This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
Background of the Conflict
In August 2019, the Sudanese Revolution drew to an end with both international pressure and mediation by the African Union and Ethiopia, with the military agreeing to share power in an interim joint civilian-military unity government, known as the Transitional Sovereignty Council headed by Abdalla Hamdok, a civilian Prime Minister. Elections were scheduled to take place in 2023 (Abdelaziz et al. 2023). However, in October 2021, the military seized power in a coup led by the Sudanese Armed Forces leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader Dagalo (Olewe, 2023). With this, the Transitional Sovereignty Council was reconstituted into a military junta under al-Burhan (Jeffrey and Magdt, 2023) halting Sudan’s transition to democracy in its tracks (Olewe, 2023).
Tensions began to mount between the RSF and the Sudanese junta. On April 11, 2023, the RSF deployed its forces near Merowe and Khartoum, and refused to leave despite being ordered to do so by the government (Agenzio Nova, 2023). On April 15, 2023, an armed conflict broke out between rival factions of the military government of Sudan, following clashes in many cities. The paramilitary RSF began attacking government sites. Following this, there were airstrikes and exchange of gunfire across Sudan, including Khartoum. In the course of the conflict, RSF Leader Mohamed Hamdan Hemedti Dagalo and Sudan’s de facto leader and army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan have held disputed control over government sites including the general military headquarters, the Presidential Palace, the Khartoum International Airport, al-Burhan’s official residence, and the headquarters of the Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation.
By May 27, 2023 at least 1800 people had been killed and over 5100 people had been injured (Al Jazeera, 2023). The fighting produced over 1.6 million internally displaced persons, and 530,000 refugees (Al Jazeera, 2023).
Prevalence of Sexual Violence
Since the war erupted in mid-April, several women reported facing sexual violence and rape at the hands of paramilitary fighters from the RSF (AFP, 2023). Survivors have reported instances of rape, sexual violence, and attacks, specifically targeting women aged between 14 and 56 years (Middle East Eye, 2023). The government’s Combating Violence Against Women and Children Unit documented 49 instances of sexual assault within the first two weeks of the war – and in 6 cases, perpetrators were identified as belonging to the RSF based on their uniform (AFP, 2023). Three of these cases were committed by armed members of street gangs (Dabanga, 2023). At this point, given that the conflict is underway, the data on hand do not reflect the true, full picture of the reality (Salih, 2023). The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office has documented 25 cases of sexual violence in the armed conflict thus far (DW, 2023).
Basis of the Use of Sexual Violence
Since the start of the conflict, women and girls have been evidently vulnerable to conflict-related sexual violence. A major cause that has been consistently named is the fragility of the security situation, seeing that it has enabled the breakdown of security systems, making reporting and seeking justice impossible. In several instances reported by survivors, sexual assault and rape were committed as means of intimidation and humiliation of women and girls. Further, there have been instances of sexual violence to further forced labour where women and girls have been subject to sexual violence while being forcibly employed to cook and clean for the RSF forces. The United Nations has also suggested that these crimes could be carried out as part of a campaign of ethnic erasure, thus amounting to a war crime (United Nations, 2023). This aligns with the history of practice among the RSF, which has used sexual violence as a systematic mechanism to target women and girls (Kvinna Till Kvinna, 2023).
Abdelaziz, Khalid; Eltahir, Nafisa; Eltahir, Nafisa (15 April 2023). MacSwan, Angus (ed.). "Sudan's army chief, paramilitary head ready to de-escalate tensions, mediators say". Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/sudanese-politicians-blame-bashir-loyalists-discord-2023-04-14/
Olewe, Dickens (20 February 2023). "Mohamed 'Hemeti' Dagalo: Top Sudan military figure says coup was a mistake". BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-64704858
Jack Jeffrey and Samy Magdt (16 April 2023). “Deal to restore democratic transition in Sudan delayed again.” AP News. https://apnews.com/article/sudan-military-democracy-coup-d70cdb605bfef095eca113f77e73c68c
Agenzio Nova (17 April 2023). “Sudan: Clashes around the presidential palace, there are fears of a coup attempt in Khartoum.” Agenzio Nova. https://www.agenzianova.com/en/news/sudan-scontri-intorno-al-palazzo-presidenziale-si-teme-un-tentativo-di-golpe-a-khartum/
Kvinna Till Kvinna (26 April 2023). “We must take immediate action against conflict-related sexual violence in Sudan.” https://kvinnatillkvinna.org/2023/04/26/we-must-take-immediate-action-against-conflict-related-sexual-violence-in-sudan/
Salih, Zeinab Mohammed (16 May 2023). "Sudan: Reports of women being raped in Khartoum by armed men." The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/may/16/sudan-reports-of-women-being-raped-in-khartoum-by-armed-men
Middle East Eye. (21 May 2023). "Sudan: Sexual violence and killings in Darfur ahead of ceasefire." https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/sudan-ceasefire-fighting-darfur-assault-cases
DW (24 May 2023). "Sudan: UN condemns sexual violence amid weeklong cease-fire." Deutsche Welle. https://www.dw.com/en/sudan-un-condemns-sexual-violence-amid-weeklong-cease-fire/a-65723621
Al Jazeera (27 May 2023). "United Nations backs Sudan envoy as army seeks to expel him." Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/27/united-nations-backs-sudan-envoy-as-army-seeks-to-expel-him
Dabanga (28 May 2023). Sudan war: more sexual assaults, rapes reported. Dabanga. https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/sudan-war-more-sexual-assaults-rapes-reported
AFP (7 June 2023). "'No Woman Feels Safe': Sexual Violence Rampant in Sudan War." https://www.voanews.com/a/no-woman-feels-safe-sexual-violence-rampant-in-sudan-war-/7127981.html
United Nations. (13 June 2023). Sudan: Attacks based on ethnicity may amount to war crimes. https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/06/1137647