The United Nations’ human rights body (UNJHRO) has received reports of at least 13 mass graves in the Sudanese city of El Geneina, a special envoy to the war-torn country told the UN Security Council Wednesday.
The mass graves are believed to contain civilians from the ethnic Masalit tribe who were killed in attacks by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied Arab militias, according to UN envoy Volker Perthes.
Perthes, who announced he was stepping down as the UN Special Representative for Sudan, added that the human rights violations were being documented and “if verified, may constitute war crimes.”
Ethnic related killings have intensified since fighting broke out mid-April between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the RSF.
The Masalit tribe and other non-Arab communities in Sudan are often targeted by Arab militias, with support from the RSF, according to Human Rights Watch.
A report released in July by the human rights body found that at least 28 ethnic Masalit were executed by the RSF and its allied militias during an attack on Misterei, a village in El Geneina that is home to thousands of Masalit residents.
Experts have expressed concern that the recent ethnic related killings reverberate the Darfur genocide of the early 2000s that left hundreds of thousands of people killed during an ethnic cleansing campaign by an Arab militia known at the time as the Janjaweed.
The recent discovery of mass graves containing members of the Masalit tribe is the second such discovery this year.
At least 87 people, mostly ethnic Masalit, were discovered in a mass grave in El-Geneina’s Al-Madaress and Al-Jamarek districts in July. The UN Human Rights Office said they may have been killed a month before by the RSF and their allied militia.
Sudan’s military government also issued a decree to dissolve the RSF citing rebellion, including “the grave violations they committed against citizens,” among others.
Fighting between Sudan’s armed forces and the RSF has escalated in the country’s capital Khartoum, leaving at least 5,000 people dead and over 12,000 inured, according to UN figures.
At least 43 people were killed on Sunday after a market in southern Khartoum was hit by an airstrike, a Sudanese doctors’ union said. Another 32 civilians were killed days before in a similar strike in Omdurman, also in Khartoum.
More than 4 million people have fled the violence across Sudan, with more than half having fled the capital alone, according to the International Organization for Migration.