Maalim is traumatized by what he saw in Sudan’s West Darfur region before fleeing across the border into Chad.
“If the people I’ve worked with know that I showed you these photos and videos, or even filmed them, I’m a dead man,” he tells me as he pulls out his phone to show me some harrowing footage. corpses scattered in the town of El Geneina. We changed his name for his own safety.
Before leaving the country, he was part of a group of people responsible for removing corpses from the streets and burying them in mass graves.
Since April, Sudan has been rocked by heavy fighting between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the army, including some of the worst fighting in Darfur, where the RSF originated.
Warning: This report contains shocking images
Photos showed dozens of corpses, some covered in blankets and clothing, others swollen and already decomposing. Maalim also showed photos of aid agency compounds, which had been destroyed and looted.
“I felt very bad. I had the impression that they had died in a state of fear and terror. Many of them had been lying dead in the streets for more than a week,” he told us. he, visibly upset.
Perhaps the most disturbing footage he showed us was a video he took while hiding in a bush. It showed bodies thrown from a truck into a mass grave.
“We headed to the forest cemetery to bury the bodies. But the RSF did not allow us to do so. Under orders from the RSF, the truck driver was ordered to throw the bodies into a pit “, says Maalim, adding that the RSF ordered them to leave the area afterwards.
“They should have been buried according to Muslim rituals. We should have held prayers for them. But the RSF insisted they were thrown away like trash.”
No one knows who the bodies belong to or how they were killed. But many families who sought refuge in Chad tell us that the RSF specifically targeted young men and boys in West Darfur, evicting them from their hiding places and killing them.
Families say members of non-Arab communities were targeted. They say they were stopped at RSF checkpoints and questioned about their ethnicity. They told us that they were too scared to say they were Masalit in case they were killed.
The BBC asked RSF to comment on the allegations, but RSF did not respond. But earlier this week he denied claims he was involved in similar attacks on members of the Masalit community in May.
Maalim’s account matches details of a UN report released on July 13, which said local people were forced to dispose of the bodies of at least 87 ethnic Masalit and others who were allegedly killed by RSF in a mass grave in West Darfur.
Metadata on Maalim’s phone photos and videos show they were taken between June 20 and 21, the same dates mentioned in the UN report.
Like the UN report, Maalim told us that the bodies were buried in an open area known as al-Turab al-Ahmar (red ground), west of El Geneina and near a police base.
The UN statement said some people died from untreated injuries. In one of Maalim’s videos, a man is found alive among a pile of corpses. Flies hover around his dry, cracked lips as he tries to speak. Maalim says the victim had been lying there for eight days, suffering from gunshot wounds. We don’t know what happened to this man.
Maalim tells us he took the videos because he wanted to document what was happening in his hometown. But he soon felt that it was no longer safe for him to stay in the city.
“I was scared because more than once they were looking for people who had cellphones on them while cleaning.”
Darfur’s Arab and black communities in Darfur have been at odds for years – the worst violence erupting two decades ago when non-Arabs took up arms accusing the government of discrimination.
The RSF grew out of the infamous Janjaweed Arab militia, which brutally suppressed the rebellion, killing hundreds of thousands of people. The group has been accused of widespread atrocities and ethnic killings, described as the first genocide of the 21st century.
Fighting between the RSF and the Sudanese army, which broke out in April, appears to have reignited this conflict. Last month, the governor of West Darfur was killed shortly after accusing the RSF of perpetrating genocide against the Masalit people.
This cycle of violence in many parts of Darfur does not appear to be a coincidence. We have heard allegations that there has been a systemic attempt by the RSF and allied Arab militias to target senior leaders of black African groups like the Masalit, forcing tens of thousands of them to flee to the Chad.
The RSF says it is a revival of the ethnic violence of the 2000s and that it is not involved.
On Thursday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) – which has been investigating crimes in Darfur since 2005 – opened a new investigation into alleged war crimes in Sudan.
Chief prosecutor Karim Khan told the UN Security Council there was a risk of “allowing history to repeat itself – the same miserable story”.
Like the thousands of Sudanese who have fled Darfur, Maalim has little to return to. Her house was burned down and all of her family’s belongings were looted. But most painfully, many of his friends and family will not be there.