Project Update, January 23, 2022: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur

January 24, 2022


Project Update, January 23, 2022: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur

Gaffar Mohammud Saeneenand Eric Reeves, Co-Chairs 

Julie Darcq, OnlineCampaign Coordinator; Nancy Reeves, editor and financial facilitator

Overview (Eric Reeves)

The political crisis in Sudan only deepens, and all signs are that the junta led byGeneral al-Burhan and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) Commander Hamdan Daglo (“Hemeti”) will all use all necessary force to retain its wholly illegitimate claim to power. Brutal violence directed against civilians peacefully demonstrating for democracy and civil rights has killed and wounded scores inKhartoum alone. Hospitals and medical workers have been targeted for assisting demonstrators and tear gas has been deployed against medical facilities. Just as the junta shows no signs of surrendering power, but rather continues to develop a facade of civilian rule, so countless civilians throughout Sudan have vigorously rejected continued military rule. Prime Minister Hamdok, a true civilian, resigned from his post on January 2. This has also energized vast numbers of Sudanese continue demonstrations, even in the face of extreme violence.

Put simply, the junta can maintain power only by increasing the brutality of its repressive measures, and it shows every sign of doing precisely this.

The two brutal men who control the military junta that now wields all                                                  power in Sudan

The violence in Khartoum has ensured the continuation of growing violence in Darfur, particularly North Darfur, severely destabilizing the region. A supposed “security force” of junta troops, the RSF, paramilitary elements, and former rebel forces ransacked and looted the former base of the UN/African Union mission in Darfur in Shangil Tobaha (North Darfur); this was followed by the looting of the UN’s World Food Program warehouse in El Fasher (capital of North Darfur, and almost twenty tons of desperately needed food aid was stolen.

Violence very close to Zamzam IDP camp was reported by my colleague Gaffar on January 20:

      "The pace of events is escalating in El Fasher against the backdrop of the killing of five people last night in the Salomeh area, about 20 kilometers south of El Fasher [Zamzam IDP camp is approximately 20 kilometers southwest of El Fasher]. Huge crowds from Zamzam on their way to theEl Fasher for demonstrations. Meanwhile, the governor was on his way to Zamzam camp, but the demonstrators blocked the road in front of the Wali [governor] forcing him to return to the El Fasher. [Gaffar subsequently provided conclusive evidence of Rapid Support Forces (RSF) participation in this violence.]"

Despite this deeply concerning escalation of violence, throughout Sudan—and the continuing shutdowns of telephonic and Internet communication—the coordinating counselor for our team in Zamzam has been able to provide a full account of the activities of the team in the period from the last week of December through mid-January 2022. My colleague Gaffar notes that it represents the achievements, as well as the requirements and challenges facing Team Zamzam in moving forward from our experiences of the past year and a half. The coordinating counselor’s observations and assessments appear in their entirety in the ANNEX, as do her very particular notes on recent violence in the region.

In her report, she highlights some notable achievements of Team Zamzam during this time period She also begins by noting the terrible insecurity that has accelerated since the beginning of the last agricultural season last June, culminating in the violence of the harvest season—and accelerating with the military coup of October 25, 2021.

Nonetheless, she notes the positive achievements of the team effort:

    “Since the beginning of last year (2021) to this present report, we as a team have experienced a number of challenges, as well as beautiful moments, that will live on in our collective memories and continue to inspire us in the face of new challenges.

    “We have learned agreat deal in how to improve our working performance, and the experience gained will help sustain us in our movement forward. Over the course of a year and a half now, we have had a number of accomplishments of which we are especially proud. In particular, I would note the remarkable overall improvement in the psychological state of the girls and women who have benefited from our counseling sessions, especially private talk sessions.

    “During this past period, we were able to change the lives of misery for the better for several hundred victims of sexual violence, as well as several fistula patients who were suffering from severe depression and post-traumatic effects.  Additionally, we have managed to create a friendly atmosphere and easy relationships between the team and the residents of Zamzam camp, as well as its surrounding areas. This in itself contributes importantly to our in overall progress, for it has been a cornerstone for consolidating our relationship with the camp's population and strengthening thevalues ​​of solidarity based on strong mutual cooperation.

    “All these achievements and successes would not have been possible without the tireless work and individual and collective efforts made by the cadres of Team Zamzam. But the real praise and appreciation must go to these supporters and donors whose contributions have changed the lives of hundreds of families and thousands of people who were on the verge of psychological collapse.”

One example comes in the form of a testimonial from a young woman who was provided with the means to undergo reparative fistula surgery in an El Fasher clinic:

     “My name is Zahra Abakar Mohamed. I’m 22 years old and from Katoul village. After suffering with pain for three years, last month I had my surgery and now I feel much better in terms of pain. Doctor said that I’m very lucky to get my surgery done as early as possible [sic]. I suffered badly from this pain for a very long time, but I did not lose hope that one day it would end. All I wish for now is to get my life back to normal so that I can help my mother and siblings. I thank everyone who has supported me for these many long months. I thank my sisters in the Team Zamzam who have always been by my side. Their moral support was the only thing that had encouraged me not to hesitate. I wish a speedy recovery to these girls who are on the waiting list for their chance.”

 Other examples are instanced in the ANNEX, along with a narrative from the coordinating counselor giving us reasons for hope, even as it offers a clear picture of the continuing, pervasive, and brutal of sexual violence in this region of North Darfur.

As much success as Team Zamzam has had in its counseling work, much other work remains to be done as new challenges present themselves. The coordinating counselor notes ominously:

"During the first two weeks of last November 2021, about 30 pregnant women in the Abu Zerega area died as a result of being infected with the hepatitis E virus

   [Hepatitis E is extremely dangerous for pregnant women, especially in their third semester. Many do die from hepatic failure, approximately 20 – 25% in countries with adequate health facilities, which Darfur does not have—ER].

   "This occurred in villages near and in Zamzam camp. The health situation has become alarming and threatens the lives of many pregnant women. This loss of twenty 30 women was followed byloss of another 40 women in December 2021, and this is creating panic. This extremely rapid spread of the hepatitis E virus requires urgent attention; the necessary health measures should be provided by the state authorities, but with the absence of competent health institutions in Darfur—and a complete disregard from the state authorities—the health condition of pregnant women is getting worse. We appeal to humanitarian and health organizations to respond to these tragic incidents and respond as soon as possible.”

Funding going forward for the monthly budget of salaries and supplies—and particularly fistula surgeries—has been sharply reduced and as a consequence this budget has been reduced from $6,500/month to $5,500 for the month of January; without major support, further reductions will be necessary. Indeed, the budget for February($4,000) includes the salaries of 19 counseling personnel (and two men tasked with security/transportation/and assisting in distribution)—$2,100; food and medical aid (and a substantial quantity of soap)—$1,500; but only one fistula reparative surgery (the balance of the monthly budget).

The current waiting list for such surgery is 87 women and girls. But given the sheer number of girls and women traumatized by sexual violence, the difficult decision has had to be made to reduce the number of fistula surgeries until we find greater funding (each surgical procedure has a cost of $400 at the El Fasher surgical clinic used byTeam Zamzam, as well as the costs associated with transportation and pre- and post-operative care).

Those wishing to assist in funding the work of Team Zamzam may send a check directly to Eric (Eric Reeves, 31 Franklin St., Northampton, MA 01060)---or purchase one of his woodturnings:

100% of the purchase price of every woodturning directly supports the project in Zamzam. There is absolutely no overhead for this project.

While not tax-deductible, a contribution should be made with the knowledge that our project operates with truly extraordinary efficiency, in ways matched by no humanitarian organization operating in Darfur that I am aware of.

[Previous updates are archived at: