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Yale Humanitarian Research Lab Monitoring Conditions in Sudan

June 10, 2023
by Colin Poitras

Initial report alleges widespread violations of ceasefire agreements and gross human rights abuses

The U.S. Department of State Friday announced the public launch of a new Sudan Conflict Observatory that will monitor the activities of warring parties in the region and facilitate humanitarian assistance. The Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab will be an active participant in the initiative.

The remote platform, similar in purpose to an existing U.S.-backed Conflict Observatory monitoring Ukraine, will use commercial satellite imagery and open-source data analysis to provide independent, expert reporting on conflict activity and conditions in Sudan.

Platform researchers have already identified serious concerns. An initial report released in conjunction with Friday’s announcement alleges that both sides of the conflict – the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – have committed “widespread violations of the May 11 Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan, the May 20 Ceasefire Declaration, and gross human rights abuses violating international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Among the key findings were:

  • Widespread targeted bombardment and destruction of critical infrastructure including water, sanitation, and power facilities.
  • Eight confirmed, targeted, and systematic arson attacks reportedly by the RSF across Darfur’s rural villages and urban centers.
  • Widespread, systematic, and targeted attacks on humanitarian facilities that include the looting of supplies across Sudan.
  • Widespread and targeted destruction of facilities that constitute protected civilian infrastructure, including marketplaces, civilian neighborhoods, schools, and food production facilities.
  • The deployment of roadblocks and checkpoints by both parties to the conflict, impeding freedom of movement of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

A copy of the full report can be found here.

“The Sudan Conflict Observatory platform affirms the U.S. commitment to transparency as we work with partners to bring an end to the military conflict in Sudan; address human rights violations and abuses; and ensure immediate, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access for organizations providing life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable and those displaced due to the fighting,” the State Department said in a statement. “The United States is unwavering in our support for the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people and their demands for freedom, peace, and justice.”

The Sudan Conflict Observatory is a collaborative effort between Yale’s Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL) and the geographic information systems companies Esri and PlanetScape Ai.

Our HRL team is committed to producing scientific evidence that validates the gross violation of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Kaveh Khoshnood, faculty director, Humanitarian Research Lab

In the report released Friday, the HRL said it had documented “significant impacts to human security” in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, North Kordofan, South Darfur, West Darfur, and North Darfur states. Open-source reporting shows that communication is declining across Sudan, including Khartoum state and South Darfur. This corresponds with a known attack on the Sudatel towers in Nyala.

“Incidents that damage information communication technologies (ICT) infrastructure, either intentionally or unintentionally, prevent civilians from being able to access humanitarian aid; limit humanitarian organizations' ability to assess and respond to needs; and may prevent gross human rights abuses from being documented,” the report said.

Additionally, PlanetScape Ai has documented numerous attacks following the May 20th Ceasefire Declaration, the report said. These attacks were documented using moderate- and high-resolution satellite imagery and earth-orbiting thermal sensors. This evidence includes several damaged buildings and fire incidents in Khartoum between May 23 and May 28. In El-Geneina, substantial damage to civilian infrastructure between May 14 and May 24th was documented. Several attacks on towns and villages in West and South Darfur between May 18 and May 29 were also noted.

PlanetScape Ai also documented “a considerable shift” in Sudan’s population distribution since the onset of the conflict. The population of Khartoum has consistently decreased, the report said, while cities in the east such as Atbara and Port Sudan have seen a rise in their populations. More recently, a significant drop in population has been observed in El Fasher and Nyala following a recent surge in violence. “These population shifts are likely indicative of regional mobility constraints and the migration of residents seeking to escape the violence,” according to the report.

The United Nations estimates that 25 million people – more than half of Sudan’s population – are currently in need of humanitarian assistance.

“The current armed conflict in Sudan has devastated the lives of so many civilians,” said Kaveh Khoshnood, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) and faculty director of the HRL. “Our HRL team is committed to producing scientific evidence that validates the gross violation of international humanitarian and human rights law and triggers negotiations between Sudanese armed groups with the hope of leading to a genuine ceasefire and peace agreement.” Nathaniel Raymond, a lecturer in the Department of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases) at YSPH, serves as the executive director of the HRL.

The current Sudan conflict began on April 15 when paramilitary forces with the RSF attacked government sites. The ensuing eight-week power struggle between Sudan’s regular army – the SAF – and the RSF has decimated civilian infrastructure and displaced more than 1.5 million people. Nearly 2,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Fighting in the region escalated recently following the expiration of a 12-day ceasefire on June 3, exacerbating the existing humanitarian crisis in Sudan. The Reuters news service reported on June 8 that in some parts of Sudan health services and banking systems have collapsed, power and water are intermittently available, looting has increased, and food supplies are limited.

Prior to Friday’s State Department announcement, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. announced a new 24-hour ceasefire agreement between the SAF and RSF starting June 10. The brief ceasefire was intended to allow for the movement of humanitarian aid throughout Sudan.

Submitted by Colin Poitras on June 10, 2023