The Darfur Network for Human Rights (DNHR) yesterday issued a detailed report on the detention and torture of Ebeid Khatem, a 32-year-old Sudanese civil engineer from South Darfur capital of Nyala, with the purpose ‘to seek justice for the survivor and hold the perpetrators accountable’.
The Kampala-based Darfur network noted that this report “results from a confidential interview conducted in a secure environment, skilfully facilitated by a human rights professional”.
The DNHR states in its report that “victim and witness” Ebeid Khatem (a pseudonym), member of the Tunjur tribe, was born on October 5, 1991, in El Fasher, capital of North Darfur. Apart from working as a civil engineer in Nyala, he also ran a literacy programme in in the El Jeer neighbourhood in western Nyala, where he lived. In 2019, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) asked him to collaborate, but he declined, “believing that military outfits do not contribute positively to the community”.
On May 17 last year, over one month after war broke out between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the RSF, a group of six to seven RSF members raided Khatem’s house and accused him of working for the SAF.
The paramilitaries insulted and beat him, tied his hands, and threw him into the back of their vehicle, where a woman approximately 40 years old, named Monaya, and her two daughters, aged around 20 and 14 were also held. The incident was witnessed by the son of his cousin El Dom.
The RSF took Khatem to the Arab Open University in Khartoum, where he spent the next 58 days in detention, facing torture and inhumane treatment.
He was put with 300 others in a hall, where the detainees were held divided in groups: SAF soldiers, diplomats, politicians, and ordinary civilians. “The conditions were deplorable, with super congestion, only one window, and no toilets – necessitating the use of plastics. There was no place to sleep, and everybody’s hands were tied constantly,” Khatem told the Darfur network.
“When RSF intended to torture someone, they would take them to a three-square metres interrogation room, and the sounds of torture echoed through the hall,” he said. “They offered me to work with them, but I kept saying no, as no army outfit ever does any good for civilians.”
The first instance of torture occurred on the same day Khatem arrived in the detention centre. According to the report, “RSF soldiers took him to the interrogation room and applied a hot iron to his spine, chest, legs, and neck while asking questions about his connections with the army, police, or anyone from the National Congress Party” (NCP, established by ousted President Omar Al Bashir*).
“He was also subjected to beatings with batons, whips, and rifle butts, accompanied by slurs such as ‘you are a slave, an illegitimate child’ [..] They even melted plastics and dropped droplets on his body. He sometimes faced torture two or three times a day. “RSF soldiers would only stop torturing him when he lost consciousness, leaving him in the detention room. After some time, they would return to check if he was still alive,” the report reads.
“There was a designated room for execution where RSF threatened to end his life unless he agreed to work for them. Occasionally, RSF would conduct torture in front of other detainees, but most often, they took their victims to the detention room. Each instance of torture was accompanied by demands to collaborate, sparing those who agreed from further beatings.”
“There was a severe lack of food, with RSF soldiers providing remnants of what they had eaten – sometimes once a day or once in two days.”
Khatem also witnessed the rape and death of men and women by the RSF during his time in detention.
The victim told the DNHR that the RSF soldiers primarily spoke Arabic and French, “and the survivor claims to have seen Russian mercenaries entering and leaving the detention campus in their Tundra cars. RSF also collected data on all detainees.
“One day, while disposing of plastic bags filled with urine, he noticed Red Cross workers on the campus. He learned that the Red Cross had a list of names consisting of 50 innocent civilians detained by RSF without any justification, demanding their release. He believes his name was on the list, but RSF concealed all detainees, asserting that only 50 people were detained for alleged involvement in looting, and they would soon be released. He vividly recalls an RSF soldier brandishing his gun at a Red Cross worker.”
On July 14, SAF bombings began in and around the facility, causing chaos. Seizing this moment, Khatem and six other detainees escaped. As they ran, RSF soldiers fired at them. One detainee was fatally hit, another was injured, and a third detainee was seized.
The remaining escapees sought refuge in the El Jereif neighbourhood along the Blue Nile in eastern Khartoum, “where RSF control was weak”. Khatem and another escapee found a milk van willing to transport them from Khartoum to El Hasaheisa in El Gezira, which was controlled by the SAF at the time. SAF soldiers checking the roads suspected them of working for the RSF and detained them. “As soon they found a chance, both of them escaped.”
From there, they managed to reach Wad Madani, capital of El Gezira, where they underwent a medical check-up. As a result of the beatings, Khatem had lost five teeth. The medical examination revealed that his back tissue was torn.
They split in Rabak and the civil engineer managed to cross the border with South Sudan on a donkey on November 29. “At the border, the South Sudan army questioned him about his injuries, and he lied, claiming to have had an accident as he could not trust anyone.”
He arrived in Uganda on December 13, where he now lives in a hostel, seeking medical treatment. “I cannot sleep at night,” he told DNHR there. “Anywhere I go, I feel unsafe, the RSF is following me everywhere. I have lost my life.”
* Almost immediately after the SAF-RSF war broke out, on April 15 last year, RSF Commander Lt Gen Mohamed ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo more openly began to frame his enemy, SAF Commander Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan, as an anti-democratic radical Islamist whilst presenting himself as a proponent of a democratic Sudan – which was ridiculed on social media. Most Sudanese analysts, however, have also, repeatedly, pointed to “remnants of the Al Bashir regime” (1989-2019) being behind the army’s politics. “The ongoing war is not a war of dignity or sovereignty, but a war of [Al Bashir regime] remnants to return to power, even if this leads to the destruction of the entire country and its division,” politician Khaled Omar said in November. A month later, Sudanese human rights groups condemned the detention of civil society activists by Military Intelligence and Islamist groups, and accused elements of the ousted Al Bashir regime to return to power through the continuation of the war.