Sexual violence is rampant in ongoing Sudanese conflict
by Doug Tilton and Sharon Kandel, World Mission | Special to Presbyterian News Service
On Thursday, Nov. 23, as most Americans were sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, the people of Sudan were experiencing an intensification of the long-running conflict between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and a paramilitary insurgency known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Several parts of the capital, Khartoum, saw fighting, artillery exchange and aerial bombardment, including Khartoum’s central market, where SAF airstrikes left dozens dead.
Since the SAF-RSF conflict first erupted in Khartoum in mid-April 2023, fighting has spread to other regions of the country, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths and the displacement of nearly six million people, including 2.6 million children.
Last week, the All Africa Conference of Churches expressed its concern and drew attention to the deteriorating situation in Sudan, citing “a need for immediate intervention in Sudan to avert the rising genocide and an end to suffering of the many innocent civilians who have become victims of this barbaric war.”
The Africa Centre for Justice and Peace Studies recently highlighted a less conspicuous aspect of the conflict — the escalation in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), including but not limited to sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
In August, a group of 30 United Nations human rights experts expressed alarm over widespread reports that men identified as members of the RSF are using rape and sexual violence of women and girls as tools to punish and terrorize communities. “Some of the reported rapes appear to be ethnically and racially motivated,” the experts said.
On the eve of the 28th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP28), the Women’s International Peace Centre and an alliance of more than 30 women’s organizations, most from Sudan and other African nations, appealed to participants to recognize the plight of women and girls in Sudan. “In Sudan, as in other conflict situations around the world, the fight for peace, gender equality and climate justice are inextricably linked,” they wrote.
“The distressing impacts of war, gender inequality and climate change are very visible in Sudan, which is currently grappling with the devastating effects of displacement, despair and the use of rape as a war tactic,” the letter continued.
“More than 4 million women and girls are now at risk of sexual violence in Sudan,” the authors noted. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 25 million people — more than half children — are in need of humanitarian aid, and over 40% of Sudan’s entire population have fallen into high levels of acute food insecurity between July and September 2023.
Sharon Kandel, the PC(USA)’s Regional Liaison for the Horn of Africa, spoke with Dr. Aida Weran on a recent visit to Juba, South Sudan. Weran, who is Dean of Office Affairs and professor at Nile Theological College and a member of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, had taken refuge in Juba along with her oldest son. “She told me what it was like living in the Omdurman area of Khartoum,” Kandel said. “She related how difficult it was to find food, not to mention the trauma of seeing dead bodies daily.” As Weran was leaving Khartoum, she witnessed a bus being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade that tore off its roof and left seven dead. She also said that she had heard from many people in Sudan who had experienced sexual violence.
“Sudan is hardly in the news anymore, but the humanitarian need is one of the largest in the world,” Kandel observed. “I heard from another Sudanese woman who had come to South Sudan for a meeting. She felt compelled to return to Khartoum to help the growing number of children on the streets, even though she was all too aware of the risks that women face.”
Contributions can be made to the PC(USA)’s efforts to accompany and support partners in Sudan by making gifts to:
- DR000097, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s crisis response and recovery initiatives in Sudan, or
- E052152, the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nationsand the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., to help to amplify the voices of PC(USA) partners in the public square.
“Prayer for the people of Sudan is so important,” Kandel said. “Please pray for justice, peace and the opportunity for all of Sudan’s people to live full lives.”
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