El Fasher in Flames: Women Strive for Survival Amid Dire Conflict and Rights Abuses

Photography: SIHA Network

The security situation in North Darfur State, particularly around El Fasher, has deteriorated beyond imagining. As of the 11th of May, the RSF has been waging a constant siege on the city. This siege has been marked by an increase in killings, sexual violence, theft, destruction of infrastructure, and looting. There have also been aerial bombardments on several villages and areas of El Fasher, and eight villages to the west of El Fasher were recently burned. Humanitarian and commercial convoys from neighbouring countries such as Libya, Egypt, and Chad, as well as from other parts of Sudan, have been halted due to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) tightening the siege around El Fasher. This blockade has led to a severe scarcity of food and essential goods like fuel, intensifying the humanitarian crisis. On the other hand, the Sudanese Armed Forces’ (SAF) aerial bombardments of villages is causing numerous civilian casualties and exacerbating the crisis. 

El Fasher, a microcosm of the Darfur region, hosts over 150 shelter centres in addition to the Abu Shouk, Al-Salam, and Zamzam camps, established as a result of the 2003 war. The RSF mobilized forces from local states and neighbouring countries to launch an attack on El Fasher beginning from the southeast on May 11, 2024, involving thousands of fighters using both light and heavy and sophisticated weapons. The brutal attack took place in densely populated residential neighbourhoods and shelter centres, which resulted in over 200 casualties on the first day alone, with continued clashes causing more than 500 injuries over the following eight days. The RSF also set fire to houses in the New Kahraba and Al-Wahda neighbourhoods but were eventually repelled from these areas by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF).  

Sources on the ground report that on May 12, 2024, the Al-Salam North residential neighbourhood was bombed, resulting in the deaths of three civilians and injuries to several children. The Babiker Nahar Centre Children’s Hospital, the only functioning children’s hospital in the region, was also bombed, causing further casualties and damage. The RSF continued their assault by bombing shelter centres such as Rabat, Al-Ittihad, Al-Israa, Dar Al-Salam, Al-Amal, Zamzam camp, and Naivasha, resulting in the deaths and injuries of women and children. A paediatric hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been rendered non-functional after intense fighting and bombing in the area drove all staff, patients, and caregivers to flee the facility. Many of these fleeing patients along with numerous newly injured people are now depending on South Hospital – in the first few days of this latest attack 454 injured people came to the hospital seeking medical attention.  

Another MSF-supported facility, South Hospital is struggling to meet this large demand in light of severe shortages of medical supplies and staff. There are worries that the MSF will suspend their operations entirely in El Fasher if the violence continues unabated. The Saudi Obstetrics & Gynaecology Hospital, which is the only facility providing reproductive health services to hundreds of women and girls, is also considering suspending operations after the building’s northern area was damaged by RSF artillery shelling. 

On the 22nd of May, the RSF clashed with the SAF and their allies inside the Abu Shouk internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. Eighteen people were received by the El Fasher Emergency Room due to injuries they suffered while caught in the crossfire inside the camp. The camp was estimated to host 400,000 displaced people, many of whom will have now lost their homes in the camps as the RSF shelled and burned much of the western side of the camp. 

The southern parts of El Fasher are witnessing severe displacement, with streets crowded with people suffering from hunger and the high cost of travel. High rates of miscarriages have occurred among women whose injuries from heavy weapon strikes, cause pregnancy complications. While the western and northern parts of El Fasher remain relatively less affected, the southern areas continue to endure high levels of violence and displacement. In the face of these horrors, many women, some displaced since the 2003 war, are doing what they can to protect their communities.  

The situation in El Fasher is dire, with ongoing violence, humanitarian blockades, and widespread human rights abuses. The international community must urgently address these violations and provide support to those affected by the conflict. The resilience and bravery of the women leading the resistance against overwhelming odds highlight the critical need for global solidarity and action. 



The situation in El Fasher requires immediate attention and involvement from the Security Council and the African Union. The onslaught in the city is primarily targeting civilians, including, women and children, along with vital infrastructure like hospitals. More importantly, the RSF, as a legacy of the Janjaweed, is a violent militia whose philosophy and mission are rooted in genocidal beliefs and rhetoric. The RSF’s targeting of El Fasher is likely to result in another cycle of genocide mirroring the fate of El Geneina. 

In July 2004 Security Council resolution 1556, imposed an open-ended arms embargo on all non-governmental entities and individuals, operating in the states of North, South, and West Darfur, including the Janjaweed. In October 2010, Security Council resolution 1945,  strengthened that arms embargo by requiring that all States ensure that any sale or supply of arms and related materiel to Sudan (not already prohibited by resolutions 1556 and 1591), are made conditional upon the necessary end user documentation so that States may ascertain that any such sale or supply is conducted consistent with the measures imposed by those responsible. 

This embargo has been entirely defied by actors at all levels for decades, including after the war broke out. Regrettably, in March 2023, one month prior to the breakout of the current war, the embargo was amended to a time-limited one, expiring on September 12, 2024. The UN Security Council must renew and fully enforce the arms embargo and punish all violators of the embargo, including state actors actively involved in carrying out genocide in Darfur.  

  1. We reiterate our call for an immediate cessation of hostility, which is monitored closely and subject to actionable consequences if violated in tandem with a broad-based and inclusive civilian-led conflict transformation process in which women play a leading role.  

  2. We continue to call on the international community to provide enhanced support for adequate humanitarian aid for the civilians affected by the conflict by providing resources and programs with a specific focus on providing emergency food, water, and medical supplies, as well as support for their economic stability and social well-being, along with mental health and psychosocial support services. 
  3. We call on the international community to recognize and treat SGBV – including kidnapping and sexual exploitation – as one of the primary threats the current conflict poses to civilians in Sudan, and in response, provide resources for the establishment of One-Stop Centres and at least one obstetric fistula hospital.   
  4. We call on international and regional actors to investigate the war crimes committed against civilians in Sudan and hold the warring parties accountable through various regional and international accountability mechanisms.   

  5. We call on the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute the crimes of SGBV and the other human rights violations and acts of criminal retaliation being committed by the RSF against women and girls and the civilian population throughout this conflict.