I Was a Witness to Your Death, Oh Geneina
November 18th, 2023 - von: Ibrahim Musa Shamu
We published the contribution by Ibrahim Musa Shamu in Arabic on our blog already in September, but it was so hard for our Sudanese friends to translate it that we decided to publish a rough translation instead. We think that this text must not remain unknown to the public.
Ibrahim lived to witness what happened in El Geneina, and then went with a refugee treck to Adre / Chad. We do hope that Ibrahim, and the people with him, will be able to securely return to El Geneina one day.
What Happened in El Geneina
The city of El Geneina, the capital of the Sultanate of Darmsalit, belongs to a region that was not subjected to colonialism in ancient times, due to the struggle of its sultans and the valor of its people who refused to be subjected to obey the colonizers. They paid a heavy price for freedom. At that time, 10,000 women and men fell as martyrs, offering their lives cheaply for the sake of their dignity on the battlefield of Dorty. This was in 1910, when they defeated the French invasion. Nine years later, they engaged in a complex negotiation process with the French and English colonizers, to decide about the fate of the people in struggle. The negotiations culminated in the Galani Agreement, in 1919. According to this agreement, the lands of the Eastern Sultanate joined Sudan, leaving the western part of its land to the French colonialists. The Eastern Sultanate is today called the state of West Darfur. The Sultanate of Dar Masalit has remained free, without chains. The sun rises and sets, enriching it with the beautiful mango trees that cover it along the banks of the Kja Valley. Then, after a hundred years of sacrifice, Sudan abandoned the people of the Dar Masalit Sultanate, facing the fate of genocide by the hands of the "Janjaweed" Rapid Support militias.
The city of El Geneina did not die due to the forced displacement that occurred on June 14, 2023, but it died gradually due to the repetition of painful incidents that burdened the life on its beautiful gardens and the kindness of its people with harshness. So what happened in El Geneina?
The morning of April 24, 2023, was calm with the breeze of Eid al-Fitr, smiling on the city’s roads with the joy of children and the reunion of the families, and it was crowned with the prayers of the elderly that God would spare the country from misfortunes, whether apparent or hidden, and forgiveness and wellness.
At eight o'clock in the morning, eleven four-wheel drive vehicles loaded with a number of army soldiers crossed from Sudan. This was not a common sight, given the rapid pace of accidents in Sudan. These military forces aimed for the Sudanese-Chadian Joint Forces Command, which is located west of the city, one kilometer away from the Rapid Support Militia Command. Before they arrived there, there were reports of Janjaweed militia gatherings west of the city, with the aim of launching an attack. There were warnings that the area was hot. The army forces returned, and were ambushed by the Rapid Support Forces and their supporting militias. The army fell into an ambush, and some of them fled. The Rapid Support militia then quickly transformed its war with the army into an attack against civilian targets in the Al-Jabal neighborhoods.
A group of fighters infiltrated the squares of the Al-Jabal neighborhood, targeting civilians of African ethnicity. By 10 am, a large number of civilians fled to the Almadares neighborhood to protect themselves. Meanwhile the violence continued, and the gunmen reached the entrances to the Almadres neighborhood from the southern direction, targeting civilians and burning public institutions that had become centers for sheltering the displaced who fled from their camps during the first attack on the Krinding and Abu Zar camp for displaced in 2021. As of two o'clock in the afternoon, more than thirty people were killed inside the central library (the library of the poet Muhammad al-Muftah al-Fitouri), which the displaced used as shelters. As the hours passed, the rate of violations increased, and the toll on the first day of the attack was more than fifty dead and one hundred wounded, including children and women.
On April 25 and 26, the Rapid Support militias continued killing and intimidation operations in the Al-Jabal, Tadamon and Al-Thawra neighborhoods. They looted, vandalized and destroyed the market in the city of El Geneina in a clear direction of a policy of siege and starvation of citizens, as the market and gas stations were looted and major merchants were pursued in their homes and looted.
The sun disappeared in the west, and people were waiting and anticipating what would happen on April 27 until the morning broke as if it were another form of violence. With it, the Rapid Support militia "Janjaweed" launched a violent attack on the neighborhoods of Buhaira, Al-Thawra, Al-Tadamon, Al-Majlis, Al-Madaris, Al-Jumada and Al-Mansoura, targeting civilians. The reason for the focus of the attacks on these neighborhoods is that the majority of their residents are from the Masalit tribe. The shooting operations continued from six in the morning until six thirty in the evening. That day was the climax of a tragedy of life, in which the reality of all the imaginary horror stories we used to see in Hollywood movies was embodied. Plumes of smoke rising from burning houses covered the rays of the sun, as if it were a volcanic eruption. Bodies were piled up in the streets and rubble was scattered around them, while others burned in their place. Dozens of women and children were screaming helplessly for mercy coming to them from heaven. On that day, they burned all state institutions and damaged the water stations and the electricity network. The sun set on April 27, and sadness was walking on the roads like a miserable person. The tears of mothers dried up. On that day, people were not surprised to hear news of death or injury, as the death toll exceeded two hundred and forty people and more than four hundred wounded.
There was a silent sadness over the city that lasted for fourteen days. Such a thing had happened more than a hundred years ago in Dorty's war, so that people knew on that day that tears were not flown in vain, as everyone was looking for a point of light to mitigate the tear that grief sheds.
Then another day came two weeks after the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth attack on May 12, 13, 14, and 15, 2023, in which the Rapid Support militia used another form of its combat tactics to kill humanity. 82-caliber, 75-60, and RBG mortar shells were targeting the gathering places of those fleeing in the Madras neighborhood, which was filled with thousands of citizens who had fled from the aforementioned southern neighborhoods. Every shell fall was another tragedy: body parts of children, women who lost their limbs. Citizens had no choice but to stay and wait for death because the city was besieged from four directions, and the price of any movement was an inevitable fate of death from the weapons of snipers, who were stationed on the rooftops of high houses, targeting anyone. A human being, regardless of his age or gender, being dark in color is sufficient reason to kill. During these four days, a large number of casualties occurred. Then the sound of weapons remained silent for another five days, and hunger began to ravage the remaining thin bodies, causing the death of a number of children.
On May 21, 2023, the attacks continued, people's conditions deteriorated, and hope died. People no longer waited for anything but to die with dignity and find someone to bury their corpses. On May 24, a full month of human rights violations was gone, including mass executions. During this month, the Rapid Support militia "Janjaweed" had been killing in the southern neighborhoods, inhabited by the Masalit, and had also been looting and systematic targeting of some activists and intellectuals in the northern part of the city, inhabited by several tribes.
With the siege imposed on the city on the southern side, and the depletion of food supplies and the difficulty of obtaining water, diseases such as malnutrition began to appear among children and the elderly, as the children were suffering from hunger. The effect of this was clear in their features: hollow eyes and ribs protruding from under a thin layer of skin. Every day, the number of children decreased due to hunger and measles, and some of them died due to the remains of flying shells that penetrated their bodies. Then the major disaster struck, as life-saving medicines and oxygen ran out, and operations stopped in the rescue clinic that was receiving all the wounded, and the scene was tragic. Every day, about three of those who had been injured died, and the death toll increased with every mortar shell that the Rapid Support bombed in areas where civilians gathered.
This dark situation continued with the cessation of all services until June 14, when the governor, Khamis Abdullah Abkar, was killed by the hands of the Rapid Support after it had taken complete control of the Almadares and Aljamarek district in which Khamis was residing.
The outcome of this systematic targeting of the Masalit tribe was more than three thousand dead. From April 24 to June 9 alone, the rescue clinic received 1,124 dead and more than two thousand wounded, and the number of those killed on June 14, 15, 16, and 17 exceeds more than three times the death toll in the 47 days since the incidents began.
[For reasons to do with trauma, this article will not describe the days of 14-16 June, following the murder of the Governor of West Darfur, Khamis Abdullah Abbakar, just hours after he was arrested by the RSF in El-Geneina. He had denounced, in a television interview, the intense violence and killing campaign by the paramilitary group and called it a genocide.]
Refugees of Eastern Chad Share the Suffering
Three months have passed since the start of the forced displacement of the residents of the city of El Geneina and its localities. Every day, dozens of families continue to flock to Adrei from different areas for fear of ethnic cleansing massacres committed by the Arab tribal militias and the Rapid Support Forces.
This arduous journey reflects that every refugee has a terrifying story of escape to Chad, painful stories that you hear when stopping with each person. On their way to Adre, they suffered horrors that have nothing to do with humanity. Their stories are about trying to escape from inevitable death in El Geneina to an unknown fate in the camps of humiliation. Wrenching for the human conscience.
Until now, there are no accurate figures for the number of people fleeing there, but they are estimated to be more than 800,000 people who fled from the city of El Geneina and nearby small towns and villages to Chad trying to escape from the brutality of the Rapid Support Forces and the Arab militias allied with them.
These refugees live in very complex humanitarian conditions. Their suffering is inseparable from what happened in the city of El Geneina, Morni, Misteri, Sirba and the rest of the cities that were under siege for a period of two months. Despite this tragedy, they are still facing another kind of trouble due to the lack of food, shelter, and supplies.
The refugee tragedy increases every day due to high temperatures during the day, continuous rainfall, the spread of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, a shortage of medicines, food poverty, and irregular meals due to the scarcity of food. Their bodies have become vulnerable to various diseases, which are especially widespread among children who suffer from malnutrition and measles. One of the centers operating in Adre camp confirmed that it receives about 25 to 30 children between the ages of 5 and 9 months who suffer from fevers every day.
Refugees live with their sorrows in their estrangement, hoping to return to a homeland they forcibly left. They are possessed by nostalgia and their hopes hanging on the eyelashes of their eyes to see their missing sons and daughters alive.
Most of the refugees suffer from the poor conditions in the camps and the poor response of the organizations to provide a hand of humanitarian aid. Most of the refugees need shelters to protect themselves from the scorching sun during the day and the heavy rains that last for long hours at night. Because of the lack of shelters, hundreds of them are crowded into small shelters made of Plastic and fabrics.
A month ago, the UNHCR began transferring refugees to other camps west of southern Adre, such as Abtenqi and Arkoum. More than 4,500 families were deported to Abenqi, where humanitarian organizations built camps, but there is an administrative problem in the distribution of housing, and hundreds of families are still crowded in reception centers in very harsh humanitarian conditions, waiting to be transferred to the camps.
Refugees suffer from slow response and not listening to their voices, even those who have got tents suffer from difficulty in obtaining water, as the journey of suffering of women in Abnqi camp begins with the early hours of every morning, as dozens of them line up on the way to the water source to obtain one can. Some of them wait for a long time in line for the manual water pump, while others make their way to the bottom of the valley to get water from small pits in which the water collects. They do not care about the purity of the water, as the opportunity to obtain it is the most important. As for some of them, they go out to great distances, hiding from the forest protection guards, to obtain cooking wood from dry trees.
The response of organizations is still less than average in providing humanitarian aid. There is also a problem with medical services and the provision of food supplies, as food supplies have been distributed only once since the refugees arrived in Chad, including a large number who did not receive their share.