At least 20 Sudanese women and girls are reported to have been “abducted and held in inhuman, degrading slave-like conditions”, according to UN Human Rights spokesperson Liz Throssell. In a briefing at Geneva’s Palais des Nations on Friday, she expressed her deep alarm at these reports, urging for the captives’ release, and for them to be provided with the necessary medical and psychosocial support.
Throssell explained that women and girls are being “allegedly forcibly married and held for ransom” in areas of Darfur under the control of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
She referred to credible information obtained suggesting that over 20 women and girls have been taken, though the number could be higher.
“Some sources have reported seeing women and girls in chains on pick-up trucks and in cars. Initial allegations arose early in the conflict in the Khartoum area, which has remained largely under the control of the Rapid Support Forces”.
The UN spokesperson restated the calls of former High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk who condemned these “vile acts”, and urged for the prompt release of the abducted women and girls.
Officially, at least 105 people have been subjected to sexual violence since the hostilities in Sudan began on April 15. According to the Combating Violence Against Women Unit of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the documented rapes likely represent only two per cent of the total cases, “meaning there have been a possible 4,400 cases of sexual violence in 11 weeks alone”.
In mid-July, the Darfur Bar Association (DBA) said it received several reports about the existence of women slave markets in North Darfur, but could not confirm them.
As previously reported by Radio Dabanga, sexual violence in Darfur has been condemned by several international actors. The US State Department’s spokesperson Matthew Miller expressed concern at the numerous reports of rape, gang rape and other forms of gender-based violence against women and girls in West Darfur, among other areas.
The fighting in Sudan has forced an estimated 5.8 million from their homes.
According to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than four million women and girls are at risk of sexual violence across Sudan. It is difficult to acquire accurate data on the number of assaults, due to connectivity issues as well as fear of reprisals preventing survivors from speaking out.
Two women’s campaign groups, the Darfur Women Action Group and the Strategic initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA)*, have documented cases of women being kidnapped by the RSF for ransom.
“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 administration, who simply do not care about extending support to women and girls and civilians in the country”, argued SIHA in their statement last month.
“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, HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) kits, and other necessary care, without the risk of exposure to RSF reprisal.”
They also called upon international and regional actors to fund medical supplies.
* The SIHA Network was created by women activists from Somaliland, Ethiopia, and Sudan in the mid-1990s. Today they work as an inclusive and diverse feminist women’s rights network that holds a unique position working as a regional civil society network in politically volatile contexts. SIHA works in a variety of cultural, political, and geographical environments in Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Somaliland, Sudan, and South Sudan.