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Sudan: UN experts appalled by use of sexual violence as a tool of war

30 November 2023

GENEVA (30 November 2023) – UN experts* today expressed alarm about the escalation of violence in Sudan, particularly sexual violence committed in the conflict, primarily by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

According to UN sources, more than six million people have been forcibly displaced inside and outside the country since fighting began in mid-April 2023.

“We are appalled by reports of widespread use of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, as a tool of war to subjugate, terrorise, break and punish women and girls, and as a means of punishing specific communities targeted by the RSF and allied militias,” the experts said. The experts noted that similar gender-based violence has also been used against non-Sudanese migrants, refugees and stateless persons.

In August 2023, the experts raised concerns at reports of multiple serious violations perpetrated in particular by the RSF. This included reports of sexual exploitation, slavery, trafficking, rape, and acts tantamount to enforced disappearances, which in some cases may have been racially, ethnically and politically motivated, including for expressing opposition to the presence of armed groups in an area. Since then, reports of forced prostitution and forced marriage of women and girls have also emerged.

“These serious acts are reportedly no longer concentrated in Khartoum or Darfur, but have spread to other parts of the country, such as Kordofan,” the UN experts said. They called on the international fact-finding mission for Sudan, established by the Human Rights Council in October 2023, to investigate these human rights violations and crimes with a view to ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable.

“We urge the warring parties to cooperate fully with the fact-finding mission and its investigations,” the experts said.

The experts expressed dismay that despite initial assurances from the RSF that all forms of violence, including gender-based violence attributed to it, would be investigated impartially, acts of violence had continued unabated. These include attacks on camps and neighborhoods where internally displaced persons reside in which the RSF and allied militias have reportedly looted property, tortured, and summarily executed displaced Sudanese. “The RSF has failed to demonstrate its commitment to address these abhorrent atrocities by their forces and those associated with them,” they said.

The scale and seriousness of violence committed against women and girls are also grossly underreported, as many survivors cannot come forward out of fear of reprisals and stigma, the experts said.

“We are gravely concerned at the inability of victims of violence and sexual exploitation to receive the attention and care that they need, due to insecurity and lack of access of humanitarian and relief actors to the affected areas,” they said. The experts warned that victims and survivors of such crimes, in particular children, may suffer long-lasting traumatic impacts on their physical, mental, and sexual health and development. Their access to adequate support services must be ensured as well as access to gender-sensitive reparations for the harm and violations suffered.

“The world must not turn a blind eye to the atrocities and large-scale sexual violence unfolding in Sudan,” the experts said.

“The international community must send a strong and clear message to parties to the conflict that they will be held accountable for their actions and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law,” they said.

*The experts: Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ashwini K.P., Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Angkhana Neelapaijit, Grażyna Baranowska, Ana Lorena Delgadillo Perez, Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances; Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children; Gehad Madi, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Claudia Flores, Ivana Krstić, Haina Lu, and Laura Nyrinkindi, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

The experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For additional information and media requests, please contact [email protected].

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts

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