Conflict and chaos in Sudan taking a devastating toll on women and girls

Special Conflict and chaos in Sudan taking a devastating toll on women and girls
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Women wait for aid to be distributed in South Darfur. (AFP)
Special Conflict and chaos in Sudan taking a devastating toll on women and girls
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Sudanese women ride their donkeys as they move away from violence in Sudan's capital Khartoum on May 28, 2022. (AFP)
Special Conflict and chaos in Sudan taking a devastating toll on women and girls
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Smoke billows behind buildings in Sudan's capital Khartoum amid ongoing clashes between the regular army and the paramilitary RSF. (AFP)
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Updated 08 June 2023
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Conflict and chaos in Sudan taking a devastating toll on women and girls

Conflict and chaos in Sudan taking a devastating toll on women and girls
  • Sudanese women’s rights activists accuse armed combatants of using rape as a weapon of war
  • RSF’s predecessor, the Janjaweed, implicated in similar crimes during the 2003-20 Darfur conflict

CAIRO: When the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces transformed the streets of Sudan’s capital Khartoum into a war zone, 48-year-old math teacher Muna Ageeb Yagoub Nishan and her children were forced to flee.

Before embarking on their long and perilous journey to Egypt, Nishan, her 21-year-old daughter Marita, 22-year-old son George, and 16-year-old son Christian hid in their home in Khartoum’s Manshi district, as battles raged in the street outside.

Free of consequences and accountability amid the lawlessness since the conflict began on April 15, the armed men roaming their neighborhood pose a threat to the civilian population, particularly women and girls.




Fighters of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) drive an armored vehicle in southern Khartoum on May 25, 2023. (AFP file photo)

“They want to traumatize us,” Nishan told Arab News from the safety of an apartment in Egypt. “Now the RSF are raping women. People think I am still in Sudan and are sending me digital pamphlets on what to do if I get raped so that I won’t get pregnant.”

According to Hala Al-Karib, a Sudanese women’s rights activist and regional director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, gender-based violence, including rape as a weapon of war, is being perpetrated by members of the paramilitary RSF.




Hala Al-Karib, regional director of Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa. (Supplied)

“That doesn’t mean that Sudan’s armed forces don’t have a track record of sexual violence, but present victims of violence and rape are all stating that RSF soldiers have committed such crimes,” Al-Karib told Arab News.

Before they fled, Nishan and her children were like many Sudanese — trapped inside their homes, fearing for their lives. As the fighting raged, they quickly ran out of food and were forced to survive on rationed water until they found their opportunity to escape Khartoum.

When the RSF came knocking, Nishan’s 26-year-old son, Nadir Elia Sabag, answered the door while the family escaped through the back. Sabag was supposed to reunite with the family, but, according to Nishan, he is still in Khartoum, his exact whereabouts unknown.




Passengers fleeing war-torn Sudan rest before crossing into Egypt through the Argeen Land Port on May 12, 2023. (AFP)

When the family caught the bus that would take them to Egypt, Nishan says it was attacked by prisoners recently released by the RSF from Al-Huda prison in West Khartoum’s Omdurman, with one passenger robbed at knifepoint.

Eventually, the bus was allowed to continue, and, after several days, Nishan and her children arrived in Cairo. “I have lost everything,” said Nishan. “l sold my house to pay for my husband’s cancer treatment in Egypt.”

FASTFACTS

Sudanese women’s rights activists accuse armed combatants of using rape as a weapon of war.

RSF’s predecessor, the Janjaweed, implicated in similar crimes during the 2003-20 Darfur conflict.

Nishan had returned to Sudan only two years ago following the death of her husband. Now, all that she had rebuilt since then has been lost. “I have lost my car, my gold, my documents,” she said. “I lost everything with this war.”

Nishan and her children arrived in Cairo 10 days after Sudan’s descent into chaos. Today, they live in an apartment with other Sudanese families in the city’s El-Khalifa El-Mamoun district, awaiting an appointment with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR — scheduled for October.




University student Marita Elia Joseph Sabag (left) and math teacher Muna Ageeb Yagoub Nishan. (Supplied)

“We don’t know what we will do next month, where we will go and what we will do for work,” Nishan said. “We hope we can make it to Europe.”

Her story is not unique. It is shared by thousands of other refugees who have arrived in Egypt in recent weeks, now the primary destination for people fleeing the conflict in Sudan.

According to UNHCR, there have been 42,300 documented arrivals in Egypt to date, although the true figure is likely far higher. The UN agency estimates around 300,000 people could arrive over the coming months.




Passengers fleeing war-torn Sudan rest before crossing into Egypt through the Argeen Land Port on May 12, 2023. (AFP)

The ongoing conflict in Sudan has had a devastating impact on women and girls, who are among the most vulnerable demographics in times of violent upheaval everywhere in the world.

Women and girls displaced by the fighting in Sudan are at risk of rape as a weapon of war or falling prey to human traffickers. Indeed, the RSF’s predecessor, the Janjaweed, was implicated in similar crimes during the 2003-20 conflict in the country’s western Darfur region.

Reports and testimonials from the time concluded that the Janjaweed waged a systematic campaign of rape designed to humiliate women and ostracize them from their own communities.




Picture taken in April 2004 shows the village of Terbeba after being burnt by the "Janjaweed" militias in the western Darfur region of Sudan. The militia had been transformed into the RSF, which is now engaged in a destructive power struggle with the Sudanese Armed Forces. (AFP file)

Many female Sudanese political activists had already experienced gender-based violence, including rape, at the hands of security forces during the pro-democracy protests of 2019. The latest conflict has made matters far worse, with armed men accused of acting with complete impunity.

“Since the start of the hostilities, UNHCR and humanitarian protection partners have been reporting a shocking array of humanitarian issues and human rights violations, including indiscriminate attacks causing civilian casualties and injuries, widespread criminality, as well as sexual violence with growing concerns over risks of gender-based violence for women and girls,” Olga Sarrada Mur, a spokesperson for UNHCR, told Arab News.

“UNHCR is working with the governments of the countries receiving refugees from Sudan as well as with humanitarian partners to ensure all the reception and transit centers have staff trained to treat these cases in a confidential manner and provide survivor-centered services, including health support but also psychosocial support, counseling as well as legal aid services if needed.

“Sexual exploitation and abuse prevention measures are being developed in the new sites hosting refugees fleeing the conflict.”

Given the pace of arrivals in Cairo and other cities, any assistance for people displaced by the Sudan conflict may be too little. With Nishan and her family’s appointment at the UN still months away, they say they have received no help whatsoever, while their apartment in Cairo is paid for by a friend.

For those unable to escape Khartoum and other violence-torn areas, the situation is dire. Activists such as Al-Karib urge women trapped by the fighting in Sudan to remain vigilant.

“The RSF have been implicated in sexual violence for over two decades,” said Al-Karib. “The overall structure is very flawed, enabling all kinds of crimes against civilians to happen. Citizens must take the issue of protection into their own hands (and) provide broad guidance for women and girls to protect themselves and (their) communities from sexual violence.”

She added: “The truth is that sexual violence has been happening in Sudan, in conflict and post-conflict areas, for the past 20 years.”




In this 2021 photo, Sudanese women rally in Khartoum against sexual violence that had been happening in the country in the last 20 years. (Twitter: @Sihanet)

According to her, the culture of impunity in Sudan, which has allowed such crimes to go unpunished, means the scale of the problem has been misreported, both regionally and internationally, for many years.

“The Sudanese regimes, including the transitional government, which took (power) after the 2019 revolution, have never addressed the issue of sexual violence and the perpetrators of sexual violence, who were mostly military forces and law enforcement,” Al-Karib said.

“They have enjoyed impunity and protections. Sudan has a very flawed and very problematic legal framework that constantly seeks to criminalize survivors of sexual violence, accusing them of adultery, and so on.

“This has led to the fact that sexual violence is now becoming normal — normalized — as are the perpetrators of sexual violence.”




Social media post, whose authenticity cannot be verified, claims an armed group broke into a university dorm and raped two foreign women. (Supplied)

Perpetrators often assume they are “invincible” due to this culture of impunity, added Al-Karib, “which is quite prevalent, particularly among the armed groups and the military.”

Gender-based violence is not the only issue impacting women and girls that aid agencies are trying to address amid the crisis in Sudan.

UNHCR says it is providing reproductive healthcare, with medical teams prioritizing assistance for pregnant and breastfeeding women, particularly in terms of nutrition.

Agencies are also monitoring the threat of human trafficking — already a concern in the east of the country prior to the latest bloodletting. “Conflict and disasters and the protection issues they generate create conditions for trafficking in persons to thrive,” said UNHCR’s Mur.

“Ongoing fighting limits the capacity to identify new victims, but mechanisms are being put in place by UNHCR and partners at border areas … to identify potential victims of trafficking.”

For Nishan and others who managed to escape to safety, all they want is peace and security. “All I wish from the world,” said Nishan, “is to see my children continue their university studies and then go on to work and live happily.”

 


Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US MQ-9 drone in Yemen’s Maareb

Updated 8 sec ago
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Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US MQ-9 drone in Yemen’s Maareb

Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US MQ-9 drone in Yemen’s Maareb
Houthis’s spokesman Yahya Sarea said that this drone “is the sixth UAV that has been shot down so far“

CAIRO: Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis said they downed a US MQ-9 drone in Yemen’s southeastern province of Maareb, the group’s military spokesman said in a televised speech on Wednesday.
Houthis’s spokesman Yahya Sarea said that this drone “is the sixth UAV that has been shot down so far.”
On May 21, Houthis shot down another drone over Al-Bayda province in Southern Yemen.
The group, which controls Yemen’s capital and most populous areas of the Arabian Peninsula state, has attacked international shipping in the Red Sea since November in solidarity with the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas militants, drawing US and British retaliatory strikes since February.

Israel has tactical control of Gaza-Egypt border corridor, military official says

Israel has tactical control of Gaza-Egypt border corridor, military official says
Updated 9 min 34 sec ago
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Israel has tactical control of Gaza-Egypt border corridor, military official says

Israel has tactical control of Gaza-Egypt border corridor, military official says
  • The Israeli military’s operation in the Rafah area has in 10 days discovered 20 tunnels that cross into Egypt

JERUSALEM: An Israeli military official said on Wednesday Israeli forces had achieved tactical control over the Philadelphi Corridor that runs along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
“It doesn’t mean that we have boots on the ground across all of the corridor but it means we can control, and we have the ability to cut off the oxygen line that Hamas has used for replenishing and movement in and around that area,” the official said, referring to the Palestinian Islamist militant group.
The official said that the Israeli military’s operation in the Rafah area has in 10 days discovered 20 tunnels that cross into Egypt and that this information was passed on to Egypt.


Lebanese army under attack from Israeli machine guns

Lebanese army under attack from Israeli machine guns
Updated 29 May 2024
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Lebanese army under attack from Israeli machine guns

Lebanese army under attack from Israeli machine guns
  • UNIFIL commander: ‘Death and destruction are heartbreaking’
  • Hezbollah said they had attacked “the newly installed espionage equipment at the Al-Raheb site, hitting it directly and destroying it”

BEIRUT: A Lebanese army site on the outskirts of the border town of Alma Al-Shaab came under machine gun fire from the Israeli army on Wednesday. Nobody was injured in the incident.
Israeli artillery also targeted the outskirts of Mays Al-Jabal, Wazzani, Jebbayn, Chihine and Kfarkela.
A statement from Hezbollah said it in turn had attacked “the newly installed espionage equipment at the Al-Raheb site, hitting it directly and destroying it.”
Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee said air defenses had intercepted a “suspicious aerial object” in the Ras Naqoura area without activating any sirens.
“Warplanes attacked a military building containing Hezbollah members in the Naqoura area. The planes also attacked Hezbollah buildings in Ramyah and Al-Tiri in southern Lebanon,” he said. A raid on the town of Naqoura caused minor injuries to several citizens.
The head of the United Nations Interim Force in southern Lebanon, Gen. Aroldo Lazaro, urged all parties to cease their fire, recommit to Resolution 1701, and begin the work toward a political and diplomatic solution, which he said was the only way to resolve the situation.
The security situation in the area meant UNIFIL did not hold any celebrations to mark the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers on Wednesday.
In a statement, Gen. Lazaro said: “The death and destruction we have seen on both sides of the Blue Line is heartbreaking. Too many lives have been lost and disrupted. Thousands of people remain displaced and have lost their homes and their livelihoods. As peacekeepers, we recommit each day to our work to restore stability.”
Peacekeepers from 49 nations are currently in the south and report regularly to the Security Council.
Yesterday, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French president’s special envoy to Lebanon, met with the head of Hezbollah’s Loyalty to Resistance parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammad Raad, at its office in Beirut.
He arrived on Tuesday evening on his sixth mission to discuss developments in the country with Lebanese officials.
Le Drian met with several officials, including caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, along with other heads of opposition Christian parties and the National Moderation bloc made up of mostly Sunni deputies.
According to the leaked information, the French official insisted on the need for consultation among Lebanese powers to name a president.
Le Drian warned: “Lebanon’s political feature will be gone if the crisis remains and if the presidential vacuum persists. Lebanon will save nothing but its geographical feature.”
Berri assured Le Drian that he would “be adhering to calling for unconditional consultations focused on the presidential election and moving to the parliament to conduct successive voting rounds with a list of candidates until a new president of the republic is elected.”


World Central Kitchen stops work in Rafah after ‘attacks’

World Central Kitchen stops work in Rafah after ‘attacks’
Updated 47 min 45 sec ago
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World Central Kitchen stops work in Rafah after ‘attacks’

World Central Kitchen stops work in Rafah after ‘attacks’
  • “In the face of Israeli operations in Rafah, countless families are being forced to flee once again,” the charity said on X
  • The charity had recently resumed its work in Gaza after suspending operations in April

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: The World Central Kitchen nonprofit, which provides meals in war-torn Gaza, said it had stopped its operations in the Palestinian territory’s southern city of Rafah due to “ongoing attacks” in the area.
The US-based charity was founded by celebrity Spanish-American chef Jose Andres to provide food to communities facing humanitarian crises and disasters.
“In the face of Israeli operations in Rafah, countless families are being forced to flee once again,” the charity said on social media platform X late on Tuesday.
“Ongoing attacks have forced us to pause work at our main kitchen in Rafah and relocate many of our community kitchens further north.”
The charity had recently resumed its work in Gaza after suspending operations in April following the killing of seven of its workers in three air strikes by an Israeli drone.
The deaths — of an Australian, three Britons, a North American, a Palestinian and a Pole — had triggered a global outrage over Israel’s military operations.
An internal Israeli military inquiry found that the drone team had made an “operational misjudgment” after spotting a suspected Hamas gunman shooting from the top of an aid truck.
In recent weeks, fighting in Rafah has intensified after the Israeli military began its ground assault there on May 7 after seizing control of the crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
Gaza officials said an Israeli strike on Sunday set ablaze a crowded camp for displaced people in Rafah, killing 45 and wounding dozens.
Israel’s military said it has launched an investigation into the strike but insisted its munitions alone “could not” have caused the deadly blaze.
Since the start of the Rafah assault, delivering aid into Gaza has become more difficult, aid agencies say.
Even when medical and other aid makes it into Gaza, it remains “very challenging” to transport and deliver the goods both in the south and to the north, Rik Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization’s representative in the Palestinian territories, told AFP on Tuesday.


Houthis claim second ship attack in Mediterranean

Houthis claim second ship attack in Mediterranean
Updated 29 May 2024
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Houthis claim second ship attack in Mediterranean

Houthis claim second ship attack in Mediterranean
  • The missile and drone forces hit a Greece-flagged oil and chemical ship, Minerva Antonia, in the Mediterranean,
  • Those ships were targeted because they breached a ban on sailing to Israel

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia on Wednesday said that they had attacked another commercial ship in the Mediterranean as part of the fourth phase of their missile and drone campaign against ships in support of the Palestinian people.
Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said that the missile and drone forces hit a Greece-flagged oil and chemical ship, Minerva Antonia, in the Mediterranean, the second such claim in less than a week.
He also said the militia had attacked the Marshall Island-flagged bulk ship Laax and the Malta-flagged bulk carriers Morea and Sealady in the Red Sea.
Those ships were targeted because they breached a ban on sailing to Israel.
The Houthi official said that they launched cruise missiles against two American ships, Alba and Maersk Hartford, in the Arabian Sea.
Last week, the Houthis claimed their first strike on a ship in the Mediterranean, as they extended their missile and drone operations into new waters.
Since November, the Houthis have seized one commercial ship, sunk another, and fired hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones and remotely controlled and explosives-laden boats at commercial and naval ships in international waters off Yemen, as well as in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean.
The Houthis say they want to put pressure on Israel to end its war on Gaza while also targeting US and UK ships for backing Israel and bombing Yemen.
The Houthis’ announcement of new attacks came hours after the US Central Command reported that the Houthis fired five ballistic missiles from areas under their control at international ships in the Red Sea on Tuesday, three of which struck the bulk carrier Laax.
According to the US military, the ship’s crew is safe and sailing to its destination and that neither the US-led marine coalition nor any other international ship reported being hit by the other Houthi missiles.
Five drones fired by the Houthis over the Red Sea on Tuesday morning failed to reach their target after being destroyed by CENTCOM forces.
Two UK maritime agencies reported on Tuesday that a commercial ship in the Red Sea was damaged after being struck by three missiles off Hodeida in Yemen.
At the same time, Houthi media said on Tuesday that US and UK aircraft carried out two raids on the Al-Jabanah area in the western province of Hodeida, but provided no specifics about the targets.
The US and the UK have conducted airstrikes on Houthi-controlled Yemen, saying they are targeting drone and missile launchers as well as storage sites.