- Four women have stepped forward as victims of sexual assault at the hands of armed forces
- Medical centres currently face a severe shortage of medical supplies
- Clashing factions have signed a declaration that seeks to protect civilians and regain humanitarian aid
The stories are filled with gore, pain and hurt, yet, there is no end in sight. War is as common a feature on African soil as there are grains of sand, and this year is no more the better—currently, Sudan is experiencing yet another wave of civil unrest. Khartoum has long warped into a locus characterised by violent images and stolen wills.
A suspension from the African Union in October 2021 sparked by an unconstitutional coup which subsequently led to rising tensions between Sudanese Armed Forces and civilian groups, was a sign that Sudan’s political woes were nowhere near completion. Sudan again entered the headlines this year with a resurgence of instability between the paramilitary force, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the army regarding security arrangements. Violent clashes began on the 15th of April between the two factions resulting in over 4,000 casualties, a death toll of over 500, and approximately 75,000 people displaced.
The war has already presented itself as a humanitarian crisis as it has simultaneously morphed into deadly ethnic clashes in West Darfur. Carnegie Endowment For International Peace reports, “During this time of crisis, the United Nations has suspended its humanitarian activities, which provide aid to 12.5 million people out of a total population of 15.5 million in need, including 8.5 million children.” Malnutrition, scarcity of medical attention, and interruptions to power threaten the general well-being of children in Sudan.
A common occurrence in wars is the overt sexual abuse enacted on women and children to exert or demonstrate power. The Guardian provides insight into the experiences of some women in Khartoum who have fallen victim to sexual assault at the hands of armed forces. Government officials state that there have been reports of rape in Khartoum and that there may be more than reported.
“Not all the victims can reach us and get the support needed,” said Suliema Ishaq, the director of the combating violence against Women unit at the Ministry of Social Affairs in Sudan.
Four women have come forth with information that members of the RSF and unknown armed men have sexually abused them. Another The Guardian article from 2019, the year the current war began, proves that sexual abuse forms a part of the violent tactics used by paramilitaries. According to data from Khartoum hospitals, more than 70 cases of rape were reported.
A report released by the UN titled Sexual Violence: a Tool of War states that “devastating forms of sexual violence… are sometimes deployed systematically to achieve military or political objectives.”
“Rape committed during war is often intended to terrorize the population, break up families, destroy communities, and, in some instances, change the ethnic make-up of the next generation. Sometimes it is also used to deliberately infect women with HIV or render women from the targeted community incapable of bearing children.”
As aforementioned, sexual assault as a war tactic is extremely common in Africa. Statistics say about 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped during the three months of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. More than 60,000 women were raped during the civil war in Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002, more than 40,000 in Liberia from 198 to 2003, and at least 200,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1998.
Unfortunately, not enough assistance is available for victims due to the severe instability in their immediate environment. For example, only 16% of hospitals in Khartoum are fully operational. At the beginning of May, medical professionals warned of the health system nearing collapse, described by Sudan’s doctors’ union as “an environmental catastrophe.”
“There are no safe passages to places where there are medicines, these places are being occupied,” said Ishaq referring to the medical centres taken over by the RSF.
“There are critical shortages of supplies for the clinical management of rape and dignity kits, as the stocks are inaccessible,” said the UN population fund, UNFPA, on the medical crisis.
The effects of wartime sexual violence are long and lasting. Many women find themselves permanently injured or disfigured due to the brute force applied while being assaulted. Some women fall pregnant and cannot acquire proper birthing or postpartum care leading to high mortality rates. Socially, many women and young girls are shunned because they have been raped. Psychological help is needed for anyone who experiences such a traumatic event. However, this kind of help is also scarce or unavailable entirely.
Thus far, the factions at war have agreed to protect civilians. A signed declaration states that both parties “commit to prioritising discussions to achieve a short-term ceasefire to facilitate the delivery of emergency humanitarian assistance and restoration of essential services.”