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
On April 15, 2023, a war broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), two rival factions of the military government of Sudan, in Khartoum and Darfur (Al Jazeera, 2023). The war began with attacks by the RSF on government sites with airstrikes, artillery, and gunfire. In this time, the RSF leader and Sudan’s de facto leader and army chief held disputed control over government sites in Khartoum, including the military headquarters, the Presidential Palace, the Khartoum International Airport, and the Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation headquarters, as well as towns in Darfur and Kordofan (Al Jazeera, 2023). Both sides were joined by rebel groups that had fought on against both sides previously. Against this backdrop, multiple massacres were perpetrated by the RSF across Sudan – including the Ardamata, Misterei, and Geneina massacres, where Masalit civilians were targeted – as a result of current conflict dynamics exacerbating existing ethnic tensions (Human Rights Watch, 2023). The Masalit are a Black African ethnic group, living in western Sudan and eastern Chad (Dabanga Radio, 2023a). The United Nations has warned that these massacres “may lead to another genocide” (Ewing, 2023), whereas commentators have named it a genocide (Bartlett & Akinwotu, 2023) and ethnic massacre (Reuters, 2023). At the time of writing this case report, as many as 9,000-10,000 people had been killed and 6,000-12,000 had been injured (Magdy, 2023a). Over 4.8 million people had been internally displaced and over 1.3 million had fled the country as refugees (Relief Web, 2023). Across all the massacres targeting the Masalit people, upwards of 5,000 people have been reported killed, and upwards of 20,000 people have been displaced forcibly (Magdy, 2023b; Dabanga Radio, 2023b). Previously, between 2003 and 2005, Darfur endured a vicious conflict, where then president Omar Al Bashir created a militia called Janjaweed, which he used to target Darfuri rebels who had revolted against his regime for the historical neglect of the Black African population – which culminated in a genocide.
Prevalence of Sexual Violence
Reports show that the RSF and allied militias raped several dozen women and girls in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, and from among those fleeing to Chad between April and June (Human Rights Watch, 2023). Human Rights Watch (2023) documented 78 stories of rape during this time. Most instances documented revealed that rape was accompanied by beating, killing, looting, and arson, and all survivors reported that the attackers mentioned their ethnic identity and used ethnic slurs about the Masalit people (Human Rights Watch, 2023). The Sudanese Unit for Combatting Violence Against Women reported documenting 46 rape cases in Darfur, including 21 in Geneina, 25 in Nyala, and 51 in Khartoum, although the head of the unit indicated that the “true number of cases of sexual violence are likely in the thousands” (Magdy, 2023b). Amnesty International (2023) found that women and girls as young as 12 years of age were subjected to sexual violence, and held for days in conditions of sexual slavery by members on all sides.
Basis of the Use of Sexual Violence
Sexual violence has been used as part of the systemic targeting of groups for their ethnicity and in pursuit of a campaign of ethnic erasure and genocide. Further, it appears that sexual violence has been used as a means of subjugation by perpetrating sexual slavery. Sexual violence and assault have also been used to intimidate, humiliate, and threaten populations in furtherance of their ethnic erasure.
Al Jazeera (2023). 100 Days of Conflict in Sudan: A Timeline. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/7/24/100-days-of-conflict-in-sudan-a-timeline
Amnesty International (2023). "Sudan: War crimes rampant as civilians killed in both deliberate and indiscriminate attacks – new report." https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/08/sudan-war-crimes-rampant-as-civilians-killed-in-both-deliberate-and-indiscriminate-attacks-new-report/
Bartlett, K., & Akinwotu, E. (2023). Sudan's war passed 6 months, with much of the world consumed by other conflicts. https://www.npr.org/2023/10/21/1206104009/sudan-war
Dabanga Radio (2023a). "RSF seize North Darfur garrison, reportedly commit mass atrocities in West Darfur". Dabanga Radio TV Online. https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/rsf-seize-north-darfur-garrison-reportedly-commit-mass-atrocities-in-west-darfur
Dabanga Radio (2023b) "Darfur lawyers: 'Bodies scattered across El Geneina'". Dabanga Radio TV Online. https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/darfur-lawyers-bodies-scattered-across-el-geneina
Ewing, G. H. (2023). UN sounds alarm on Darfur, warns world not to repeat history. https://www.politico.com/news/2023/11/11/un-sounds-alarm-on-darfur-warns-world-not-to-repeat-history-00126708
Human Rights Watch (2023). Darfur: Rapid Support Forces, Allied Militias Rape Dozens. https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/08/17/darfur-rapid-support-forces-allied-militias-rape-dozens
Magdy, S. (2023a). "UN aid chief says six months of war in Sudan has killed 9,000 people". Associated Press. https://apnews.com/article/sudan-war-military-rsf-conflict-khartoum-f12975eb72c830ed86ed6a7a49e9658d
Magdy, S. (2023b). Sudan conflict brings new atrocities to Darfur as militias kill, rape, burn homes in rampages. https://apnews.com/article/sudan-darfur-fighting-war-crimes-705bdb1ac90fc7b2903f68e6f666c3ca
Relief Web (2023). DTM Sudan - Monthly Displacement Overview (October 2023). https://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/dtm-sudan-monthly-displacement-overview-october-2023
Reuters (2023). "How Arab fighters carried out a rolling ethnic massacre in Sudan". https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/sudan-politics-darfur/