Conflict and chaos in Sudan taking a devastating toll on women and girls

1 / 3
Women wait for aid to be distributed in South Darfur. (AFP)
2 / 3
Sudanese women ride their donkeys as they move away from violence in Sudan's capital Khartoum on May 28, 2022. (AFP)
3 / 3
Smoke billows behind buildings in Sudan's capital Khartoum amid ongoing clashes between the regular army and the paramilitary RSF. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 08 June 2023

Conflict and chaos in Sudan taking a devastating toll on women and girls

  • Sudanese women’s rights activists accuse armed combatants of using rape as a weapon of war
  • RSF’s predecessor, the Janjaweed, implicated in similar crimes during the 2003-20 Darfur conflict

CAIRO: When the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces transformed the streets of Sudan’s capital Khartoum into a war zone, 48-year-old math teacher Muna Ageeb Yagoub Nishan and her children were forced to flee.

Before embarking on their long and perilous journey to Egypt, Nishan, her 21-year-old daughter Marita, 22-year-old son George, and 16-year-old son Christian hid in their home in Khartoum’s Manshi district, as battles raged in the street outside.

Free of consequences and accountability amid the lawlessness since the conflict began on April 15, the armed men roaming their neighborhood pose a threat to the civilian population, particularly women and girls.

Fighters of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) drive an armored vehicle in southern Khartoum on May 25, 2023. (AFP file photo)

“They want to traumatize us,” Nishan told Arab News from the safety of an apartment in Egypt. “Now the RSF are raping women. People think I am still in Sudan and are sending me digital pamphlets on what to do if I get raped so that I won’t get pregnant.”

According to Hala Al-Karib, a Sudanese women’s rights activist and regional director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, gender-based violence, including rape as a weapon of war, is being perpetrated by members of the paramilitary RSF.

Hala Al-Karib, regional director of Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa. (Supplied)

“That doesn’t mean that Sudan’s armed forces don’t have a track record of sexual violence, but present victims of violence and rape are all stating that RSF soldiers have committed such crimes,” Al-Karib told Arab News.

Before they fled, Nishan and her children were like many Sudanese — trapped inside their homes, fearing for their lives. As the fighting raged, they quickly ran out of food and were forced to survive on rationed water until they found their opportunity to escape Khartoum.

When the RSF came knocking, Nishan’s 26-year-old son, Nadir Elia Sabag, answered the door while the family escaped through the back. Sabag was supposed to reunite with the family, but, according to Nishan, he is still in Khartoum, his exact whereabouts unknown.

Passengers fleeing war-torn Sudan rest before crossing into Egypt through the Argeen Land Port on May 12, 2023. (AFP)

When the family caught the bus that would take them to Egypt, Nishan says it was attacked by prisoners recently released by the RSF from Al-Huda prison in West Khartoum’s Omdurman, with one passenger robbed at knifepoint.

Eventually, the bus was allowed to continue, and, after several days, Nishan and her children arrived in Cairo. “I have lost everything,” said Nishan. “l sold my house to pay for my husband’s cancer treatment in Egypt.”


Sudanese women’s rights activists accuse armed combatants of using rape as a weapon of war.

RSF’s predecessor, the Janjaweed, implicated in similar crimes during the 2003-20 Darfur conflict.

Nishan had returned to Sudan only two years ago following the death of her husband. Now, all that she had rebuilt since then has been lost. “I have lost my car, my gold, my documents,” she said. “I lost everything with this war.”

Nishan and her children arrived in Cairo 10 days after Sudan’s descent into chaos. Today, they live in an apartment with other Sudanese families in the city’s El-Khalifa El-Mamoun district, awaiting an appointment with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR — scheduled for October.

University student Marita Elia Joseph Sabag (left) and math teacher Muna Ageeb Yagoub Nishan. (Supplied)

“We don’t know what we will do next month, where we will go and what we will do for work,” Nishan said. “We hope we can make it to Europe.”

Her story is not unique. It is shared by thousands of other refugees who have arrived in Egypt in recent weeks, now the primary destination for people fleeing the conflict in Sudan.

According to UNHCR, there have been 42,300 documented arrivals in Egypt to date, although the true figure is likely far higher. The UN agency estimates around 300,000 people could arrive over the coming months.

Passengers fleeing war-torn Sudan rest before crossing into Egypt through the Argeen Land Port on May 12, 2023. (AFP)

The ongoing conflict in Sudan has had a devastating impact on women and girls, who are among the most vulnerable demographics in times of violent upheaval everywhere in the world.

Women and girls displaced by the fighting in Sudan are at risk of rape as a weapon of war or falling prey to human traffickers. Indeed, the RSF’s predecessor, the Janjaweed, was implicated in similar crimes during the 2003-20 conflict in the country’s western Darfur region.

Reports and testimonials from the time concluded that the Janjaweed waged a systematic campaign of rape designed to humiliate women and ostracize them from their own communities.

Picture taken in April 2004 shows the village of Terbeba after being burnt by the "Janjaweed" militias in the western Darfur region of Sudan. The militia had been transformed into the RSF, which is now engaged in a destructive power struggle with the Sudanese Armed Forces. (AFP file)

Many female Sudanese political activists had already experienced gender-based violence, including rape, at the hands of security forces during the pro-democracy protests of 2019. The latest conflict has made matters far worse, with armed men accused of acting with complete impunity.

“Since the start of the hostilities, UNHCR and humanitarian protection partners have been reporting a shocking array of humanitarian issues and human rights violations, including indiscriminate attacks causing civilian casualties and injuries, widespread criminality, as well as sexual violence with growing concerns over risks of gender-based violence for women and girls,” Olga Sarrada Mur, a spokesperson for UNHCR, told Arab News.

“UNHCR is working with the governments of the countries receiving refugees from Sudan as well as with humanitarian partners to ensure all the reception and transit centers have staff trained to treat these cases in a confidential manner and provide survivor-centered services, including health support but also psychosocial support, counseling as well as legal aid services if needed.

“Sexual exploitation and abuse prevention measures are being developed in the new sites hosting refugees fleeing the conflict.”

Given the pace of arrivals in Cairo and other cities, any assistance for people displaced by the Sudan conflict may be too little. With Nishan and her family’s appointment at the UN still months away, they say they have received no help whatsoever, while their apartment in Cairo is paid for by a friend.

For those unable to escape Khartoum and other violence-torn areas, the situation is dire. Activists such as Al-Karib urge women trapped by the fighting in Sudan to remain vigilant.

“The RSF have been implicated in sexual violence for over two decades,” said Al-Karib. “The overall structure is very flawed, enabling all kinds of crimes against civilians to happen. Citizens must take the issue of protection into their own hands (and) provide broad guidance for women and girls to protect themselves and (their) communities from sexual violence.”

She added: “The truth is that sexual violence has been happening in Sudan, in conflict and post-conflict areas, for the past 20 years.”

In this 2021 photo, Sudanese women rally in Khartoum against sexual violence that had been happening in the country in the last 20 years. (Twitter: @Sihanet)

According to her, the culture of impunity in Sudan, which has allowed such crimes to go unpunished, means the scale of the problem has been misreported, both regionally and internationally, for many years.

“The Sudanese regimes, including the transitional government, which took (power) after the 2019 revolution, have never addressed the issue of sexual violence and the perpetrators of sexual violence, who were mostly military forces and law enforcement,” Al-Karib said.

“They have enjoyed impunity and protections. Sudan has a very flawed and very problematic legal framework that constantly seeks to criminalize survivors of sexual violence, accusing them of adultery, and so on.

“This has led to the fact that sexual violence is now becoming normal — normalized — as are the perpetrators of sexual violence.”

Social media post, whose authenticity cannot be verified, claims an armed group broke into a university dorm and raped two foreign women. (Supplied)

Perpetrators often assume they are “invincible” due to this culture of impunity, added Al-Karib, “which is quite prevalent, particularly among the armed groups and the military.”

Gender-based violence is not the only issue impacting women and girls that aid agencies are trying to address amid the crisis in Sudan.

UNHCR says it is providing reproductive healthcare, with medical teams prioritizing assistance for pregnant and breastfeeding women, particularly in terms of nutrition.

Agencies are also monitoring the threat of human trafficking — already a concern in the east of the country prior to the latest bloodletting. “Conflict and disasters and the protection issues they generate create conditions for trafficking in persons to thrive,” said UNHCR’s Mur.

“Ongoing fighting limits the capacity to identify new victims, but mechanisms are being put in place by UNHCR and partners at border areas … to identify potential victims of trafficking.”

For Nishan and others who managed to escape to safety, all they want is peace and security. “All I wish from the world,” said Nishan, “is to see my children continue their university studies and then go on to work and live happily.”


Joint Palestinian security force deployed to hot spots at refugee camp in Lebanon

Updated 58 min 55 sec ago

Joint Palestinian security force deployed to hot spots at refugee camp in Lebanon

  • It marks implementation of ceasefire agreement following weeks of violence; so far it has gone smoothly and cooperation has been excellent, the force’s commander said
  • The next phases involve the withdrawal of armed factions occupying a UN schools complex, and the handover of suspects accused of killing a senior Fatah leader in July

BEIRUT: A Palestinian joint security force was deployed on Monday to two hot spots in Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp. It marked the beginning of the implementation of the terms of a ceasefire agreement reached 12 days ago in an effort to end bloody clashes between Fatah and extremist groups in the camp.

The force includes military representatives of all Palestinian groups involved in the camp, including Hamas, Osbat Al-Ansar, and Al-Haraka Al-Islamiyya Al-Mujahida.

Maj. Gen. Ahmed Al-Ajouri, commander of the joint force, told Arab News that 45 soldiers and officers took part in the deployment. It went smoothly and without obstacles, he added, and there was excellent cooperation between all of those involved.

They were posted at Al-Buraq point, which separates Al-Safsaf neighborhood, which is controlled by extremist groups, from the Baraksat area, controlled by Fatah, and at the border between Al-Tiri and extremist-controlled Al-Ras Al-Ahmar.

Al-Ajouri said there is “an atmosphere of relief among people in the camp” following the deployment. He added that “things are positive” and the next step will be the withdrawal of armed militants barricaded inside a schools complex run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The Palestinian Joint Action Committee will hold a meeting this week with both sides involved in the conflict to arrange the simultaneous withdrawal of their forces from the schools, he said.

The playground of the educational compound was turned into a battleground between members of extremists groups occupying four schools and Fatah gunmen holed up in four other schools.

Regarding the damage caused to the camp as a result of clashes in recent weeks, Al-Ajouri said: “There is varying destruction. It is not possible to calculate the damage before evacuating the places affected by the militants.

“When the second phase of the terms of the ceasefire agreement is realized, the implementation of the clause of handing over those wanted for the assassination of the Fatah leader Mohammed Al-Armushi to the Lebanese security authorities will become less complicated. This clause is the most important in the agreement and this file will not be closed until the wanted persons are handed over.”

Fatah accuses eight members of extremist groups of killing Al-Armushi in an attack at the camp in late July. The suspects are believed to be hiding in parts of the camp controlled by extremists, including Al-Taamir neighborhood, which is an extension of the camp on Lebanese land.

The assassination of Al-Armushi led to the outbreak of bloody fighting in the camp, during which dozens of Palestinians and Lebanese were killed or injured, including Lebanese soldiers, and thousands of refugees were displaced. Four previous ceasefire attempts failed to calm the situation.

Ghassan Ayoub, a Palestinian official responsible for the issue of wanted persons in the camp, told Arab News: “There are six points that are considered contact lines in the camp and the security force is supposed to deploy there to serve as separation forces.”

Efforts are now focused on restoring stability in the camp, he added, and this will be accomplished by apprehending wanted individuals under the terms of the truce.

“The essence of the understanding that occurred is a ceasefire and the handover of wanted persons hiding in Al-Taamir neighborhood, which is a Lebanese neighborhood open to the camp,” said Ayoub. “Palestinian forces do not enter Al-Taamir and it is the responsibility of the Lebanese state.”

The UNRWA said it is monitoring the security situation on the ground before deciding on its next step. A source close to the agency told Arab News: “Restoring work in the UNRWA schools complex is a complex issue.

“Upon completion of evacuating the complex of militants, these schools must be cleared of the remnants of the battles that took place, especially from possible bombs and, perhaps, mines.

“When clearance is announced, we will form engineering teams to find out the extent of the damage. Security assurances are required so that we can begin restoration.”

The source added that reports received so far suggest “the damage to the complex is significant and it is too early to investigate the possibility of allowing these schools to start the new academic year.”

The number of registered Palestinian students in UNRWA schools in the camp is 5,900. Transferring those students to nearby UN-run schools is not currently possible because those schools are already at maximum capacity catering to children whose families fled the camp during the recent fighting. Reports suggest about 1,000 young people displaced from the camp have been studying in other UNRWA schools, although the number fell to 700 after the ceasefire was announced, as some displaced families whose houses were not damaged have returned home.

According to the UNRWA source, the agency is considering a “double shift” mechanism in schools outside the camp to cope with the increased number of students who have nowhere else to study.

US Central Command forces capture Daesh official in Syria after helicopter raid

The US Central Command has said its forces had captured a Daesh official after conducting a helicopter raid in northern Syria.
Updated 25 September 2023

US Central Command forces capture Daesh official in Syria after helicopter raid

  • No civilians were killed or injured during the operation, the statement said

DAMASCUS: The United States Central Command on Monday said its forces had captured a Daesh official after conducting a helicopter raid in northern Syria on Saturday.
“Abu Halil Al-Fad’ani, an Daesh Syria Operational and Facilitation official, was captured during the raid. Al-Fad’ani was assessed to have relationships throughout the Daesh network in the region,” the US Central Command said in a statement.
Troy Garlock, a spokesperson for the US Central Command, said: “The capture of Daesh officials like Al-Fad’ani increases our ability to locate, target, and remove terrorists from the battlefield.”
No civilians were killed or injured during the operation, the statement said.

Japan is committed to supporting COP28, Kishida tells UAE Special Envoy

Special Envoy of the UAE to Japan, Sultan Al-Jaber, meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Monday.
Updated 25 September 2023

Japan is committed to supporting COP28, Kishida tells UAE Special Envoy

  • Japanese PM asks Al-Jaber for UAE’s help in stabilizing the crude oil market and increasing production

TOKYO: Sultan Al-Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and Special Envoy of the United Arab Emirates to Japan, met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Monday and expressed his expectations for Japan’s contributions to the COP28 conference on the environment.

Al-Jaber is also the President-Designate of COP28, which will take place in the United Arab Emirates from November 30 to December 12.

The prime minister stated that Japan is fully committed to making efforts to contribute to the success of COP28. Both sides confirmed that they will work closely towards making COP28 a success, according to a statement by the foreign ministry.

Kishida expressed his appreciation for the UAE’s stable supply of crude oil to Japan and working with Japanese companies in the same field. He asked Al-Jaber for UAE’s help in stabilizing the crude oil market and increasing production.

Both sides exchanged views on cooperation between Japan and the UAE towards overall stabilization of the international oil market. They also discussed the “Japan-UAE Innovation Partnership” and the “Global Green Energy Hub” concept covered during Kishida’s July visit to the UAE.

Kishida welcomed the convening of the First Ministerial Level Meeting of the “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Initiative (CSPI)” held between Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa and Al-Jaber and stated that Japan attaches great importance to the strategic partnership with the UAE.

Kishida said he looks forward to further cooperation with the UAE in various fields, and Al-Jaber expressed his renewed hopes for strengthening bilateral relations with Japan.

One dead, four injured in incident at Iran’s Bandar Abbas refinery -state news

Updated 25 September 2023

One dead, four injured in incident at Iran’s Bandar Abbas refinery -state news

  • The incident did not impact production at the refinery, which is one of Iran’s largest

DUBAI: One person has died and four others were injured in an incident at Iran’s southern refinery of Bandar Abbas last week, Iranian state media reported on Monday.
The Iranian Oil Ministry’s Shana news agency said the incident occurred late on Sept. 22 during emergency repairs, adding that five maintenance workers were hurt, with one worker since dying of their injuries.
“During the emergency repair operation in one of the process units of this refinery, five people were injured, and one of the injured died on Monday,” an official from Bandar Abbas refinery told state media.
The incident did not impact production at the refinery, which is one of Iran’s largest, Shana added.

Egypt to hold presidential election Dec 10-12

Updated 25 September 2023

Egypt to hold presidential election Dec 10-12

  • President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi widely expected to win reelection

CAIRO: Egypt will hold a presidential vote on December 10-12, election officials said Monday, at a time the Arab world’s most populous country is mired in a painful economic crisis.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, a former army chief in power for nearly a decade, has yet to formally announce his candidacy, but state-aligned media has already published messages of support from pro-government entities.
El-Sisi, 68, was first elected in 2014 and then won a 2018 vote.
Only two other candidates have so far declared their intention to run this time, including opposition politician Ahmed Al-Tantawi.

Farid Zahran, president of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, has also announced his intention to run.
The election had initially been expected in the spring of 2024.
The vote will be held “on December 10, 11 and 12,” said National Election Authority chairman Judge Walid Hassan Hamza.
Hopefuls can apply from October, with the candidate list to be finalized by November 9. The campaign period runs until November 29 and the winner will be announced on December 18.
Egypt has battled its worst-ever economic crisis since early last year.
The currency has lost half its value since March 2022 in a series of devaluations that have sent up consumer prices in the import-dependent economy.
Last year, the International Monetary Fund approved a $3 billion loan for Egypt conditioned on “a permanent shift to a flexible exchange rate regime.”
The government has kept the exchange rate pegged at around 31 Egyptian pounds to the dollar since January.
But prices have continued to skyrocket as a parallel currency market surged amid a severe foreign exchange shortage.
Annual inflation reached an all-time high for the third month in a row in August, hitting 39.7 percent.
El-Sisi’s government has announced a series of social protection measures and raises to the minimum wage in attempts to cushion the economic blow.