Sudan conflict: ‘I saw many bodies dumped in Darfur big grave’
After fleeing across the Chadian border to Sudan, Maalim is traumatized by what he saw in Darfur.
As he pulls out his phone and shows me harrowing pictures of scattered corpses in El Geneina, he tells me: “If the people I worked with know I showed them these photos and videos or even that I filmed them, I’m dead.” His identity has been changed to protect him.
He was part of a group tasked with removing corpses from the streets and burying them in mass graves before leaving the country.
As of April, Sudan has been rocked by fierce battles between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the army, with some of the worst fighting taking place in Darfur, where the RSF originates.
Please be aware that this report contains images that may be distressing
Many of the dead bodies were covered with blankets and clothing, while others were swollen and rotting. A photo of a wrecked and looted aid agency compound was also shown by Maalim.
The victims of this brutal attack had been lying dead on the street for more than a week, he explains, visibly distressed. “I felt horrible. I felt like they died in a state of fear and terror,” he says.
One of the most disturbing videos he showed us was one he took while hiding in a bush. A mass grave was shown where bodies were dumped from a lorry.
“We went to the forest graveyard to bury the bodies, but the RSF prohibited us from doing so. Instead, they ordered the driver of the truck to dump the bodies in a pit,” Maalim says, adding that the RSF then told them to leave.
They should have been buried according to Islamic rituals. We should have offered prayers for them. But the RSF insisted that they be discarded like garbage.”
There is no information about who the bodies belong to or how they were killed. Many families that have sought refuge in Chad tell us that the RSF targeted young men and boys in West Darfur, forcing them out of their hideouts and killing them.
Families say members of non-Arab communities were targeted. They describe being stopped and asked about their ethnicity at RSF checkpoints. We were told they were too scared to say they were Masalit for fear of being killed.
RSF has not responded to the BBC’s request for comment on the allegations. The group denied earlier this week that it was involved in similar attacks on Masalits in May.
A UN report published on 13 July claims that local people were forced to bury the bodies of at least 87 ethnic Masalit and others killed by the RSF in West Darfur mass graves.
Maalim’s phone shows that the photos and videos were taken between 20 and 21 June, the same dates as in the UN report.
Maalim told us the bodies were buried near a police base west of El Geneina in an open area known as al-Turab al-Ahmar (Red Soil).
Untreated injuries caused some of the deaths, according to the UN statement. Maalim’s videos show a man found alive among a pile of dead bodies. While he tries to speak, flies hover around his dry, cracked lips. According to Maalim, the victim had been lying there with gunshot wounds for eight days. It is unknown what happened to this man.
The videos were taken by Maalim in order to document what was happening in his hometown. He soon realized that staying in the city was no longer safe.
As they cleaned up, they searched for people who had mobile phones on them more than once.