AFP: Zeinab was fleeing war-torn Sudan’s capital to seek safety when she found herself pinned to the ground, a rifle to her chest, as a paramilitary fighter raped her.
“I was sure we were about to die,” she told AFP, recounting how she, her younger sister and two other women, one with an infant daughter, were all sexually violated. Dozens of women have reported similar attacks – in their homes, by the roadside and in commandeered hotels – since the war erupted in mid-April between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
A month into the war, said Zeinab, the women were fleeing Khartoum when their minibus was stopped at an RSF checkpoint. Terrified, they were marched into a warehouse where a man “in civilian clothes who seemed to be their commander” ordered Zeinab to the ground, she said.
“I was pinned down by one man while the other raped me,” she told AFP. “When he was done, they switched. “They wanted to keep my sister with them. I begged them on my hands and knees to let her go.”
The women were eventually allowed to leave and escaped to Madani, 200km away, where they reported the attack to the police and went to a hospital. When Zeinab later recounted their ordeal, she had found refuge in another country.
“We’re not the first people this has happened to, or the last,” she said. Sudan’s war has claimed at least 1,800 lives and displaced over 1.5 million people.
The horrors of the conflict have been compounded by a wave of sexual violence, say survivors, medics and activists who spoke to AFP. Most have requested anonymity or, like Zeinab, used a pseudonym for fear of reprisals against them and others.
Both Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF, led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, have accused their enemies of such attacks. And human rights lawyer Jehanne Henry said that indeed both sides have committed “notorious acts of sexual violence” in the past.
The governmental Combating Violence Against Women and Children Unit has documented 49 assaults in the first two weeks of the war. In all but six cases, survivors identified perpetrators “in RSF uniform”, said unit chief Sulaima Ishaq al-Khalifa, adding that there are “new reports night and day”.
“There is not a single woman in Khartoum now who feels safe, not even in her own home.”