We must take immediate action against conflict-related sexual violence in Sudan

On April 15th, violent fighting erupted in Sudan as the result of a power struggle between the Sudanese armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The capital Khartoum with its six million inhabitants has been hit especially hard, with electricity being out and inhabitants not being able to access water and food for the past ten days. The healthcare system in Khartoum has collapsed, meaning civilians—including women in labour—are unable to access hospital care. Other parts of the country, too, are experiencing intense fighting. Around 400 civilians are said to have been killed and more than 20,000 have fled the country. Foreign states are now hastily evacuating their citizens.

Many development and humanitarian organisations in Sudan now are forced to put their aid on hold for security reasons, which puts already vulnerable groups in an even more fragile situation.

After four days of fighting, SIHA Network—a network of women’s rights activists working in Sudan among other places—conveyed a desperate cry for help from a group of female students trapped in a dormitory in Khartoum. Due to intense fighting outside the dormitory, there was no possibility of escape. Armed men then tried to enter the building—likely with the intention of subjecting the women to abuse as a deliberate weapon of war.

“We have barricaded the doors of our student dormitories for three days, but we are unable to hold out any longer due to hunger and exhaustion,” said one of the students at the time.

Since then, there have been no further reports of what happened to the women. One of the conflict parties, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, has in the past fought in Libya and Yemen. They are known to practice systematic sexual violence. SIHA Network has expressed serious concern about the possibility of a dramatic increase in conflict-related sexual violence and calls on all parties to immediately put an end to this extremely worrying development.

Moreover, the Sudanese women’s rights organisation Women against War is appealing to the international community and international institutions to stand with the Sudanese people, put pressure on the parties to end the conflict and thus resolve the pressing humanitarian situation.

At The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, we can see how early reports regarding the situation and vulnerability of women in Sudan are pointing towards a concerning development. This includes warning signs of women being subjected to sexual abuse; and their bodies being used as a battlefield. There is still time to put a stop to this development—but to do so, actors such as the UN, the EU and the African Union must take immediate action.

The conflict in Sudan cannot turn into another war where perpetrators remain unpunished, and where cases of gender-based violence are neither investigated nor prosecuted. Once and for all: sexual violence in war and conflict constitutes a war crime and must be dealt with as such.

—Petra Tötterman Andorff, Secretary-General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation