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Sudan: Rights groups say RSF responsible for surge in sex crimes

Dozens of women have been abducted by the RSF since the outbreak of conflict in April, with rights groups comparing crimes to atrocities against Yazidis in Iraq and Syria
Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemeti, greets supporters at a rally in 2019 (AFP)

Sudanese women are experiencing a surge in abuse, including kidnap, slavery, rape and other sexual violence, a government body aimed at preventing the mistreatment of women has claimed in a recently published report.

The findings published by Sudan’s Combating Violence Against Women Unit (CVAW) come amid armed conflict between factions of the Sudanese military, which started in April.

Thousands of people have died, and the UN says a million more have fled the country since fighting broke out between the army, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti.

Both local and international human rights organisations, including Amnesty, have accused the RSF of abducting women for use in sexual slavery, a practice they say is on the rise.

The RSF denies the accusations, but the CVAW report includes more than 40 testimonies alleging that armed men in the paramilitary’s uniform were running networks involved in kidnap and sexual slavery. 

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“The Unit [CVAW] has received consistent reports about the rising incidents of forced disappearance of women and girls in Nyala, South Darfur, in the western part of the country,” the report reads. 

“Testimonies from survivors and eyewitnesses confirm the presence of women and girls being held captive by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in various locations in Nyala.”

The organisation drew parallels between the ongoing reports of abuse of women in Sudan and abuses by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq between 2014 and 2017.

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“As survivors emerge from different places of captivity, and with multiple accounts of women and girls being held in warehouses and hotels in Nyala and Khartoum, allegedly for sexual exploitation by the RSF, similar to the abduction of Yazidi women by ISIS in Iraq, we call for urgent and serious international action to end this tragedy and put an end to the gross human rights violations against women and girls in Sudan,” the report added. 

While the claims of abuse remain allegations, the CVAW says it encouraged those outside of Sudan to take the issue “seriously” and to not dismiss its “severity”. 

Speaking to Middle East Eye, Sulima Sharif Ishag, head of the CVAW, also said researchers documenting the allegations faced high risk of repercussions and that there was a danger to their lives. 

“Given the deteriorating security situation in Nyala, there are significant challenges in reporting cases, posing great risks to service providers, necessitating urgent and robust international action,” Ishag said.

Mass rape allegations

Ishag stated that there were 60 documented cases of abduction in Khartoum alone, and that others are under investigation. 

She added that there were also credible reports of dozens of girls being held in the Darfur region, but that details of those cases could not be published right now due to the risk posed to researchers and the girls themselves.

'Um Alnaiem, who is a mother of two abductors, disclosed that two of her sons and other soldiers of RSF have abducted eight girls from Khartoum and used them for forced sex'

The rights group's report

“CVAW has reported more than 12 cases of sexual violence in Kalma IDP camp in South Darfur, the matter that led to the death of one case, due to the consequences of the aggression," Ishag said.

According to the CVAW, all of the victims had alleged that their attackers were associated with the RSF.

In July, Middle East Eye reported the rape of children as young as 12 in the country, as well as the rape of 24 women in Nyala in South Darfur.

There was also an alleged case of mass rape of young women detained at the Aldaman hotel in Nyala.

Activists in Nyala accused the RSF of being behind all of these abuses. 

Men in ‘RSF uniforms’

The claims made by CVAW were echoed by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), a non-governmental organisation established in 2009 whose stated mission is to strengthen respect for human rights in Sudanese governance and society.

It said that the Darfur region was a haven for slavery activities, with girls abducted from the capital and taken there by men in RSF uniforms.

Some of those taken captive have reportedly been freed after paying a ransom, while others have been set free by the Sudanese army and other armed groups operating in North Darfur state.

An ACJPS investigation reported cases of abduction, torture, rape and forced prostitution in Shangil Tobaya, al-Malam and other areas in Darfur.

Hemeti has been involved in a bloody power struggle with Sudan's military for control of the country (AFP)

The organisation said 450 people have disappeared since the start of the conflict, including 18 girls.  

A passage in the ACJPS report reads: “Eyewitness confirmed that abducted young women have been seen on the back of stolen cars that [are] coming from Khartoum through […] route in North Kordofan, going to detention places in Darfur.

“[Four] civilian witnesses from Kawaim village near Elfasher in North Darfur also witnessed around 70 stolen pickup and Toyota cars passing through towards Kutum area in the state, while 10 of these cars [carried] abducted and chained girls.

“One of the activists also reported that around 20 girls have been abducted to Kabkabiya in North Darfur and the phenomena is on the increase since late May.”

The report states that the victims included local vendors, including those selling tea on the streets of Khartoum.

“In one case, seven eyewitnesses in Alsalam locality in North Darfur disclosed that three girls have been freed from Wadaa village after their relatives paid a ransom of around $18,500 to the abductors who are soldiers in RSF uniforms.”

The testimonies cited by CVAW purport to be from witnesses in the region and also include people claiming to be relatives of RSF soldiers accused of the abuses.

“Um Alnaiem, who is a mother of two abductors, disclosed that two of her sons and other soldiers of RSF have abducted eight girls from Khartoum and used them for forced sex in the villages of Sharfat, Kolgi, Galab and others,” read another extract.

‘War crimes’

ACJPS executive director Mossaad Ali told Middle East Eye that his organisation had met dozens of victims and conducted face-to-face interviews with them. He said that eight victims were freed from North Darfur and two from South Darfur.

Ali said he expected the case may eventually lead to sanctions being placed on the RSF by the International Criminal Court (ICC) or western countries, and described what has happened so far in the conflict as war crimes.

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“Since these crimes were committed during war time, they are supposed to be war crimes, because it is classified as Sexual and Gender Based Crimes (SGBC) under international law, particularly article four of the Geneva Convention and the Additional Protocol, which protects civilians during internal armed conflicts,” Ali said.

“The US and the ICC might investigate these allegations… the same is true for the Sudanese armed forces because they have committed war crimes as well, like killing of civilians, torture and the destruction of civilian property by aerial bombardment,” he added. 

Medical sources in Cairo confirmed to Middle East Eye that Sudanese rape victims have sought treatment for their injuries in Egypt, where they have sought refuge after fleeing Khartoum. 

In those cases, the sources said that the victims had been freed after relatives paid ransoms.

The RSF is accused of a litany of abuses besides sexual violence. Eyewitnesses have previously recounted incidents of summary executions and the targeting of non-Arab ethnic groups by the paramilitary.

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