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Sudan: Torture and sexual assault taking place in illegal detention centres

Detainees and eyewitnesses accuse Sudan's army and RSF of torture, rape and abduction in new detention centres
A screengrab showing a fighter in Sudan's civil war (AFP/UGC/X)

Over 50 new illegal detention centres have been opened in Sudan since the beginning of the country’s civil war in April, with both the Sudanese army and its enemy, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary, committing widespread atrocities inside them. 

Emergency Lawyers, a group of pro-democracy legal activists, has revealed that the warring parties have detained hundreds of people in at least 52 facilities, with the Sudanese capital Khartoum “turned into one large prison for the remaining civilians there”.

The lawyers and human rights defenders spoke to 60 detainees and eyewitnesses across Khartoum state, who described incidents of abduction, arbitrary and unlawful arrest, enforced hard labour, starvation, torture and rape. 

In an unknown number of cases, these abuses led to the deaths of Sudanese civilians. The majority of the detention centres are run by the RSF, but in South Kordofan three people were allegedly tortured to death inside the army’s Military Intelligence prisons.

“According to the testimony we have, there are around 52 documented permanent detention centres in the three cities of Khartoum state - 44 of them belong to the RSF and eight of them are run by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF),” said Emergency Lawyers in its new report. 

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“These permanent detention centres are usually in the barracks and camps of the two sides, while they are also using some governmental buildings for the same purpose,” the report reads.

Sources have told the legal group and Middle East Eye that an unknown number of temporary detention centres have been set up in people’s homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, police stations and other civilian buildings.

Emergency Lawyers described the atrocities as war crimes and lamented the "horrific escalation" of arbitrary arrests and torture taking place as a result of the war, which has displaced over five million people, three million of whom have fled Khartoum.

Torture and sexual assault

The testimony recorded by the legal group is supported by Middle East Eye's reporting on the widespread abuses that have taken place in Sudan during the last five months.

One civilian detained by the RSF told Emergency Lawyers that he had been one of 200 people held in a 200 square metre basement in the Riyadh neighbourhood of Khartoum.

Another said he had seen around 800 detainees at a paramilitary detention centre established inside Sudan University of Science and Technology, which is also in the capital.

'Another detainee in an RSF detention centre said that he has been forced to take his clothes off and had been threatened repeatedly with rape'

Emergency Lawyers

“Another detainee in the RSF barracks of the engineers military unit said he had been arrested and held for two months in that camp and received very bad treatment, including torture,” the report said. 

Emergency Lawyers heard descriptions of electrocution and enforced starvation, while some detainess described being made to bury slain soldiers.

Inside the new detention centres, young women and men have been sexually assaulted by fighters from both sides, with some cases of mass rape documented. 

“In a detention centre belonging to the RSF, situated in a former security office, one of the detainees said that two girls had been raped, while another detainee in an RSF detention centre in the Shambat neighbourhood said that he had been forced to take his clothes off and had been threatened repeatedly with rape,” Emergency Lawyers said.

In an army-run detention centre in the Al Thawra area of Omdurman, Sudan's second city, one detainee said that he was held for 28 days and that he saw someone being killed in front of him after he tried to resist torture. 

RSF detentions and home invasions

Eyewitnesses told Middle East Eye that the RSF has detained hundreds of citizens, accusing them without clear evidence of being close to the army.

Members of the resistance committees, the network of pro-democracy activists at the heart of Sudan’s revolution, have been arrested by RSF fighters across Khartoum, according to a number of different members who spoke to MEE.

Moniem Ahmed, 23, said he had been detained for days and tortured by the RSF in an office belonging to the National Intelligence Services near the airport in eastern Khartoum.

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“I was arrested from our neighbourhood, Burri, while I was trying to buy bread for my family,” he told MEE.

“I was taken in an RSF vehicle with other detainees. The soldiers kicked us and flogged us inside the car until we reached the detention centre. They investigated us, inspected our mobile phones and even used my phone to call the contacts in it to check the personal information I gave them,” Ahmed said, speaking on the phone from the city of Madani, where he fled after being freed by the paramilitary. 

“I was tortured for days by the RSF and I saw dozens of youths arrested inside, but they prevented us from talking to each other. They accused me of belonging to SAF and tried to force me to admit that,” he said.

Two brothers, who asked not to be named because they are still living in Sudan close to their home, told MEE they were arrested in eastern Khartoum in July and held for around 10 days. 

“RSF soldiers attacked and entered our house. They threatened us and then stayed with us in the house for two weeks,” the brothers said.

“We were living with around 10 RSF soldiers inside our house. They didn’t allow us to go outside or to make food. They gave us one meal a day, so we were really starving. They released us after the 10 days and allowed us to leave the house without money or any kind of protection on the street, which was full of RSF soldiers," the brothers told MEE.

"We walked many miles and were stopped by other RSF soldiers, until we finally made it out of the neighbourhood and reached a house of one of our relatives."

Army arrest campaign

While the RSF has set up the majority of known detention centres, SAF's military intelligence has undertaken a widespread arrest campaign aimed at pro-democracy groups, including resistance committee members.

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Three resistance committee sources, who asked not to be named for security reasons, confirmed that many of their comrades had been arrested in Al-Damazin, in Blue Nile state, and in the cities of Sennar and Merowe. 

The three confirmed that they had also seen dozens of detainees in the detention centres in which they themselves had been held for various periods of time. 

In a statement, resistance committees also accused the army's allies in the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement - North, which is led by Malik Agar of the Transitional Sovereignty Council, of conducting an arrest campaign against activists across Blue Nile state.

Both the army and the RSF have denied being responsible for atrocities during the course of the war, which has devastated Sudan and shows no sign of ending.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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