Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 8 January 2021

Invisible female victims of armed militia attacks in Darfur

By SIHA Network*

On October 19th 2020, an armed group burned down the IDP camps of Oum Assal, Babanousa and Om Zegerat in Gerida locality. Gerida locality is composed of a number of villages surrounding Gerida town, located in the south of Nyala city - the capital of South Darfur state. Gerida has a population of over one hundred and twenty thousand people, most of them are IDPs.

Between 2006-2020, Gerida has witnessed a sequence of massacres, ongoing displacement and tribal and ethnic tensions leading to hundreds of civilians losing their lives and thousands losing their livelihoods. As a predominantly farming community that is situated at a key crossroad for pastoral communities, Gerida is susceptible to convergences of conflicting interests. The 2006 | Darfur (Abuja) Peace Agreement - engineered by the Sudanese regime at the time and the International Community - enabled the restructuring of the local governance in Darfur, allowing the Fallata ethnic group in Tulus locality to take Sadoon area, which is known to be part of Gerida locality and Masalit ethnic group land, according to the Darfurian Hakoora system. This arrangement has aggravated the pre-existing tensions in Gerida and has contributed to its current state of instability.

Systematic extrajudicial killings by armed militia in Darfur and the absence of rule of law have persisted even after the Sudanese revolution and the formation of Sudan’s transitional government These circumstances must be recognized as critically important issues, which are leading Sudan into a brutal cycle of civil armed conflicts, that victimize hundreds of civilians in Darfur.

On October 19th (2020), 10 civilians were killed in Gerida: 4 women and 6 men, while 36 people were injured and more than 900 families displaced. Innocent women and men in Darfur continue to be victimized by the attacks of armed militia, while the central government remains quiet. The South Darfur State government has formed a committee to investigate the attack, however, after more than two months, no findings have been shared with the public. SIHA Network’s partners and affiliates have been documenting the violations that have occurred in conjunction with these attacks, and refuse to allow the dehumanization of the victims and survivors.

Today we mourn the loss of the four women killed in Gerida’s attack and we honour the memory of:

  1. Nawal Mohamed Abbakar Adam, 19 years old, secondary school student, killed in the Abdoos attack of 19th October 2020; (pictured on the right)
  2. Fatima Yahia Abdullah Ahmed, 79 years old, mother of five, killed in the Abdoos attack of 19th October 2020;
  3. Azza Musa Abdel Rahman Abdallah, 14 years old, student, killed in the Abdoos attack of 19th October 2020; (pictured on the left)
  4. Khadija Mohamed Zain Shafaq, 65 years old, farmer and mother of seven, killed in the Abdoos attack of 19th October 2020;

"The attackers were on horses and donkeys, wearing plain clothes. I do not know how many of them there were. They covered their faces with their shawls. Security and army forces completely vanished during the attack, even though there were many forces in the area before the attack. They disappeared when we were ambushed,” says a witness of the Gerida attack.

SIHA Network’s sources said the recent attacks date back to August 2020, during the rainy season, in which armed herders led their herds into the farmed land in Abdoos area (part of Gerida locality), causing resentment from the residents of the area. The armed herders killed 17 people and injured 21. As a result, the state government assigned a military force to guard Abdoos and the surrounding areas. The military force dispersed the militia on Monday the 19th of October, from the Dakka area (another area within Gerida) when the militia tried to forcibly reside in that area. However, during the attack on the IDPs that led to the killing of the women and men civilians, the security forces completely vanished.

Reported incidents of sexual violence against men and boys in Rahad Abu Dreisa

On the 26th of December (2020) a group of armed militia cattle-herders attacked fishermen in the valley of Rahad Abu Dreisa area, within the Gerida locality, killing 15 people and injuring 34 people - including 3 minors. According to eyewitnesses, an RSF team was present at the time of the attack, but they did not intervene to prevent or stop the assault. The recent attack was preceded by a couple of assaults from the armed herders. In a previous incident, the herders forced fishermen and boys to engage in sexual activities at gunpoint. The governor of South Darfur visited the area on 27th of December (2020) and established an investigation committee.

Impunity and the normalization of killing in Darfur
SIHA Network is alarmed by the level of impunity and violence these militia attackers are being afforded, as well as their lack of clear identification during the attacks. This has led to the continuation of attacks without holding the attackers accountable. In the past year, no perpetrators were brought to justice for any of the numerous massacres which took place, and the victims’ families have not been issued any kind of official apology or reparation payment for the unjust loss they have suffered. Furthermore, perpetrators of sexual violence continue to enjoy complete immunity under the law. While Sudan continues to be reluctant to comprehensively address sexual violence and rape crimes within its legal framework, survivors face accusations of adultery, criminalization of sexuality, which could lead to execution by hanging or 100 lashes (Article 62 of Evidence Act 1994).

According to the SIHA Regional Director, the illusion of stability in the region has led to a drop in reports of human rights violations and media coverage, and a corresponding decline in nationwide solidarity with the victims and their families. The absence of rule of law, involvement of the military and RSF forces in allowing the attacks are critical threats to peace and security in the region and across Sudan, especially during this fragile transitional period.

SIHA Network demands that the transitional government:
Provide an immediate update on the findings of the investigation committees formed during the transitional period, including the investigation committees of the Kutum, Fatabarno and Gerida massacres.

Honour the memory of the victims by having the Transitional Sovereign Council leader and the Prime Minister issue condolence letters to the families of the victims.

Emphasize demobilization of armed militia and work to end factionalization on regional and local levels, seeking inclusive peace within Darfur and the rest of Sudan as this is especially important in light of the RSF’s pledge to protect civilians after the exit of UNAMID peacekeeping troops.

Fundamentally reform Sudan’s legal framework, which continues to enable violations of human rights in Darfur, particularly women and girls’ rights. To this end, the transitional government must invest in rule of law institutions, while also rewriting the vague and conflicting laws concerning sexual violence/abuse that are ill-suited to address the prevalent violations of SGBV survivors’ rights and dignity.

Assume responsibility for the continued prevalence of sexual violence against women, girls, men, and boys across Darfur, and take action to reduce this violence by holding perpetrators accountable and immediately reforming the laws that provide impunity to military and paramilitary forces.

Launch the security sector reform taskforce immediately, to redefine the concepts of civilian protection and peacekeeping, including training of law enforcement personnel at all levels to ensure that rule of law is reflected on the ground.

*SIHA Network is a network of civil society organizations from Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Somaliland, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Uganda, and the coastal area of Kenya