UN rights chief asks Sudan's generals to stop 'senseless violence'

FILE PHOTO: Turk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, attends the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations human rights chief on Wednesday described the situation in Sudan as "heartbreaking" and made a direct call to the two warring generals to stop sexual violence and spare the lives of civilians.

Fighting in Sudan that broke out more than a month ago has killed hundreds of civilians and forced more than one million people to flee the violence.

Volker Turk, who met with both generals in Sudan in November, said his office had received reports of fighter jets and clashes in the capital Khartoum overnight despite a ceasefire.

"Many civilians are virtually besieged in areas where fighting has been relentless," Turk told a Geneva press briefing where he addressed crises from around the world.

"General (Abdel Fattah) al-Burhan, General (Mohamed Hamdan) Dagalo, you must issue clear instructions, in no uncertain terms to all those under your command, that there is zero tolerance for sexual violence...civilians must be spared and you must stop this senseless violence now," he said.

He said his office had documented at least 25 cases of sexual violence so far, and that the real number was likely to be much higher.

In the same speech, he also expressed concern about shrinking civic space around the world, mentioning China in particular.

Asked about how he would follow-up on a report by his predecessor last year which found that China may have committed crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, he said: "We are on it and we are going to continuously work on it".

China vigorously denies any abuses in Xinjiang.

Turk also voiced broader concerns about the rapid advances in artificial intelligence, specifically the generative AI technology behind ChatGPT, describing both the opportunities and risks as "immense".

"Human rights need to be baked into AI throughout its entire lifecycle, and both governments and companies need to do more to ensure that guardrails are in place," he said.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Matthias Williams, Bernadette Baum and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)