Monday briefing: Thousands killed, millions displaced – the conflict in Sudan, three months in

1 year ago 69

Good morning.

Last week the United Nations discovered a mass grave in Sudan’s West Darfur in which 87 people were buried, prompting the UN high commissioner for Human Rights to demand a “thorough and independent investigation” into activity in the region.

It is the latest troubling news to come out of the country, which has been in a state of conflict since April, when fighting broke out between rival groups. In the three months since, 3.1 million people have been displaced, thousands are thought to have been killed and even more wounded, with entire neighbourhoods destroyed. UN agencies have received credible reports of 21 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence against at least 57 women and girls – in one of the incidents as many as 20 women were reportedly raped in the same attack. There have been reports of extrajudicial killings, ethnic violence, and widespread hunger, with a former UN humanitarian coordinator describing what is happening in Sudan as having “all the signature characteristics of genocide”. Peace talks were suspended last month as both sides continued to violate ceasefires. Over the weekend, representatives for the Sudanese army reportedly returned to Saudi Arabia for peace talks, indicating that they are open to diplomatic avenues for ending the conflict, though expectations are low.

As humanitarian organisations, NGOs and foreign governments watch on in dismay, the conflict shows little signs of ending, with both the army and the Rapid Support Force (RSF) engaging in a bloodthirsty battle to the end. But as the violence threatens to tip into an all-out civil war and plunge the region into crisis, neighbouring countries have been asking how order might be restored.

Today’s newsletter examines the state of play in Sudan, three months into the conflict. That’s right after the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Ukraine | Explosions have reportedly hit the Kerch bridge connecting the Crimean peninsula to Russia, a heavily guarded road and rail link that is among the Kremlin’s most important infrastructure projects. The head of the Russian-controlled administration in Crimea, said traffic had been stopped because of “an emergency situation”. Two people have been killed and a child was injured.

  2. Environment | Southern Europe is bracing for a second “heat storm” in a week. Record temperatures across the Mediterranean could be broken on Tuesday, and people in Italy have been told to prepare for most intense heatwave ‘of all time’. Meanwhile in the US more than 100 million people were under extreme heat advisories this weekend.

  3. Iran | Iran’s “morality police” have returned to the streets 10 months after the death of a woman in their custody sparked nationwide protests. It comes as authorities announce a new campaign to force women to wear the Islamic headscarf.

  4. Hospitals | The government is on track to break a key election promise from Boris Johnson to build 40 new hospitals in England by the end of the decade, a damning report by the public spending watchdog has found.

  5. Music | France’s favourite “petite Anglaise”, the British-born singer and actor Jane Birkin, has died at her home in Paris aged 76. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, paid tribute to Birkin, saying she “embodied freedom and sang the most beautiful words in our language”.

In depth: The battle for control of Sudan, over 90 days in

A Sudanese national flag is attached to a machine gun of Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) soldiers.
A Sudanese national flag is attached to a machine gun of Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) soldiers. Photograph: Ümit Bektaş/Reuters

The conflict in Sudan began in the middle of April, with a power struggle between two rival military factions. The Sudanese army, led by the country’s de facto leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, went head to head with the RSF, a collection of militia who follow Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti. In 2019, the two groups were largely in alignment, as they helped oust Sudan’s former authoritarian leader Omar Bashir to create a tentative power-sharing government with civilian groups. This dissolved in 2021 after a military coup involving the Sudanese army and the RSF, which derailed Sudan’s short-lived move into democracy.

In the years since the factions have turned on each other, after negotiations to integrate the RSF into the Sudanese army soured – the primary question being who would defer to who in their new setup. The fault line became fatal in mid-April, after the two groups began battling for control. Over 90 days later, the battle continues.

War crimes

The international criminal court’s (ICC) prosecutor announced that he is investigating new war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country’s West Darfur region – a part of Sudan that 20 years ago was ravaged by atrocities and violence – after a mass grave was found. The 87 victims were mostly Masalit, a largely African farming ethnic group which has been the target of attacks by Arab militias.

The ICC’s prosecutor said that the world and Sudan is “in peril of allowing history to repeat itself”. As the RSF fights the Sudanese army in the country’s capital, Khartoum, the paramilitary group has been accused of waging another war in Darfur where the Janjaweed militias – the group that the RSF evolved out of – were accused of genocide nearly two decades ago.

The RSF are being accused of continuing that same war now, attacking civilians in their homes and levelling huge parts of El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur. Those who speak out can expect a brutal, even fatal, response: seven activists have been killed in El Geneina after reportedly receiving threats from the militias. And last month a regional governor, Khamis Abakar, was abducted by men in RSF uniforms and murdered hours after he publicly accused the paramilitary group and its Arab military allies of genocide (the RSF has denied involvement in the death of Abakar and of any genocidal activity).

The ICC is also looking into the burning of homes, looting, and is giving priority to crimes against children and sexual and gender-based violence.

A route to peace?

Sudanese refugees who fled the conflict in Sudan gather 1 July 2023 at the Zabout refugee Camp in Goz Beida, Chad.
Sudanese refugees who fled the conflict in Sudan gather 1 July 2023 at the Zabout refugee Camp in Goz Beida, Chad. Photograph: Marie-Helena Laurent/AP

Several countries that neighbour Sudan – Ethiopia, Chad, Central African Republic, Libya, and South Sudan – have been affected by their own political upheavals and conflicts in recent years. As such, there are fears that prolonged and intensified fighting in Sudan could further destabilise a region that is already in a precarious position.

Egypt is particularly worried about the fallout of this conflict, particularly on its economy and border. Last week, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi led the most high-profile meeting about the conflict, attended by leaders of the other six countries closest to Sudan (those above, plus Eritrea), in an attempt to establish a lasting ceasefire. Neither the RSF nor the Sudanese army attended the summit, but they did praise the gathering on social media. El-Sissi encouraged the two sides to come to the table during an African Union-led negotiation during which all fighting would stop.

The summit has not been welcomed by everyone, however. Before it took place, Sudan’s ambassador to Egypt responded frostily to the cross-country discussions about Sudan’s situation, saying that “outside forces” were effectively meddling and that including so many parties was further complicating the situation.

Life for those still in Sudan

Before the conflict even began, Sudan was facing political unrest, rising inflation and extreme weather shocks. For the tens of millions of Sudanese people still in the country, their living conditions have declined even further over the last three months. The UN is predicting that between 2 and 2.5 million more people are likely going to face acute hunger in the coming months.

Despite the adverse effects on the economy, civilians, and the infrastructure of Sudan, neither side has shown any inclination of backing down. Towards the end of last week, the military shelled a market in Omdurman, the country’s most populous city, killing 30 people, mostly women and children. Residents described it as the worst week for civilian casualties since the conflict began. The previous weekend, 38 people were killed in the same city during an airstrike.

The UK has announced that it is following in the footsteps of the US and will be sanctioning companies linked to both the army and the RSF, and the UN is closely following the situation. But as Sudan’s cities continue to burn, it is hard to envisage any meaningful steps being made towards some kind of truce.

What else we’ve been reading

Michael Cera.
Michael Cera. Photograph: Riccardo Ghilardi/Contour by Getty Images
  • A great interview by Emine Saner with Michael Cera, who is just as wonderfully normcore as you’d hope, and somehow manages to get through life without a smartphone. Hannah J Davies, deputy editor, newsletters

  • Emojis were once derided as childish but as the years have gone by and more people have embraced them, the rules around their use has became more complicated. Hannah Jane Parkinson explains how we have officially entered the era of the symbol. Nimo

  • In the Guardian’s Saturday magazine, former X Factor contestant Lucy Spraggan revealed that she was sexually assaulted while she was on the show. In this second extract from her new book, she explains why she’s finally speaking out about the traumatic chapter, 11 years on. Hannah

  • Ice-cream has been flying off the shelves recently, and it is not just because of the warmer weather. Jay Rayner takes a look at what is behind its sudden surge in popularity . Nimo

  • Art fans/mystery aficionados: the voice of Banksy may have just been revealed?! Hannah

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Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz celebrates after winning the final of the men’s singles at Wimbledon.
Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz celebrates after winning the final of the men’s singles at Wimbledon. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Tennis | In a stunning turn of events, Carlos Alcaraz won the Wimbledon men’s singles title for the first time, ending Novak Djokovic’s decade-long winning streak. The 20-year-old defeated Djokovic in an epic five set match 1-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4.

Cricket | Australia retained the Women’s Ashes after beating England by three runs in the one-day international at the Ageas Bowl on Sunday, despite an unbeaten century from Nat Sciver-Brunt.

Golf | Rory McIlroy claimed a dramatic one-shot victory over Robert MacIntyre earning him the Scottish Open title at the Renaissance Club. McIlroy’s first professional victory in Scotland means he is the first player in history to have won the British, Irish and Scottish Opens.

The front pages

Guardian front page 17 July 2023
Guardian front page 17 July 2023 Photograph: Guardian

The Guardian leads with “Alarm as new ‘heat storm’ threatens to engulf Europe”. The i has “‘Conservative’ Starmer faces backlash over refusal to scrap child benefits cap”. The Times looks at cost of living pressures with “Rising rates push more households into the red”.

The Mail leads with the government’s crackdown on degrees with so-called “poor employment prospects” with “PM vows to curb ‘rip-off’ degrees”. The Telegraph has the same story under the headline “Students are being ripped off, PM warns”.

The Financial Times says “Microsoft closes on Activision deal after Sony signs Call of Duty licence”. The Mirror reports on a “New drug ‘beating’ Alzheimer’s”.

Today in Focus

Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

Has Britain become a country of shoplifters?

According to shopkeepers in the UK the number of thefts is rising. The British Retail Consortium said there were 8m instances of theft from shops last year, which cost businesses nearly £1bn. The Office for National Statistics reports a 22% rise.

For shop assistants and managers it is a daily struggle, which can be costly and infuriating – but what’s behind it? The Guardian’s North of England editor, Helen Pidd, spoke to shopkeepers on one Manchester street to see how they were coping. She tells Nosheen Iqbal how organised crime may be a factor behind the rise.

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Edith Pritchett cartoon for the Guardian
Edith Pritchett cartoon for the Guardian

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The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Barbara Earth, photographed at Rochester Institute of Technology, New York.
Barbara Earth, photographed at Rochester Institute of Technology, New York. Photograph: Matthew J Sluka/© Rochester Institute of Technology

Academic Barbara Earth saw her mother’s deafness set in over several years, and grew up with the knowledge that she too may one day lose her hearing. At 27 her hearing loss was first identified, with communication slowly becoming more challenging throughout the years. Looking to avoid the loneliness her mother had felt, Earth moved from Thailand in her 50’s, where she had been teaching, to Hawaii to learn American Sign Language (ASL).

As part of the Guardian’s A new start after 60 series, Earth told Paula Cocozza about the challenges of learning a new language, and becoming part of a community in the process. “Sometimes you just have to jump in,” she says. “And don’t be afraid, because what’s the worst that can happen?.”

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Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.

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