Sudanese activists are calling for an investigation into reports of rape, sexual assault and other gender-based violence during the fighting in Sudan.
Activists say they have credible information that members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, have been carrying out such abuses in Khartoum and the West Darfur region.
Sudan’s Gender-Based Violence Unit has documented nearly 90 cases of sexual assault and rapes of women and girls since fighting began three months ago between the paramilitary RSF and the Sudanese armed forces.
Suleima Ishaaq Al Khalifa, who leads the unit, told VOA there’s a much larger number of cases going unreported because of fears of being stigmatized within communities.
“The people are not reporting very much because of the lack of health services available nearby,” she said, adding that victims “don’t want to expose themselves, their family members,” to their communities.
Various Sudanese women’s groups say they have collected “credible” accounts from survivors who identified the perpetrators as RSF fighters.
Sumeya Musa, an advocacy and human rights team officer with the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, shared with VOA an account of one of the victims of sexual violence in West Darfur state, who said women there are struggling to access emergency contraception and medication that can prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
“I sat with a lady who expressed that she has never had an experience worse than rape since she was born,” Musa said. “She has been raped before her young daughter, and she described the incident as horrible.”
Amira Saleh, 26, fled Khartoum over the past week to the eastern town of Port Sudan. She told VOA the fighting had trapped her and many other women and girls inside houses in southern Khartoum for more than 75 days.
Saleh said that during this period, they were not allowed to go out at all. She said they were afraid that if they did go out and were seen by the Rapid Support Forces, they would be exposed to rape or sexual assault. She said it was a deliberate tactic used by the RSF against women.
Any sexual assault is punishable under Sudanese law, said Salwa Abdulmajeed, an advocate and a human rights defender.
Abdulmajeed said rape is one of the crimes listed in the Sudanese penal act, outlined in Article 149. It is punishable with 100 slashes and an imprisonment period not less than 10 years. He also says it is listed as a crime against humanity that can lead to a death penalty.
Yousif Ezzet, political adviser to the RSF’s commander, denied the allegation, saying there have not been widespread sexual attacks committed by the RSF.
“We have received reports of incidents, but not ‘widespread incidents,’” he said.
On Thursday, the U.N. accused the RSF of carrying out massacres of civilians in West Darfur after finding mass graves with at least 87 bodies, including women and children.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk condemned the killings and called for a prompt, thorough and independent investigation, saying that those responsible must be held to account.