Project Update, November 25, 2021 | Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur
November 25, 2021
Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen and Eric Reeves, Co-Chairs; Julie Darcq, Online Campaign Coordinator; Nancy Reeves, editor and financial facilitator
Overview (Eric Reeves)
The current situation in Sudan, including Darfur and Zamzam IDP camp, continues to be dominated by the consequences of the military coup in Sudan executed early Monday morning, October 25. The leader of the coup, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, immediately dissolved the Sovereign Council, purging it of meaningful civilian representation. Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok was arrested, and later moved to house confinement. He has since been reinstated but few think he will be more than a figurehead for continued military rule. Civilian opposition to the agreement brokered by the UN’s feckless Volker Perthes has been extraordinarily vigorous. All significant civilian opposition groups and political parties are adamantly opposed to the agreement, and eleven ministers in what was Hamdok’s cabinet have resigned.
The largest civilian opposition coalition, the Forces for Freedom and Change—the very coalition that helped bring Hamdok to power as prime Minister in late summer 2019—have decried the agreement. Over the past month, defiance in the streets of the greater Khartoum area has resulted in more than 40 people being killed by police using lethal force, and many more have been severely wounded. At least one hospital has been attacked as have medical personnel.
Many more deaths have been reported, if not fully confirmed, in other parts of Sudan.
One of the first acts following the October 25 coup was the shutdown of telecommunication and Internet access. The main goal of the junta was to prevent coordination of opposition forces. But reporters in Khartoum with whom I have spoken say that there are work-arounds, and an international tech company is offering instructions on how to create VPNs (“Virtual Private Networks"). Crowds have been extremely large and angry in all parts of Khartoum.
The communications blackout has also made it extremely difficult to obtain information from Darfur, and Zamzam IDP camp and El Fasher are no exception. Gaffar has been remarkably resourceful in gathering what information he can from Team Zamzam, but telephonic connections are only sporadically available and frequently terminated abruptly.
What is clearest in Gaffar’s communications this month is that the blackout has given Arab militias (“Janjaweed”) a sense of complete impunity, and North Darfur has been the site of the worst violence (West Darfur has also seen a sharp uptick in violence by militias). The result is a new flood of people displaced and fleeing in all directions. Most attempt to reach Zamzam or Abu Shouk IDP camps to the southwest of El Fasher; details of the displacements and the response by Team Zamzam may be found in the ANNEXto this update. There are many reports of rape and sexual violence, as well as murder and the wholesale annexation of farmlands. The agricultural season in this part of Darfur has been disastrous, producing acute food shortages and a lack of income for the farm workers who were forced to flee.
Through it all, Team Zamzam has proved as resilient and effective as usual. They now possess an extraordinary body of knowledge about the needs of various sections of Zamzam, even particular individuals and families.
While there have been fewer fistula surgeries this month (five rather than seven) psychosocial counseling continues apace, and approximately 3,000 women and girls have now been assisted in dealing with the trauma of sexual assault in one way or another over the past sixteen months. This is a truly remarkable achievement, and a measure of the dedication, cohesiveness, and compassion that are the hallmarks of their work to date.
Our monthly budget of $6,500 is used to maximum benefit and has grown significantly over the past 16 months.It is unclear, however, whether this level of funding will be possible in the New Year. Unfortunately, fistula surgeries, with an inclusive cost of some $500 per surgery ($400 to the surgical clinic, another $100 in transportation, medicines, sanitary kits, and dedicated attendance by several salaried counselors both before and after surgery), may be cut back severely. Given the urgency of food needs, the wider need for pharmaceuticals, Covid prophylaxis—and the salaries of the 20 counselors and three security/transportation personnel—it is sadly the case that fistula surgeries, for all their life-changing effects, may not have as large a place in the monthly budget going forward.