Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

A boy sits atop a hill overlooking a refugee camp near the Chad-Sudan border on Nov. 9, 2023.EL TAYEB SIDDIG/Reuters

A leaked United Nations report has identified one of the key sources of the weapon supplies and money that are fuelling Sudan’s catastrophic civil war: the oil-rich Gulf state of the United Arab Emirates.

The war between two rival military factions in Sudan, which erupted in April, has inflicted massive destruction across the country, killing thousands of people and forcing 7.6 million to abandon their homes. It is now the largest displacement crisis in the world.

The new report by a UN panel of experts on Sudan, submitted to the UN Security Council but not yet officially released, quotes sources who describe an illicit weapons route to the Darfur region in western Sudan, originating from an airport in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The report says the weapons and ammunition were flown into eastern Chad and were then loaded onto convoys of trucks, driven across the border to Darfur and distributed to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the paramilitary group that is battling against Sudan’s military in the war.

The shipments of weapons, which began in June, were a violation of the UN arms embargo on Sudan, the report says.

The UAE government has denied that it sent any weapons to Sudan. It has insisted that its cargo flights to eastern Chad were merely carrying humanitarian supplies for a hospital in the region. But the UN report, obtained by The Globe and Mail, says the allegations of weapons being sent from the UAE to Sudan are “credible” and have been corroborated by sources in Chad and Darfur.

Nicholas Coghlan: The crisis in Sudan is escalating. Can Canada do anything to help?

The report notes that the UAE flights coincided with a new surge of sophisticated weapons in the RSF arsenal, including multiple-rocket launchers, drones, howitzers and advanced anti-aircraft missiles, all of which were observed in Darfur and had not been used by the RSF before the shipments began.

The weapons allowed the RSF to escalate its operations by capturing cities in Darfur and shooting down Sudanese warplanes, the report says. “This new RSF firepower had a massive impact on the balance of forces on the ground,” it adds.

The report also identifies the UAE as a key country in the RSF’s financial networks, which include gold-smuggling and proxy companies.

The death toll from the Sudan war had previously been estimated at about 12,000. But the UN report suggests that the toll is much higher, often as a result of war crimes. In one city alone, El Geneina in West Darfur, the RSF and its allied militias have killed between 10,000 and 15,000 people, the report says. Many of the group’s attacks deliberately targeted the Masalit ethnic group, often with sexual violence and racial slurs, it says.

“Widespread sexual violence committed by members of RSF and allied militia were reported in all areas under RSF control,” the report adds.

“RSF placed snipers on the main roads that indiscriminately targeted civilians, including women, pregnant women, and youth.”

The report also confirms allegations of an RSF massacre of Masalit civilians in November, in the town of Ardamata, where many displaced people had sought shelter. In total, as many as 2,000 people were killed, with many buried in mass graves, it says. “A survivor interviewed by the Panel reported being detained and tortured with several hundred other detainees, of which only four escaped,” the report notes.

The UAE’s strong support for the RSF has increasingly provoked international concern, including from congressional representatives in Washington. “The RSF is committing horrific war crimes in Sudan – with military support from the UAE,” Representative Sara Jacobs, a Democrat from California, said in a social-media post last month. “That’s why I’m leading an effort urging the UAE to stop aiding the RSF and work toward a permanent solution that creates peace and stability for the Sudanese people.”

Ten Democratic members of Congress recently wrote directly to the UAE’s Foreign Minister to warn him that the country’s support for the RSF is “a grave reputational risk for the UAE,” according to a published report last month.

This month, the UAE provided an airplane for the RSF’s top commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, to allow him to fly to a series of African capitals and meet top African leaders to lobby for his cause.

In cities such as London and Toronto this month, protesters from the Sudanese community are targeting the UAE in their demonstrations, blaming the country for financing the war.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe