick-up truck mounted with a turret, he told AFP.

Hussein was beaten, blindfolded, loaded onto their pick-up and taken to a dark, crowded cellar. "The days went by, and I got to know the other detainees," he recounted.

- Forced to dig graves -
The army and the RSF have denied any ill-treatment of those they have captured, stating repeatedly that their troops act in accordance with humanitarian standards.

On Monday, the army said it had "contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross" to "hand over thirty under-aged members" of the RSF captured at "the start of the war".

The ICRC has regularly facilitated the release of detainees from both sides.

But also on both sides, the lawyers' committee found that civilians and combatants, men and women, adults and minors had all suffered through "interrogation by means of horrific torture including being suspended by the feet, electrocution and cigarette burns".

Some detainees were also forced to "do hard labour and dig mass graves", the report found.

On September 2, three doctors were kidnapped by the RSF while on their way to volunteer in eastern Khartoum, according to a local resistance committee -- one of many that used to organise pro-democracy protests and now provides aid to those in the line of fire.

"They have neither eaten nor drunk anything, nor have they been questioned," the committee said, calling on the RSF to free them.

But months after passers-by, activists and medics began disappearing and just as suddenly reappearing, civilians have come to know there is little rhyme or reason over who gets released and when.

For Majdi Hussein it took 10 days, after which "they took me to Avenue 60 (in Khartoum) and told me to get out" without putting him on trial, providing an explanation or saying another word.

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