“It is brutal, and it is all about humiliation and degrading human dignity,” said Sulima Ishaq, the director of the Combating Violence Against Women Unit (CVAW), an agency of the Sudanese Ministry of Social Development.
She said there have been widespread incidents of sexual violence taking place in war-torn Sudan. She continued, “Sometimes it is a part of the Rapid Support Forces strategy. To make people evacuate their houses, they threaten sexual violence against the women.”
Accusing Ishaq of revealing the crisis to UNITAMS, the UN office to combat sexual violence, the Sudanese General Intelligence Service has filed a criminal lawsuit against Ishaq for leaking information to the UN, an "offence against the State."
A civil war broke out in the capital Khartoum in April 2023 when intense gunfire and explosions reverberated through the city, inciting fear and chaos that rippled beyond Sudan's borders.
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by the chief of the army, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan are fighting for power against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo. Both generals accuse each other of starting the offensive.
Sudan has had a severe humanitarian crisis because of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both of the belligerent parties. Among these atrocities, mass rape of women and girls is one of the most rampant.
In August 2023, Ishaq and her team confirmed 124 cases of rape, but this number merely scratches the surface. The CVAW Unit suggests that these figures probably account for merely two percent of the rapes, with 4,400 cases of sexual violence occurring within just 11 weeks.
Obtaining accurate data is extremely challenging due to poor communication infrastructure, frequent power outages, and difficulties in tracking survivors who have fled to neighboring countries like Chad. Fear of retaliation also silences many survivors, leaving them with minimal support from healthcare and social services. The majority of documented rapes have been perpetrated by RSF paramilitary forces, which have taken over civilian areas in Khartoum and Omdurman and large parts of South Darfur.
Among the very few women who testified against these perpetrators is Zeineb (name changed) who, along with her younger sister and two other women, one with an infant daughter, was raped by the paramilitary soldiers while attempting to escape Khartoum.
“I shared my testimony to try to stop this from happening to others, and to warn them that the road isn’t safe,” she said to the AFP. “But even when I filed the police report, I knew nothing would come of it. They’re never going to get the men who did this.”
Zeineb’s story is just one among multitudes. Her story is not something new. Since the still ongoing genocide in Darfur began in 2003, mass sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war.
According to a report published by the Harvard School of Public Health, around 9,300 rape cases were recorded in 2003. Reporters stated that the actual number might have doubled.
Since the history of war has been documented, the use of rape as a strategic weapon against the enemy has been evident.
As Beverly Allen in her 1996 book Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia says, the intention of rape during conflicts is itself genocidal because it works in a twofold way: first, torturing the women to a limit that either causes death or forces them to evacuate the particular territory, and second, releasing them with the perpetrators’ offspring and thus, exterminating the religious/racial/ethnic identities that these women belong to because, in a patriarchal social context, a child is still believed to inherit the bloodline of the one who sires it and not the one who delivers it. (Allen xiii)
Conflict-related sexual violence is pervasive in Sudan, as it has been in nearly all genocides. However, the process of recognizing it as a war crime and as an act of genocide has been slow. The pressure of ostracism and social stigma still thwarts survivors from demanding justice. An acute scarcity of medical and psychological care worsens the situation.
Much more international attention must be paid to rape as a war crime, crime against humanity, and an act of genocide. Effective courts must be created where the perpetrators will be prosecuted rapidly so that the survivors can make the world hear their silenced voices.