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Mouli village, West Darfur, January 2016
Mouli village, West Darfur, January 2016

Ten civilians killed and 8 men held incommunicado following land access dispute between Masalit and Rizeigat ethnic groups in South Darfur

(29 November 2016) Since 8 November, ten civilians from the Masalit ethnic group have been killed, and 14 injured, following armed attacks on Masalit communities by Rizegat pastoralists in Gereida locality, South Darfur. The armed attacks were instigated over access to land to areas traditionally claimed by the Masalit ethic group.

Following clashes between the two ethnic groups, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on 10 November began arresting members of the Masalit ethnic group who had called for peaceful demonstrations to condemn the clashes between the two groups and call for state protection. A series of arrests took place from 10 – 17 November, with eight members of the Masalit ethnic group currently detained incommunicado without charge or access to their families or lawyers by the NISS. Three of the men detained are youth activists who had rejected calls at the burial service of eight members of the Masalit ethnic group killed on 17 November by the Locality Commissioner, Hamid Abdalla, for a ceasefire. The three men demanded that the detained individuals from the Masalit first be released before a ceasefire could be reached, and made public calls for peaceful demonstrations for the group’s release.

Murder and subsequent clashes on 8 November

The events in November were catalysed by a murder which took place on 8 November, when three unidentified armed men from the nomadic Rizeigat ethnic group shot and killed a member of the Masalit ethnic group, Abdulla Adam, when he refused to allow them to graze a herd of 300 cattle on his land, as it would destroy his crops and the land is traditionally claimed by the Masalit ethnic group.

Shortly after the attack, an unknown number of armed civilians from the Masalit ethnic group pursued the three unidentified armed men from the Rizeigat ethnic group, and were subsequently ambushed by a larger militia of armed members of the Rizeigat ethnic group. Clashes broke out, and Mohamed Abakar Adam, (m), a member of the Masalit ethnic group, was shot and killed. No members of the Rizeigat ethnic group are known to have been injured in the clashes. Five members of the Masalit ethnic group were injured and transferred to a nearby hospital for treatment. Their names are on file with ACJPS.

Calls for peaceful demonstrations for state protection and arrests by the NISS

The next day, on 9 November 2016, Mohamed Mussa (also known as laham Eltiar), member of the Masalit ethnic group and a high school teacher and respected member of the community, made a public speech in Al Goghana village within Geraida locality calling for members of the Masalit community to hold peaceful protests requesting the Government of Sudan to protect civilians from armed militias.

The following day, 10 November 2016, Mr. Mussa was arrested by the NISS alongside three other men, who reportedly also made public calls for peaceful protests. The four men are currently being held incommunicado at NISS detention facilities within Nyala Prison. Nyala is the capital of South Darfur state. Their names are below.

  1. Mohamed Mussa (Iaham Eltiar), (m), member of the Masalit ethnic group;
  2. Bahar Adam Eltoum, (m), member of the Masalit ethnic group;
  3. Shamseldeen Mussa, (m), member of the Masalit ethnic group; and
  4. Saber Abdulla Abusraah, (m), member of the Masalit ethnic group.

On 11 November 2016, the NISS arrested a fifth man from the Masalit ethnic group, Mr. Ahmed Abdulla Haroun, from Geraida locality. Mr Haroun had also mobilised members of the Rizeigat ethnic group to take part in peaceful protests. Mr. Haroun is currently detained incommunicado without charge and access to his family or lawyers in the NISS offices of Geraida locality.

Attacks by Rizeigat militia on seven Masalit villages in Geraida locality

Nine days after the killing of Abdalla Adam, on 17 November, a Rizeigat militia comprised of 55 armed men, using five landcruiser vehicles, 25 camels, and thirty horses attacked seven villages in Geraida locality:  Hashaba, Dounki Abiat, Dar Elsalam, Eidan, Um Kharouba, Um Sherina and Rewina. Eight civilian members of the Masalit ethnic group were killed, and nine injured from gunshot wounds. The names of the killed civilians are below. The names of the eight civilians injured are on file with ACJPS.

  1. Omer Ibrahim Abdul Said, (m), Masalit ethnic group;
  2. Younes Abdulla Younes, (m), Masalit ethnic group;
  3. Maaz Mohamed Adam, (m), Masalit ethnic group;
  4. Abakar Ismail Adam, (m), Masalit ethnic group;
  5. Hamad Eldien Shagaf, (m), Masalit ethnic group;
  6. Hamadi Yagoup, (m), Masalit ethnic group;
  7. Yanaier Deng, (m), Masalit ethnic group; and
  8. Abdalla Mohamed Adam, (m), Masalit ethnic group.

Arrests by NISS of Masalit youth activists after public calls for detainees’ release

Three youth activists from the Masalit ethnic group were arrested the same day as the attacks, 17 November 2016, after they made statements publicly disavowing a ceasefire proposed by the Locality Commissioner, Hamid Abdalla, without the release of the detainees held incommunicado. Commissioner Abdalla had proposed a ceasefire during the burial of the individuals killed that day, but had not made reference to the release of the detainees.

The names of the three detained activists are below.

  1. Ahmed Mohamed Arbab, (m), Masalit ethnic group;
  2. Taj El-Daien Musa Mohamed, (m), Masalit ethnic group; and,
  3. Adam Ibrahim, (m), Masalit ethnic group.

The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies calls on the Government of Sudan to immediately put in place measures to protect civilians in and around Gereida locality, and conduct an urgent investigation into the attacks on Hashaba, Dounki Abiat, Dar Elsalam, Eidan, Um Kharouba, Um Sherina and Rewina and the deaths of ten civilians, including Abdalla Adam, who was murdered by three unidentified armed men, and the eight unarmed men killed during the attacks on 17 November. Authorities should ensure that an effective, impartial, and independent investigation is promptly conducted into the events from 8 – 17 November, and that the findings are published promptly within a clear timeframe, with a view to identifying and prosecuting persons responsible for the attack and abuses committed in Gereida locality.

Authorities must further ensure that medical and other appropriate support services are available to all those in need. Authorities should order the immediate release of the eight detainees held in Gereida locality in the absence of valid legal charges that are consistent with international law and standards or, if such charges exist, bring them promptly before an impartial, independent and competent tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times.

Background

Clashes in Darfur, particularly in South Darfur, over land tenure rights and between pastoralist and nomadic groups is not a new phenomenon, but has been on the rise in recent years, due to the shifting geography, resources, and land tenure rights that have been altered by the conflict and mass displacement of 3.1 million people. The Masalit, Zaghawa, and Fur have suffered the majority of attacks against civilians during the conflict and have been targeted by the Government of Sudan along the lines of ethnicity, forming the basis of the 2009 International Criminal Court indictment against President Omar al Bashir. Despite reports that Gereida locality is full of recent internally displaced person returnees and ownership of the land has shifted away from the Masalit ethnic group, ACJPS has no evidence that the entire locality was depopulated and that the Masalit lost ownership of their land.

Renewed clashes in eastern Darfur state between the Rizeigat and the Maalia ethnic group broke out in January 2014, and transformed into a war between the two ethnic groups over land, shared resources, and leadership. There have been accusations that this war has been fomented by the central Government in order to distract local ethnic groups from making claims to the area’s oil resources.

Customary practices known as of the Rizeigat ethnic group, known as masarat, dictate where traditional grazing areas for their animals and land for shelter and water are located within the region. These practices emphasise coexistence with local communities, including pastoralist groups such as the Masalit.

Though this incident appears to be driven by non-state actors and ACJPS has no evidence to suggest otherwise, the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies and other human rights organisations has, in the past, noted tribal militias fighting with arms supplied by the Government of Sudan and alongside government militias, such as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Under both peace agreements negotiated between the Government of Sudan and armed Darfuri rebel movements, the 2006 Abuja Agreement and the 2012 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, the Government of Sudan agreed to fix infrastructure in the region, including roads often used by nomadic groups, to ensure accessibility to their traditional grazing areas and alleviate the need to bypass through land traditionally claimed by pastoralist groups.

ACJPS also calls on UNAMID to fulfil its mandate to protect civilians, including by deploying personnel to areas where civilians are in need of protection and publicly reporting on on-going human rights violations.

Contact

The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS): In Kampala, Mossaad Mohamed Ali (English, Arabic, Swedish): +256 779584542; or Emily Cody, (English): +256 788695068, info@acjps.org.