Khartoum: Women are not collateral damage! Perpetrators must be held accountable for rampant sexual violence in Sudan’s capital

On April 15th 2023, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) violently took over a large part of the Greater Khartoum area. In the subsequent days, there has been a consistent stream of reports, accounts and videos of sexual violence perpetrated by RSF militia against civilian women and girls in the affected areas of the country. This past week, one emergency room received over 10 cases of sexual violence in a single day. Yet, many are too scared to report or too young to comprehend what has been done to them. Sexual assault by the armed militia has been ingrained into the fabric of their daily lives. “I am 4 months pregnant,” says a 21-year-old in Al Kalalakla, “I cannot even count how many times I have been raped.” 

Reports from early October indicate an escalating pattern of violence against women volunteers on the frontlines. Last week two volunteers were raped, and on October 2nd, one volunteer was murdered in her home by the RSF soldiers because she refused them access to her residential property. She was fatally wounded with two bullets, one to the head and one to the chest, shot through the window as she was inside trying to barricade the door against the oncoming soldiers. Prior to her death, she had been part of a feminist response team that provided psychosocial support to survivors of rape and other forms of violence. 

This dire situation has been aggravated by the closure and destruction of hospitals and medical facilities, some of which have been repurposed as military compounds, severely limiting access to medical treatment and post-rape kits for survivors. 

Despite attempts by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in May to extend support to survivors in Greater Khartoum, these efforts were unsuccessful. As a result, survivors of sexual violence and women and girls in Greater Khartoum are left without support. Reliable sources have identified three medical facilities in the Greater Khartoum region where women and girls can obtain HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) kits following instances of sexual assault. These facilities include Al Turki Hospital in South Khartoum, Al Ban Gadid Hospital in Bahri, and Al Naw Hospital in Omdurman. However, Al Turki Hospital in South Khartoum, is not safe for survivors who have been assaulted by the RSF as the RSF controls this hospital fully and thus the risk of reprisals would be extremely high. 

HIV PEP kits are a crucial piece of emergency post-rape medical response because they drastically reduce the survivor’s likelihood of developing an HIV infection. PEP kits should be administered in combination with survivor services that encompass first aid, counselling, risk assessment, HIV testing, and, based on the assessment results, a 28-day course of anti-HIV medication, supplemented with appropriate support and follow-up. 

Targeting civilians breaches Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions by committing violence against civilians and subjecting them to inhumane and cruel treatment. The violence against medical personnel violates the workers’ basic rights and breaches Article 9 of the of the Additional Protocol relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II) that obligates warring parties to respect and protect medical personnel. Further, the acts of violence targeting the frontline workers who provide medical aid also violate other civilians’ rights under Article 7 which stipulates that all the wounded and sick shall receive medical care and attention, and Article 11 which stipulates that medical units and transports shall be protected and shall not be the object of attack. 

The right to life is an inalienable right that must be observed during times of peace and war as recognized by Article 4 (2) of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 (ICCPR). The de facto government in Sudan is obligated to observe its obligations under Article 6 (right to life) under the ICCPR and Article 12 (ensuring physical and mental health) under the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 (ICESCR). 

The acts of violence also breach Article 4 (right to life) and Article 16 (2) (State Parties obligation to protect the health of their people and ensuring medical attention) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)The lack of support for women and girls in Greater Khartoum who have been assaulted by the RSF over the past 6 months is a shameful act of complacence, particularly from Sudanese politicians and the status quo administration who simply do not care about extending support to women and girls and civilians in the country. SIHA reminds the de facto government of their obligations under international humanitarian law and regional human rights treaties to respect and protect the rights of women and girls in the country. 

Sexual violence in conflict is both a war crime and a crime against humanity. The RSF have been committing sexual violence for decades, and they continue to do so because they have never been held accountable. The extent and prevalence of the RSF’s use of sexual violence has led to a normalization of this reality and speaks to the RSF’s intentional use of sexual violence as tactic of war. Women are not collateral damage; perpetrators must be held accountable for their brutal crimes. 

We call upon international and regional actors and friends of Sudan to advocate and exert pressure to secure safe spaces where survivors of sexual violence can receive essential medical services, including rape kits, PEP kits, and other necessary care, without the risk of exposure to RSF reprisal.  

We also call upon international and regional actors and friends of Sudan to fund medical supplies including rape kits, PEP kits, and relevant medications. 

Additionally, SIHA urges the provision of resources for women right’s organisations (WROs) and women’s rights defenders (WRDs) to enable them to support survivors’ immediate relocation to areas within Sudan where they will be able to receive adequate sexual and reproductive health services and psychosocial support.