An Open Letter of Public Concern from African and Sudanese Civil Society
RE: The Militarization of Public space in Rural and Urban areas in Sudan and the Corresponding Increase in Cases of Sexual Violence, Sexual harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the Khartoum Massacre
We, the undersigned are a coalition of Sudanese and African civil society organizations working in and concerned with Sudan, which is supported, collectively, by hundreds of thousands of people across Sudan and Africa. This initiative came together with the shared goal of bringing to light the ongoing violations against the Sudanese people, with a particular focus on the targeting and intimidation of women and girls.
We acknowledge the agreement reached on Thursday 4th July, 2019 between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Freedom and Change Alliance (FCCA), and we encourage the mediators to continue supporting Sudan in the establishment of a civilian and democratic state that meets the expectations and recognizes the sacrifices of Sudanese people.
The people of Sudan have witnessed three decades of fundamental transformation of civil space. The Sudanese government’s failure to engage peacefully with its citizens has led to the escalation of civil wars. By and large, the response to increasing insecurity and uprising in the outlying regions of the country has been a heavy reliance on the militarization of civilians, transforming these regions into battlefields. Over time, the militarization of civil spaces has slowly become the norm. The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) is an extension of the Janjaweed militia that was used by the Bashir regime to terrorize civilians in Sudan’s western regions of Darfur and Kordofan. Eventually, these forces were brought to Khartoum by Bashir to protect the regime’s interest and maintain their hold on power. The use of these militias that represent the violent state and their ever-present position in civil space is a violation of human rights and rule of law and preys on the vulnerabilities of civilians particularly women.
As the Revolution in Sudan has gradually gained traction in the media and on the global scape, the signatories of this Letter of Concern view it as imperative to bring to the fore the manner in which sexual violence and sexual harassment are being used as a deliberate strategy to destroy the solidarity of the people of Sudan, with a particular aim to break the involvement of women in the current popular Revolution and transition. This goal can be illustrated in the statement by the leader of the RSF/Janjaweed militia who said, “After this – (referring to June Khartoum Massacre), “all women should go back home”.
During the Khartoum Massacre on June 3rd, the Sudan Doctors’ Committee documented 70 cases of rape, and cases of sexual violence and sexual harassment in the aftermath of the Massacre continue to be documented by women’s rights and civil society organizations. To date, female students and workers, women traders and street vendors continue to report incidents of aggressive sexual harassment including grabbing and the use of demeaning sexist and insulting language on the streets of Khartoum and other towns and cities of Sudan by the RSF/Janjaweed soldiers. The sustained sexual harassment and intimidation of women as they walk the streets of Greater Khartoum on their way to work, schools or the market, can be understood as a response to and a direct attack on the key role women have played throughout the protests that have been ongoing since December last year. The intimidation directed at women is clearly an attempt to reverse the gains they made in the occupation of public space despite the discriminatory laws and policies imposed by Bashir’s regime.
A statement by the Women’s Cooperatives Union of Food and Beverage Vendors in Khartoum attested to more than five thousand female vendors being victimized by the actions of the military and Janjaweed forces that actively perpetrated abuse and sexual violence, as well as theft and deliberate property damage against women vendors. The damages caused have had significant influence on the economic livelihood of the women vendors as their business apparatus was destroyed strategically as means of economic disempowerment.
Many women, female and male children report that they feel threatened to walk home from work or school because of the consistent harassment and grabbing by the soldiers. Men who have attempted to aid some of the women themselves have also been subject to beating and have been shot at with live bullets, leading to death or serious injuries – as happened to a young man along Gumhureya Street on June 18th when he tried to defend some women who were being grabbed aggressively by the RSF/Janjaweed soldiers, but was instead shot at and badly injured. Other reports following the Khartoum Massacre stated that the RSF/Janjaweed soldiers forcefully entered university female student hostels and a number of the female students were raped.
Despite the agreement that was reached last week, the presence of the RSF/Janjaweed militia is still very conspicuous. There are large numbers combing the city’s streets throughout the day. It is clear that these forces have neither been withdrawn nor returned to their camps. In another incident that occurred over the past weekend in Khartoum, a woman working at the Apple Café, in Khartoum II area was raped by the RSF/Janjaweed soldiers. Reports have been received from the rural and urban centers around the country, specifically Darfur and Blue Nile that the civil spaces are highly militarized and civilians continue to be terrorized. To date, well over 150 deaths have been recorded and almost as many rape cases have been documented, amounting to crimes against humanity.
Despite the ongoing attacks against civilians, on June 30th, millions of Sudanese across the country from all walks of life came out to further assert their demands for a civilian and democratic government with thousands of women protestors. Yet again, they were met with extreme violence from the RSF/Janjaweed and former Bashir forces who fired live ammunition, killing at least 15 people and injuring many more across the country.
Sudan is in the midst of a political crisis, the July 4th agreement needs to spell out clearly how it will be represented by and be accountable to marginalized groups and women. The yet to be established Joint Sovereign Council will be responsible for ending hostilities, enforcing rule of law, and ensuring accountability and justice representing the legitimate demands of Sudanese men and women.
Amidst rising recognition by the African and international community of Sudan’s plight at this very pivotal time, the following recommendations should be considered:
- The African Union and international community must categorically address the high level of militarization of civil spaces in Sudan and the strong presence of armed militia.
- The AU and international community must pressure the upcoming Sudanese government and support Sudan in establishing rule of law institutions and abiding by regional and international mechanisms that would address and challenge sexual violence and sexual harassment as crimes;
- The African Union and the United Nations must establish mechanisms to address the extensive recruitment of child soldiers into Sudan’s paramilitary RSF/Janjaweed immediately considering their violations of regional and international child rights’ mechanisms and the serious ramifications on the country’s peace and stability;
- The Sudanese authorities must acknowledge sexual violence as a crime, and address accountability and justice for sexual violence survivors and those who were killed;
- There are hundreds of victims and eyewitnesses to the Khartoum Massacre and the aftermath. We stress the urgent need for an independent investigation, where Sudanese should play an instrumental role. This committee should consist of Sudanese activists and advocates who have documented the cases and are informed of the local context including credible Sudan-based lawyers, civil society, and African male and female expertise. This committee needs to be formed immediately and the collection of the testimonies of survivors and witnesses should be prioritized;
- The IGAD led by H.E. Abiy Ahmed Ali The Prime Minster of Ethiopia
- Chairperson of the African Union Commission, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat
- African Union Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security H.E Bineta Diop
- The Minister of State for Africa – United Kingdom, H.E. Harriett Baldwin
- The United States Special Envoy to Sudan, Ambassador Donald Booth
- United Nations Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms. Pramila Patten
- UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet
- Members of the United Nations Security Council