October 30, 2023 Update: Project Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur

October 31, 2023

Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen and Eric Reeves, Co-Chairs

Nancy Reeves, Editor and Funding Advisor; Julie Darcq, Online Campaign Coordinator

Overview (Eric): It has been a terribly grim month for Darfur, particularly with the fall of Nyala, capital of South Darfur and one of the most important cities in Sudan, both commercially and strategically. The Rapid Support Forces (RSF)—direct descendants of the infamous Janjaweed—have defeated the Sudan Armed Forces and taken full control of the city after months of fighting.

There is a growing sense that the Rapid Support Forces and their Arab militia allies are intent on controlling all of Darfur and are prepared to use genocidal means to accomplish that task. Here it is useful to recall the words of the most notorious Janjaweed leader in the early stages of the Darfur genocide. A memo from the headquarters of Musa Hilal in Misteriya, North Darfur, is unambiguous:

“Success” has already been considerable: in addition to the more than 350,000 the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported early this year are still in eastern Chad, the Commission reported a new surge of refugees into the country that borders Darfur to the east: 420,000 as of mid-September, mainly the non-Arab Masalit people, a number than continues to grow. This population may grow to 1 million in the coming months, and humanitarian capacity in the difficult environs of eastern Chad is woefully, shamefully inadequate.

Some of the camps for internally displaced persons have been emptied by the RSF (e.g., Kassab camp, near Kutum, northwest of El Fasher); others have seen tremendous growth in numbers, none more than Zamzam IDP camp. Its population may well reach half a million by the end of the year.

I asked Gaffar to solicit from Team Zamzam their essential assessment of the current situation, reflecting conditions on the ground in North Darfur. Here is what I received:

“With the fall of Nyala, the humanitarian catastrophe will deepen in the coming days. We desperately need for Darfur’s friends, especially the U.S., to take urgent steps to prevent a deepening of genocide in Darfur. We feel invisible and destined to endure a total occupation of Darfur by the RSF.”

Here we should recall that there is no international news reporting presence in Darfur, nor a human rights reporting presence. We learn what we do from Radio Dabanga, Sudan Tribune, and sources on the ground, of which Team Zamzam is now one of the most important at this point. This month’s report from Team Zamzam’s coordinating counselor reflects information coming from various sources, including those fleeing Nyala. In addition to providing the usual reporting on humanitarian conditions, she offers a bleak military/political picture of Darfur’s future. Her full report (received October 29) can be found here: ANNEX.

The account of the growing food insecurity; declining health conditions, including acute shortages of medicine; deteriorating sanitation; and the continuing blight of sexual violence—all are noted with the accuracy of first-hand knowledge. Indeed, one of the monthly tasks that all 20 counselors undertake is to conduct surveys of conditions throughout the camp, with a particular focus on new arrivals. They often arrive with nothing and are seriously malnourished, especially children. Water supplies are also most compromised on the camp periphery.

Despite the grim circumstances in which they work, the counselors continue with no lessening of their commitment or compassion. It is this compassion that enables their response to victims of gang-rape to be so effective. One example from this month’s report:

Ruwaida Khalil Ahmed is 22 years old and currently lives in Zamzam with her family. Ruwaida was diagnosed with fistula in 2021, but she hid her illness for a year, fearing the stigma she would endure. Finally her condition became intolerably painful and disabling. She said: "I was scared that people would find out what I was suffering from, but finally my  friend convinced me to approach the Sisters of Team Zamzam to reveal what I was going through. After waiting in an agony of pain for some time, I was taken to the hospital for treatment; there the doctor told me that the fistula was in an early stage and could be treated with a light surgical procedure and medicines. Thanks to the Sisters and God, thank God, I was treated within two months and now the pain has completely disappeared.”

Ruwaida said by way of conclusion: “Thank you Sisters for saving my life, and I wish speedy recovery for those who are still suffering.”

But Ruwaida is one of the lucky ones: the waiting list for fistula surgery remains painfully long. Moreover, rape is a constant in the lives of girls and women in Zamzam (also from this month’s report by the coordinating counselor, which highlights several such incidents):

Among the latest four victims, there is a child who does not exceed the age of eleven years, and one of the victims is Habiba Ibrahim Abdullah, who is 21 years old:

At six o'clock in the morning, Habiba left Zamzam camp, where she has lived with her family for several years, accompanying her little sister on their way to the city of El Fasher to work there as a cleaners. They left the camp and. within half a kilometer, a car with Rapid Support Forces license plates approached them on the roadside and offered them free ride to downtown El Fasher, but they refused their offer saying they were not heading to El Fasher:

Habiba said: “They immediately left us and headed towards El Fasher, but after about three minutes, we were surprised from behind. Two of them got out of their car and pointed their guns at us and said ‘jump in the car you little dirty black beasts.’ My sister screamed as loud as she could while shivering from fear but there was no one around to help us. Then they drove us for about an hour in the area west of camp. Then they began their sexual assaults: two of them took turns on me while the third one assaulted my sister.”

The two victims were sexually assaulted for nearly three hours before their attackers left them in this place in very difficult circumstances. After the assault, the younger girl couldn’t walk because of the intensity of pain and the older sister had to carry her on back for three hours before being helped by passers-by to reach the camp. The two victims have been taken to hospital in El Fasher for treatment and doctor confirmed that they have been sexually assaulted by force. Since the events, the two sisters fell into a deep depression and seemed on the verge of self-harm; but quick intervention by counselors from Team Zamzam is helping them to recover gradually.

Other victims of course do not survive their assaults or maintain a terrible silence.

Activities of Team Zamzam in October

The Team is particularly, and rightly, proud of the celebration of the third anniversary of our project in Zamzam, which occurred on October 1 (for details and photos, see here). The celebration was all the greater because a newly refurbished well had just become available—a tremendous boon for hundreds of families. The refurbishing of the well was funded by Sharon Silber, in memory of her parents.

Other activities in October by Team Zamzam (as reported by the coordinating counselor):

Provision on October 1 of a fresh lunch for some 1,500 children. The lunch event was organised by Team Zamzam, which cooked this ample fresh meal, which fed not only more than 1,500 children but those in their families also suffering from severe malnutrition.

Additional distribution of basic necessities to desperately needy families: These distributions included substantial food supplies composed of sugar, pasta, and lentils:

The number of beneficiary families: 165 families

The number of individuals benefited: 338 individuals

Three fistula patients have been accompanied for medical treatment, receiving both pre- and post-operative care.

Counselor provided Individual counseling to 46 girls and women traumatized by sexual violence; the conducted 17 group counseling sessions.

Water pump repair: Thanks to our donors, a fifth water pump has been repaired in D section to bring huge relief to more than 400 families.

A total of 78 persons suffering from various illnesses have been accompanied to different hospitals in El Fasher for treatment and medical consultation.

A total of 22 inspection visits have been carried out in the four sections of the camp to take notes on the concerns of people.

8 meetings were held with various groups from neighbourhood committees, women’s groups, and youth volunteers to follow up on the priorities that had been discussed in the previous meetings.

               How to Help

Assistance is urgently needed and will be greatly appreciated by Team Zamzam, and by the girls and women whose suffering they seek to alleviate. Increasingly importantly, the distribution of food and medicine presently is all that assists many within the camp who are daily moving closer to starvation (see above). Here I should also stress the tremendous efficiencies of purchases by a staff with local knowledge, as well as the value of their deep understanding of where need is greatest within this vast camp, swollen with recent displacements caused by insecurity.

NB: It is now possible to make a tax-deductible contribution to our project, using a portal on the website of a 501/c/3 organization operating in Sudan. Operation Broken Silence, working primarily on health and education issues in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, has created a special site for a tax-deductible contributions to our project, and we hope this makes contributing to the health and well-being of girls and women in Zamzam easier for Donors.

We also hope that all will keep in mind our project as a whole operates with truly extraordinary efficiency, in ways matched by no humanitarian organization operating in Darfur that I am aware of, a region I have been researching for two decades. There is absolutely no overhead for this project.

Those wishing to assist in funding the work of Team Zamzam may also send a check directly to Eric (Eric Reeves, 31 Franklin St., Northampton, MA 01060)


Purchase one of his woodturnings: https://www.ericreeves-woodturner.com/gallery

100% of the purchase price of every woodturning directly supports the project in Zamzam.


Previous updates are archived at: https://www.ericreeves-woodturner.com/blog/

A “You Tube” video of Eric describing the project can be found at: https://youtu.be/QsRUa7GoVgY


Eric Reeves, Ph.D.
Sudan research, analysis, asylum representation, and philanthropy
Fellow, Rift Valley Institute
Trustee, Darfur Bar Association
Formerly a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights.
Founder, co-Chair Project Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur  
Twitter: @SudanReeves