EU expected to impose sanctions on six Sudanese military figures fuelling war

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The EU intends to impose sanctions on six Sudanese military figures who are fuelling the conflict that has led to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, European diplomats have said.

EU foreign ministers meeting later this month are expected to approve sanctions against six individuals from the rival forces who have been fighting for control of Darfur, the vast, largely arid region of western and south-western Sudan.

The list includes three people from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group and three from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), according to three EU diplomats. They would be subject to asset freezes and travel bans. EU officials approved the names on Tuesday, but the final list could still change.

Since fighting between the RSF and Sudanese army broke out in April 2023, more than 9 million people have fled their homes, creating the world’s largest “displacement crisis”, according to the UN.

Fears are growing for the people of El Fasher in North Darfur, which is encircled by RSF forces and seeing “heavy fighting”, according to a Médecins Sans Frontières report. The city has a population of 1.5 million people, including 800,000 refugees who were forced to leave their homes during the 2003-5 Darfur war or in the last year.

UN agencies last week warned that the people of Sudan were at “imminent risk of famine”. Eighteen million people are acutely hungry, including 3.6 million children.

The EU’s move to impose sanctions on the six people follows asset freezes against six mostly military equipment companies controlled by the RSF and SAF in January. The bloc has faced criticism from human rights defenders of being slow to act in the face of horrifying atrocities.

In a recent report, witnesses told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that children, still alive, had been “piled up and shot” by the RSF as they attempted to flee the West Darfur capital of Geneina in June last year during attacks on Sudan’s non-Arab Masalit people.

The HRW report called on western countries to impose sanctions on commanders, officials and militia leaders responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes in West Darfur.

Jean-Baptiste Gallopin, a senior researcher at HRW, said his team did not find anyone in the refugee camps “that hadn’t witnessed killings or survived an attack or lost a family member”.

The events in Geneina, Gallopin said, were a “warning of what may happen in El Fasher as this battle unfolds”.

“The population, the percentage at risk [in El Fasher] is much bigger. And we are already seeing the deliberate destruction of residential areas.

“The response of the international community to these events has been way below what it should be given the scale and the gravity of these events.”

Speaking before EU officials discussed the six names this week, Gallopin said the EU appeared to be targeting “mid-ranking individuals at best” and called for “real urgency” to impose sanctions on perpetrators of war crimes and officials involved in blocking humanitarian aid, as well as a broader strategy to protect civilians.

Western countries had put their primary focus on a cessation of hostilities, Gallopin said. “And therefore [for western countries] anything that does not facilitate mediation efforts is unhelpful. This is kind of letting the warring parties off the hook for the violations of international humanitarian law, in terms of aid obstruction, failure to protect civilians or deliberate targeting of civilians.”

HRW is calling on the UN and EU to create a mission to protect civilians in Sudan. EU diplomats in Brussels were not aware of any plans beyond sanctions expected to be signed off in June.

One EU diplomat said: “We should just be realistic about the capabilities of even very large global actors to deal with many crises at the same time.”


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