What you need to know about the war in Sudan

Sudan's crisis echoes atrocities of its past, requiring urgent global intervention to save lives.

Over the past year, the war in Sudan has claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions more. Despite the immense human toll and widespread famine raising fears of another genocide, global media coverage has been surprisingly sparse. Much of the international community has also largely ignored this crisis. This is a stark contrast to the global outcry during the Darfur crisis in 2003.  

Today, it is crucial for both the U.S. and the international community to take decisive action toward achieving a peaceful resolution to this devastating conflict. Here are four things you need to know.  

1. The war is the result of an escalating power struggle between Sudan’s military forces, exacerbated by external players.    

The conflict is rooted in a complex web of competing forces vying for control in Sudan amid longstanding political unrest and ethnic tensions. Since the 2003 Darfur crisis, the country has continued to grapple with widespread violence, mass displacement, and urgent humanitarian needs exacerbated by environmental disasters like floods and droughts. 

The war in Sudan pits the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Mohammed Hamdan "Hemedti” Dagalo. The SAF took control in the 2019 coup that ousted longtime President Omar al-Bashir following nationwide protests. The RSF grew out of the Janjaweed militias implicated in the atrocities of Darfur under the al-Bashir regime.  

However, the struggle for power is exacerbated by external actors that are exploiting the conflict for access to Sudan’s rich natural resources, including gold, oil, and farmland. These nations are providing arms and funding to prolong the war. Countries like the UAE (United Arab Emirates) support the RSF, while Iran and others back the SAF.  

In April 2023, long-simmering tensions between the military factions erupted into open conflict, fueled by disagreements over integrating the RSF into the formal military structure and failing to establish a civilian-led government. The battle first ignited in Khartoum before spreading across Darfur and beyond.  

2. Concerns are growing that genocide is once again taking place 

The official death toll in Sudan has surpassed 15,000 lives lost, but that is likely vastly underreported. Each passing day brings more lives lost, injuries, and accounts of rape and sexual violence. 

On Dec. 6, 2023, Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a damning determination, declaring the involvement of the RSF and allied militias in crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. This determination also implicated both the RSF and SAF in acts of war crimes. 

In a report released in August 2023, Amnesty International documented a litany of atrocities, including indiscriminate killings of civilians, sexual violence targeting women and girls, and deliberate assaults on vital institutions such as hospitals and places of worship. 

In February 2024, U.S. Sens. Risch, Cardin, Scott, and Booker jointly submitted a resolution to the Committee on Foreign Relations. The resolution recognizes the actions of the Rapid Support Forces and allied militia as acts of genocide perpetrated against non-Arab ethnic communities. 

In April 2024, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, emphasized the gravity of the situation, stating, “History is tragically repeating itself in Darfur, spiraling into an abyss of unimaginable suffering.” In her address to the U.N. Security Council, she urged nations to stop sending weapons to the conflicting parties. 

That same month, a U.N. Security Council briefing on "Women, Peace, and Security: conflict-related sexual violence sanctions," speaker after speaker underscored the devastating impact of the war on women and girls. In regions like Darfur, rape has tragically become a weapon of choice while cases of ethnic cleansing continue to unfold. Niemat Ahmadi, president of Darfur Women Action Group and an AFSC partner, implored Security Council members to recognize the urgency of protecting civilians and delivering vital humanitarian aid to avert further disaster. 

3. The humanitarian situation has reached catastrophic proportions.   

Sudan now faces the world's largest displacement crisis. Over 9 million individuals have been forced to flee their homes, with approximately 6.6 million internally displaced and another 1.8 million seeking refuge in neighboring countries like Chad, Ethiopia, Egypt, and South Sudan. 

Over one-third of Sudan's population faces acute hunger. The U.N. has warned that hundreds of thousands of people, including many new mothers and children, could succumb to malnutrition in the coming months. 

In Khartoum and other regions, essential services and infrastructure have collapsed. Hospitals and clinics have shut down, while thousands of schools remain closed, depriving over 19 million children of their right to education. 

Half of Sudan's population, approximately 24.8 million people, urgently needs humanitarian assistance. But humanitarian organizations' efforts are hampered by challenges in delivering aid to conflict zones and a severe lack of funding. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates it needs $2.7 billion this year to provide essential services such as food and health care. Yet, the funds raised thus far fall significantly short of this goal, leaving millions of lives in the balance. 

4. The United States must act now to halt this devastation. 

Urgent action is needed to end the conflict, save lives, provide crucial humanitarian aid, and foster sustainable regional peace.  

In addition to supporting diplomatic endeavors, the U.S. must champion an inclusive peace process addressing the root causes of violence. Engaging diverse stakeholders—including women, youth, civil society, and religious leaders—is essential to establishing lasting peace, reconciling grievances, and preventing future conflicts.  

The U.S. must also collaborate closely with allies to enforce an arms embargo, safeguard civilians, and deliver humanitarian assistance. Holding accountable those violating the embargo and extending its scope across all regions of Sudan are crucial steps in stopping the war.  

Today, we must keep urging members to Congress recognize Sudan’s atrocities as genocide. We must also call on elected officials to increase vital humanitarian aid for Sudan—and support diplomatic efforts for peace.  

Join AFSC today in drawing attention to this forgotten war. By raising our voices and advocating for action from the U.S. government, we unite in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Sudan and can save lives.  

Send a message to Congress today!