Reports of sexual violence emerge as fighting continues

As the fighting of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) enters its second month, reports of the rape and sexual assault of women, including members of the university community, are emerging.

Emergency Lawyers, an activist legal group, said in a statement that, on 14 May, an armed group, “… in Omdurman at Al-Arda Street, stormed the dormitory of the teaching staff of Ahfad University for Women (AUW) and destroyed furniture.

“Two young women, aged 25 and 22, who were hiding in a bathroom, were taken to another building and raped, respectively by two and five members of the armed group that attacked the institution. Both the women have been treated and are recovering,” according to the activist group.

AUW is the oldest and largest private university in Sudan, focusing on women and gender studies in higher education and research.

In another statement, Emergency Lawyers called on victims or their families to contact the organisation if sexual violations (rape, harassment, kidnapping) take place in order to provide legal aid as well as medical and psychological support.

“We document these violations for legal purposes and bring them to justice, even after [the legal process only happens] in a while,” the legal group emphasised.

The legal group indicated that without further “pressure and condemnation” as well as exposure of “barbaric violations and outright war crimes”, similar atrocities will continue.

These violations will be on the radar of a monitoring and coordination committee (MCC) that will be established to ensure that the armed forces do not engage in prohibited acts, including sexual and gender-based violence, and the targeting of civilian infrastructure.

The MCC will define appropriate measures against perpetrators of crimes.

This is in terms of a new fragile agreement providing for a seven-day ceasefire, which appeared to have collapsed before its start on 22 May. This came after the violation of the earlier Jeddah Agreement by both parties.

Call to act against perpetrators

Dr Natalia Kanem, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) issued a statement on 17 May saying: “UNFPA has received reports of horrific gender-based violence in Sudan. Using rape and other forms of sexual assault to terrorise and destabilise communities is an egregious violation of human rights and of international humanitarian law.”

A growing number of women are facing the risk of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse as women and girls are on the move, displaced in temporary shelters and deprived of basic needs, according to a 22 May UNFPA report.

Several local and governmental organisations have issued statements reporting cases of sexual violence. Several cases are being verified across Sudan.

These organisations include the Combating Violence Against Women Unit at Sudan’s Ministry of Social Affairs, and local activist group Hadhreen.

The Strategic initiative for women in the horn of Africa – Siha Network – issued a statement saying it is “extremely concerned about the increased prevalence of sexual violence against women and girls, particularly in the peripheries of Khartoum, and the lack of protection services and an official response from the international community”.

“Mechanisms to investigate and prosecute perpetrators should be set up,” the network stated.

Siha Network is a coalition of women’s rights activists from 136 member organisations with the aim of strengthening the capacities of women’s rights organisations.

The Civilian Front for Ending the War and Restoring Democracy (CFEWRD), which consists of 35 pro-democracy organisations, including several bodies representing Sudanese universities, their academics, graduates and students, has called for an independent commission to monitor the humanitarian violations of the war since 15 April, especially sexual violence.

Al-Ahfad University for Women, in cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund and other organisations are providing assistance for cases of gender-based violence, sexual violence and rape in Khartoum State.

On 20 May, the committee of the Sudan Doctors Trade Union issued a statement titled, ‘Wars are not fought over women’s bodies’ and announced the availability of psychological support and guidance for cases of sexual violence and rape.

Damage to institutions

In the meantime, the destruction of infrastructure, including at universities, is ongoing.

On 23 May, a video clip of a fire at Mashreq University, a private university located north of the Sudanese capital Khartoum, was circulating on social media, but limited details are known about the fire.

The institution is ranked first among private and community universities in Sudan, according to the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities in January 2022.

The administration complex of Al-Neelain University (AU) was looted on 22 May, according to the Alliance of Students of AU.

On 19 May Nahda College in Khartoum was damaged. A few days earlier, on 16 May, a library containing thousands of documents, historical works and doctoral theses was destroyed in a fire set by looters at the Muhammad Omar Bashir Centre for Sudanese Studies located at Omdurman Ahlia University.

Several photos showing the damage at Omdurman Ahlia University and the effects of the fire in the library were circulated on social media.

The Sudan Doctors Trade Union also issued a statement on 22 May to say that Dr Amer Abdul Rahman Haroun, a graduate of the faculty of medicine at the National Ribat University in Khartoum, has been missing since 18 May.