War in Sudan, rape hell

People flee their neighborhoods amid fighting between the army and paramilitaries in Khartoum on April 19, 2023 after a 24-hour ceasefire was broken. Photo from the archive / AFP

Zeinab and her sister were fleeing the war in Khartoum when paramilitaries hijacked their bus. They took it to the warehouse. And then hell began.

In mid-May, a month after a relentless clash between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (SSR) paramilitaries began, the latter separated Zeinab, her sister and two other women from the male passengers, a young female said.

In vain did she try to hide her younger sister. And when a man “in civilian clothes who appeared to be the commander” told her to lie down on the ground, she tried to resist, she said, testifying under the pseudonym AFP from the country where she had finally found refuge. She was then “held by a man who pointed a gun at (her) breasts while another (her) raped.”

The tip of the iceberg

Before they finally released them, his sister and other women, including one with her young son, were raped.

At the end of April in Darfur (west), 12 other women experienced the same nightmare: men “in RSF uniforms” ordered them to transport their loot to a warehouse, where “they were all raped at the same time.” AFP Amna, an activist who goes under a pseudonym for fear of reprisals.

Suleima Ishaq al-Khalifa, a doctor at the head of the government agency to combat violence against women, documented at least 49 sexual assaults in the first two weeks of the war. All in Darfur and Khartoum, where the fighting is concentrated.

With the exception of six of them, all the survivors accused “men in FSR uniforms” of the crimes, she told AFP.

Since April 15, fighting between the paramilitaries of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and the regular army of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has killed more than 1,800 people and more than 1.5 million displaced people and refugees.

The number of sexual assaults is unknown, but Ajarathu Ndiaye, a spokeswoman for the UN women’s agency in Sudan, told AFP that she had received information about “mass rapes” in Darfur.

Dr Khalifa claims to receive new calls “day and night”. But for the Sudanese Women’s Rights Activist (SUWRA), “this is just the tip of the iceberg.” And the cases we’ve been able to document represent only “2-3%” of rapes, she explains to AFP from abroad on condition of anonymity.

rape in public

Every time a woman goes out “for groceries,” for example, “she’s in danger,” says Dr. Khalifa. Thus, the 15-year-old girl was “publicly raped by the FSR militias,” according to the “resistance committee” Khartoum-North.

These groups, which previously organized protests against military force, now run a mutual aid network for food, care or evacuation in every neighborhood.

Dr. Khalifa insists that “even at home” women are in danger. A woman in her thirties was raped at her home, says a SUWRA activist. “She was alone with her young children when she heard the neighbors downstairs screaming,” she said. Three women from the same family were raped by several men. Then they went upstairs, broke down the door and, according to her, one of them raped her.

The vast majority of survivors blame the SDF, much more present in residential areas than the army, often locked in their barracks.

But Dr. Khalifa says she has also received information about “rapes committed by men in military uniform” that she “has not yet been able to confirm.” For a group of lawyers who have chronicled rapes committed by security forces for years, sexual assault is “systematic” and directed against “all sections of society.”

Lack of emergency contraceptives –

The victims who make it to hospitals – often under fire from warring parties – are the ones who have suffered the most brutal attacks, activists say.

To help them, the doctors’ union has published a list of institutions that distribute treatment in case of possible exposure to the HIV virus. But when three-quarters of the hospitals are out of order, and the rest are in short supply of medicines, you often have to improvise, report to doctors and pharmacists.

With no pills available, survivors often leave with only a prescription for high-dose birth control the next morning. But even these pills are running out.

A resistance committee from a poor area in northern Khartoum managed to find some for two survivors in late May, one of its members tells AFP. That day, three soldiers of the regular army entered the house. They “raped the mother and daughter,” he said on condition of anonymity.

War rape is nothing new in Sudan, says human rights lawyer Jean Henry.

The army and the Janjaweed, the Arab militias sent by dictator Omar el-Bashir to exterminate ethnic minorities now integrated into the SDF, “were notorious for their sexual violence during the war that began in 2003 in Darfur,” she told AFP. . The International Criminal Court has issued two arrest warrants for Bashir, specifically for rape in Darfur.

Today, those who try to help women say they are being threatened. Amna says one of her comrades was “interrogated by the FSR” who suspected her of informing the army. She didn’t tell them that she treasured every detail of the rapes entrusted to her by the survivors. She may believe that one day they will “bring those responsible to justice.” Zeinab doubts this. “I filed a complaint but I know it’s useless, we’ll never get to the people who did it.” For her, in any case, “nothing will be the same as before.”

Source: L Orient Le Jour

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