NGO joint statement Sudan Special Session May 2023
The Human Rights Council must urgently establish an international investigation in Sudan
Today, the UN Human Rights Council held the 36th Special Session on the human rights impact of the ongoing conflict in Sudan. Sudanese women human rights defenders and women’s groups, supported by ISHR, urged the international community to effectively respond to the devastating humanitarian crisis and the impacts on women and girls including women human rights defenders (WHRDs), and urged the Council to establish an international investigation mechanism with sufficient resources including to investigate the threats and reprisals against WHRDs for their work, and to document sexual and gender-based violence.
Sara Abdelgalil, Sudanese doctor and women defender delivered a video statement at the Council on behalf of International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Sudanese Women Rights Action (SUWRA), WHRDMENA Coalition, African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, Sudan Documentation Centre, Noura center for combating sexual violence, Sudan Monitor Platform, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Canada for Africa Group (Canafgroup), the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), CIVICUS, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Vital Voices Global Partnership, Global Fund for Women, and FIDH. Watch the statement here and read the text here.
During the negotiations on the draft resolution, ISHR on behalf of Sudanese Women Rights Action (SUWRA) and WHRD-MENA, urged States to ensure that the resolution condemns sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and highlights the impacts of the war on women and girls including sexual and reproductive health as well as lack of support services for survivors of SGBV; reaffirms the importance of participation of women and their demands, amplifies the critical work of WHRDs on the ground despite the imminent risk to their lives and safety and condemns the increasing threats against WHRDs and demands to ensure their protection.
Increasing numbers of Sudanese WHRDs are receiving threats that are risking to put their lives in danger since the beginning of the war in Sudan on 15 April 2023. Three female healthcare professionals, two of them are prominent activists, received alarming threats within the last week. The threats were made against the WHRDs and their families, following a defamation campaign against W/HRDs calling for ending the war. Members of the former regime with some supporters of the military led this defamation campaign on social media. At least four women healthcare professionals received direct threats on their phones and social media. The threats were clear in the language used that it was coming from former regime members or supporters. Other WHRDs inside and outside Sudan have reported similar threats, some of them are lawyers, journalists and activists. The lives and safety of dozens of WHRDs in Sudan has been at serious risk since 15 April. WHRDs in Darfur and Khartoum reported different forms of worrying threats, including receiving information about assassination lists as part of former regime members’ retaliation plans after their escape from prison on 25 April 2023. Despite the imminent risks to their safety and lives, women groups and WHRDs are leading the work on the ground to respond to the crisis, filling the gaps of the absence of the basic government services and humanitarian aid organizations, collecting local donations and resources to provide food and medical care, helping in organising evacuations for families and themselves and helping most vulnerable communities, and providing healthcare and support for survivors of SGBV.
Both parties in the conflict to halt hostilities, protect civilians and open humanitarian corridors.
Both parties in the conflict and the international community to ensure the protection of women human rights defenders.
Both parties in the conflict and the international community to ensure the protection of women from sexual violence and guarantee the provision of essential services for survivors.
The Human Rights Council to establish an international investigation mechanism with sufficient resources including to investigate the threats and reprisals against WHRDs for their work, and to document SGBV.
Since the start of the war in Sudan on 15 April 2023, reported deaths have reached a total of 600 and reports of over 5000 injuries. Dozens of women were killed and hundreds were injured. At least four women working in the health sector were killed, two of them were physicians. Women were killed and injured in the areas of hostilities in Khartoum, Nayala, Alobied and Alfashir. Women were also injured and killed in the intercommunal fighting in El Geneina, western Darfur. In the hostilities in Alfashir in north Darfur, at least 23 women were killed in two days on 15 and 16 April. In Nayala of South Darfur, at least 15 women were killed, among them were four girls. “My sister’s child was 11 years old. She was shot on the third day of the fighting in Nayala. A bullet injured her on the chest, and she died immediately”, said one woman in South Darfur.
In the violence erupted in Elgeneina in west Darfur in the end of April, more than 82 women were killed, 16 of them were burned to death as their displacement shelters were burnt. All hospitals are out of service in the city. “ Injured people are bleeding to death, we lose 5 to 6 people everyday. We do not even have first aid supplies to cover wounds, we use clothes to wrap up injuries to stop bleeding,” said a WHRD from Elgeneina. During shelling in Khartoum on 1 May, three women tea sellers were killed on the spot. Women street vendors are risking their lives going out under fire to work to feed their families with a complete absence of humanitarian aid for people in Khartoum. People in Khartoum are starving while suffering from lack of water, electricity and basic healthcare. The exchange of fire between the two parties in residential areas and in front of health facilities resulted in the killing of pregnant women on their way to give birth. Women locked inside their homes fearing death by bullets are struggling to seek health care for sick children and secure food for them.
A homeless girls’ shelter in Khartoum was shelled on 16 April and a disabled 11 year-old girl was killed, and a 9 year-old girl in the shelter was injured in her stomach, according to reports by a girl from the shelter who witnessed the shelling. The elderly women’s shelter in Khartoum was also affected by the fighting. More than 30 elderly women are trapped between the fighting area with limited food and without electricity which is threatening their health and wellbeing. An orphanage home in Alamygoma which is hosting over 400 children is suffering from lack of supplies including children’s milk.
Incidents of sexual assaults by men in uniform from both fighting parties were reported in Khartoum, and other states in Sudan. At least seven cases of rape were reported in Khartoum. At least two cases followed medical and legal procedures that included “form no.8”, which is a legal and medical reporting form for physical assault in the Sudanese law. A lawyer reported that this process was completed for at least two survivors. Other cases were not able to pursue any procedures due to the security situation, and continuous fighting. A foreign woman working in Khartoum was sexually assaulted within the first week of the fighting.
Disrupted communications, internet services and banking services hindered thousands of people from leaving Khartoum. Women and children remain the most affected by these conditions. Thousands of women and children were forced to leave their homes in Khartoum and several states. Displacement of tens of thousands of women and children increased the humanitarian crisis in some states such as Aljazeera, River Nile state and eastern states. Women and children are suffering on the borders of Egypt, Ethiopia as well as others who are trying to cross to Saudi Arabia through the Red sea. Thousands fled from Darfur to Chad despite the lack of humanitarian aid, as there are more than 300 thousands already living in refugee camps in Chad since 2003.
The prices of transportation from Khartoum to other states and to other countries has reached skyrocketing prices. Short trips within Khattoum city to evacuate some families and women at risk cost more than 500 USD. The shortages in gas and the lack of humanitarian corridors has limited the chances of thousands of people to evacuate from Khartoum. “We are stuck on the Egyptian borders for two days without food or water, no bathrooms or places to sleep. Most of those stuck here are women and children”, said a woman displaced from Khartoum recently.
Thousands of women working as street vendors living in the outskirts of Khartoum and in IDPs camps in Darfur lost their sources of income, as they depend on their daily work selling food and tea on the streets. These women are heads of households of tens of thousands of families in Khartoum and Darfur. Those in Khartoum don’t have resources to leave with skyrocketing prices.
Most essential services are not working including electricity, water and healthcare in Khartoum. In Darfur, electricity was working in Nayala, but Alfashir was suffering from an outage of electricity. Over 70% of hospitals and healthcare institutions are out of services in Sudan since 15 April. According to UNFPA, 219,000 pregnant women are at risk of losing their lives and children, due to the lack of reproductive health services. Sexual and reproductive healthcare and access for support services for victims of SGBV are one of the main challenges for women across Sudan, and for women in Khartoum and Darfur in particular.
Situation of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and women’s rights groups in Sudan
WHRDs in Sudan are facing unprecedented risk to their lives, but the threats and challenges to them under this conflict are not only because of the war. WHRDs are being targeted during this conflict by former regime supporters for their positions of calling for an end to the war. Women journalists, political activists and lawyers are especially at risk following the escape of former regime leaders from prison.
“As WHRDs from Darfur, we are at serious risk with the return of the former regime members. They publicly threatened activists in the markets, on social media and in social gatherings here in Darfur. One of the former regime security members said to some activists in the market, “we will finish our fight with the RSF and you will be our next target”, said a WHRD from Darfur.
In Khartoum, WHRDs, women activists and politicians were receiving similar threats. There are also reports of assassination lists that included journalists, lawyers, and members of resistance committees.
At least four women healthcare professionals received direct threats on their phones and social media. The threats were clear in the language used that it was coming from former regime members or supporters. Other WHRDs inside and outside Sudan have reported similar threats, some of them are lawyers, journalists and activists. The lives and safety of dozens of WHRDs in Sudan has been at serious risk since 15 April. WHRDs in Darfur and Khartoum reported different forms of worrying threats, including receiving information about assassination lists as part of former regime members’ retaliation plans after their escape from prison on 25 April.
Women professionals working in healthcare and other local humanitarian initiatives are facing accusations of allegiance with RSF from senior military officers. Allegations of treason against activists and professionals trying to work professionally without taking sides is threatening the work of NGOs, professional syndicates and local crises responses.
WHRDs calling for justice, accountability and peace are increasingly becoming targets of the parties involved in this conflict. Sudanese WHRDs are working in an increasingly hostile environment threatening their lives and ability to respond effectively to the current crisis. False accusations of treason and threats from both parties in the conflict and the smearing campaigns are putting the safety and lives of WHRDs and women working in healthcare and volunteers in local humanitarian initiatives, at imminent risk. Cybersecurity alerts are increasing due to the rise in hate speech and harassment against women activists in social media.
The lack of access for safety networks inside Sudan is increasing risks for WHRDs. Internet and communication disturbance disconnected WHRDs and women groups and have created increased challenges for documentation of violence against women and disrupted the ability of women groups to respond to this crisis.
While the fighting in Khartoum forced all women’s rights groups to shut down their offices, they continued working under increasing risks to the lives of the groups’ members. Despite this challenging situation, women groups and WHRDs are leading the work on the ground to respond to this crisis. They are trying to support in filling the gaps of the absence of the basic government services and humanitarian aid organizations. Women groups are collecting local donations and resources to provide food and medical care, helping in organising evacuations for families and themselves and helping most vulnerable communities, and providing healthcare and support for survivors of SGBV. Women in safer cities are working on providing shelter and food supplies collected from local communities.
On 10 May 2023, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) held a panel aiming to discuss ways to realise States’ obligations regarding the production of ESCR data and its use in policy-making, as well as how the Commission could work with States in realising them.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) examined the combined 12th to 15th periodic reports of the Republic of Senegal during its public session held from 3 to 13 May 2023 in Banjul, The Gambia. The report presents the progress made by Senegal to effectively implement the African Charter between 2015 and 2022.
For many rights holders, victims and human rights defenders, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) provides a vital lever increasing pressure for change at the national level, while for others it provides the last resort or only opportunity to expose violations, seek accountability, and garner support for their vital work towards a fair, equal and sustainable world. We need the HRC to be credible, effective and accessible to everyone. This is only possible if States demonstrate leadership, take action in line with objective human rights criteria, ensure that HRC members live up to their responsibilities, and fully cooperate with the HRC and its mechanisms.
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