ANNEX: Project Update, August 27, 2022: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur
From the coordinating counsellor of Team Zamzam (translated by Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen)
This monthly report (for August) comes at an exceptionally challenging time for Sudan and its people: an extremely debilitating economic crisis has resulted from the collapse of large parts of the Sudanese state under the military junta; there is increasingly frequent violence against civilians in various parts of the country, including Darfur, where sexual violence against women and girls continues unabated, creating a stifling environment of fear. The political crisis created by the October 2021 coup has brought into sharper focus the danger posed by the growing power and impunity of the various Janjaweed militias and their allies in the Rapid Support Forces. Present efforts by these forces focus on violently dismantling Zamzam IDP camp; they pose a threat of assault that confronts the people of Zamzam every day.
And yet Zamzam camp has become a symbol of steadfastness and defiance of the Janjaweed militias, as well as their allies. There is an adamant refusal to allow the dismantling of Zamzam, now home to some 400,000 internally displaced persons.
The focus of this month’s update is on the latest events around Zamzam, and an attempt to expose the consequences of Janjaweed violence, including the near collapse of the current agricultural season.
Words of appreciation to supporters and donors
Before providing the details of the current report, we of Team Zamzam and the entire camp population, would again like to take this opportunity to extend our utmost gratitude and sincerest appreciation to the supporters, volunteers, and the donors—without whom this project would not have been able to reach such extraordinary milestones in just over two years. No matter how many times the words of appreciation are repeated here, they will never be sufficient to convey the sense of sheer joy and the sense of hope that has been generated by this project.
This project has healed many badly wounded hearts, filling them again with happiness and aspirations. It has rescued several hundred young girls from suicidal tendencies, severe depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, isolation, and withdrawal to the dim corners of fearful shadows; they have been reintegrated within the same society that has stigmatised many of them. Furthermore, the project had provided food packages for thousands of the most impoverished families struggling to make daily ends meet.
During the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, this project has also provided thousands of sanitizing bars of soaps for families who couldn’t afford to buy one. Team Zamzam has gone door to door to provide Covid-19 prevention advice. The Team has also travelled to many villages neighbouring Zamam to meet families and offer help to victims of sexual violence, and counseling fistula victims on possible surgery.
The list of achievements is long and space does not allow us to list here all the achievements of the past two years. But we would like to reiterate here that nothing could have been achieved without your tremendous support.
The deteriorating security situation in Darfur and failed attempts to dismantle Zamzam
As noted above, the focus of this month’s report will be on the security crisis facing Zamzam camp and surrounding areas, all of which have been suffering from a sequence of attacks by the Janjaweed militias seeking to destroy Zamzam and the camp’s spirit of resistance and defiance that have become so prominent in recent weeks.
Why has Zamzam camp been specifically targeted? Why do the Janjaweed militias, allied with the notorious Rapid Support Forces, hate Zamzam camp and its people? Why do they want to dismantle it? Why are the other security services complicit in this effort? Why are they biased against the residents of Zamzam camp, refusing to protect Sudanese civilians? And where is the so-called “joint force” that was to protect the people of Darfur?
All of these questions deserve frank and plausible answers, from both local and national authorities. For now, displaced persons receive no answers at all.
The violence against unarmed civilians and the excessive use of force that began with the outbreak of the war in 2003 in Darfur did not end with the departure of the head of the regime, Omar al-Bashir, even though it was he who established the various militias that have carried out brutal attacks for almost 20 years. Indeed, since the overthrow of al-Bashir in April 2019, the frequency of violence has only increased.
Perversely, this heinous, brutal violence has occurred not only in the immediate aftermath of Sudan’s 2019 revolution, but it is taking place now and is conspicuous to the very people pretending to represent the voices of Sudan’s long-marginalized people. The effort by the junta in Khartoum and its militia allies—pre-eminently the Rapid Support Forces commanded by Sovereign Council vice-chair “Hemeti”—to dismantle Zamzam is precisely what has generated the fervent spirit of resistance embodied in the spirit of the camp’s youths, women, and men who have defied all the efforts at further oppression. Zamzam is the emblem of resistance.
Out of the scores of IDP camps throughout Darfur, Zamzam camp has stood out as steadfast, resilient, and stubborn—willing to fight the attackers and who will never surrender. This is because while Zamzam isn’t the only camp where people have endured prolonged suffering, it is the locus of a new, iron-like determination that has been formed out of the great amalgamation of various Darfur’s tribes, who have poured into Zamzam from all parts of Darfur, fleeing the scorched-earth policies of the al-Bashir regime. Zamzam camp is like a small Darfur in the heart of Darfur, and its diversity actually reflects a Darfur that has been lost but that its sons and daughters dream of with longing and resolve. Zamzam is a small-scale Darfur that glorifies its heroes, heroines, its ancient and modern stories, and has long been generous to its guests.
Fabrications concerning attacks on the people of Zamzam
“In the camps, especially here in Zamzam camp, we have for a long time become accustomed at night to sleep with our shrouds on the bedside; but these days we sleep with digging tools for our own grave.”
These are the words of Zamzam IDP committee member and schoolteacher Hassan Bushara, who reacted angrily after the August 7 attacks on Zamzam. And one of the sheikhs in the camp, whose village was attacked at the same time, said that they had lost an unknown number of people from his small village, which does not exceed 42 houses; they are still awaiting more news to come, as many villagers fled in panic.
As for the Displaced Persons Committee, the main body representing the displaced of Zamzam camp, they went further and accused the newly formed protection force (“Daqo Jowa”). Daqo Jowa, which comprises several rebel groups that signed the so-called Juba peace agreement, are colluding with the Janjaweed. One of those fleeing the recent attacks said: “The joint force (Daqo Jowa) is not neutral because it is controlled by the Rapid Support Forces, and indeed is aligned with the Janjaweed.”
The attitude of this “protection force” was demonstrated by an incident of supposed camel theft—and ensuing kidnapping—on August 7, on the outskirts of Zamzam camp. The joint force came only six hours after the incident was reported; and only on the second day did they call the Janjaweed to make sure of the location of the supposedly stolen camels which in fact were east of El Fasher. This violent incident was triggered by the theft of camels, but in fact had nothing to do with the people of Zamzam camp. Even so, the Rapid Support Forces insisted that the people they had kidnapped from the camp should be kept hostage until the stolen camels were retrieved.
One of the survivors of this treacherous attack against defenseless citizens working on their farms during the attack told the Zamzam team:
“Last year we could not continue our work on the farms, as was the case the year before, and now for the third time in a row we are unable to work on the farms. What do these Janjaweed want from us?”
Um-Gesma, whose fourteen-year-old daughter was sexually violated before her eyes in the latest attacks, is heartbroken, deeply traumatised, physically trembling, emotionally falling apart, and embittered by the savagery of the attackers. She only managed to utter a few words, in which she said: “Why do these monsters make me suffer this much? It is better for them that I didn’t have money to buy a Kalashnikov…but someday I shall, insha-allah.”
Moreover, the IDPs’ bloc in Zamzam camp issued a statement to condemn the bloody events in the villages surrounding the Zamzam camp, and said in its statement the following:
Statement of Zamzam’s people concerning the attacks of August 7
“First, we offer a salutation of glory and eternity to the souls of the martyrs who fell today. Speedy recovery for the wounded and injured, and shame upon the cowards.
To our steadfast people:
“You saw the brutal, barbaric attack launched by the armed militias this morning on innocent and defenceless women and children in the areas west of Zamzam—the villages of Arba-Beyout and of Amshaba. This attack is the consequence of the failed attempts and desperate plans to dismantle Zamzam, home to the survivors of genocide and those fleeing the inferno of war systematically conducted against oppressed people.
“These unfortunate events followed an outrageous fabrication, accusing women and children coming to Zamzam of stealing 15 camels belonging to the pastoralists from the Kolgai area. The ultimate aim of such destructive contrivances is to sabotage the agricultural season, as they did last year; but people acted sensibly and convinced the pastoralists that there were no camels nor any trace of them entering the camp. Even so, the militias returned to the farming areas and found women and children on their farms. They beat them, tortured them, looted their property, and then they took them as hostages to the Kolgai area. The citizens are:
1/ Mubarak Adam Wadi
2/ Bush Adam Wadi
3/ Yasin Abkar Yaqoub
4/ Ismail Abdullah Haroun
5/ Manheil Adam Shogar
6/ Randa Hamed Shogar
7/ Hawa Idris Minawi
8/ Abkar Yaqoub Al Duma
9/ Saadia Hassan
“Immediately after the news, IDPs of Zamzam informed the joint force of the incident, but they did not move; this prompted people to take rapid action and move to save lives. But while people were on their way to rescue those who were held hostage, heavily armed Janjaweed ambushed them near the village of Um Hashaba; four houses in the village endured a rain of bullets, which resulted in the death of the Abdul Majid Muhammad Daoud Domi and wounded several others to varying degrees. These recurring tragic events against our displaced people are among the episodes of Janjaweed militia crimes against innocent people; we in Zamzam camp affirm the following:
 We condemn this barbaric attack and immediately demand that the state and regional government arrest the criminals who committed these bloody crimes against innocent people and bring them to justice;
 We warn any party and anyone who is tempted to harm the innocent residents of the IDP camps, or try to dismantle the camp outside the framework of the displaced people’s protocol in the Juba Peace Agreement, that we will respond;
 We demand the speedy implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement and the formation of an effective and neutral joint force to protect citizens;
 We warn the Janjaweed militias against their repeated attempts and plans to invade the camps, sometimes through provocations, and sometimes by fabricating false accusations and creating theft out of thin air.
The above statement of IDPs was followed by another detailed report which explained the background of the recent attacks and the failed attempts of the Janjaweed to dismantle Zamzam camp, which has become a symbol of steadfastness and defiance in light of suffering and intimidation.
Explanatory report released by Zamzam youth
“A series of Janjaweed crimes and episodes of abuse are constantly stalking our lives and dignity as citizens throughout Darfur, and Zamzam camp in particular. These emerge from an operational headquarters that is run by the joint intelligence services of the Rapid Support Forces militia and their allied armed forces. This nefarious group has resorted to creating chaos by stealing camels from the Arab nomadic group that inhabits the occupied area of Q’lab, and who live the lives of camel shepherds. The leaders of the Rapid Support Forces militias and their cohorts east of Jebel Marra continually fabricate malicious charges and lies against the displaced and those living as farmers in the neighbouring areas for the purpose of creating hostile tensions, inevitably leading to the killings of innocent citizens and more destruction.
“The situation has become clearer now that we have created a monitoring system that traces the development of various events from the very beginning. The monitoring system was triggered by the fact that a party not affiliated with Zamzam camp brought in more than ten camels, intending to suggest that the camels had actually entered the camp. But in fact, the trail of the camels veered towards the mountains southeast of El Fasher. Nonetheless, armed militias kidnapped nine men, women, and children, most of whom were working on their farms in the village of Arbaa-Bouyout, about three kilometers away from the camp, according to our estimates.
“For our part, we have learned from various sources that the kidnappers are led by the local Captain of the Rapid Support Forces, Mudassir Bahia, brother of Ahmed Bahia, who is commissioner of nomads, shepherds, and farmers. He is the head of coordination for Arab nomads in North Darfur; he is an influential media leader in the “Third Front Militia,” known as Tamazuj. This pre-planned event forced the families of the kidnapped people to leave the camp in panic, hoping to rescue their sons and daughters. But when they reached Amshaba garrison, they were surrounded by the militias led by Mudathir Bahia himself, with riders on carts, camels, motorcycles, and horses—all coming from the northern direction of the army camp in Amshaba.
“In connection with these events, it is worth noting that the governor of North Darfur state, Nimr Muhammad Abdul Rahman, had previously formed a committee led by Oumda Juma Dagalo, uncle of Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo (Hemeti), Vice-President of the Sovereign Council and the supreme leader of the Rapid Support Forces militia. An attempt was made to retrieve the camels and return the kidnapped people. The militia Gomaa Dagalo was accompanied by Omda Youssef Shaibo, the mayor of the militia occupying the Q’lab area, who had detained several citizens pending the return of the camels.
“After tensions had calmed, everyone was called to return, in the presence of the commander of the garrison and the joint security force. It was then that the followers of Omda Shaibo, led by Muddathir Bahia, launched a violent attack with a barrage of bullets on the people. This attack occurred right before the joint security force that was present in the garrison. But instead of striving to preserve the security and safety of the returnees and intervene, the joint forces withdrew and left everyone to be hunted down by the militias of Muddathir. And as a result, Imam Muhammad Ahmad Suleiman and Sheikh Abdul Majid Muhammad Daoud, Sheikh of the village of Qirbi (the administrative unit of the Tabit locality Tawila), were killed and the six other people were wounded.
“We, as young people in Zamzam camp, along with the families of the victims, have in the wake of these events proved to be the catalyst for efforts to accelerate action as much as possible to restore our dignity and the rights of our martyrs and our terrified children, using all resources available to us. We have made clear the gross failure of the forces of the armed movements that signed the Juba Peace Agreement to protect us despite our support for the current peace process.
“We are obliged to inform everyone, and travellers to and from El Fasher in particular, not to risk passing through Zamzam unless our demands result in actions against the culpable parties. Our first demand is to arrest Mudathir Bahia and the turbans of Juma Dagalo, and Youssef Shaibo—and they be brought before a fair, transparent, non-complacent investigation body without delay.”
[A sit-in, blocking the road from Nyala to El Fasher, has continued for a week as of this writing; Zamzam sits astride this road—ER]
The RSF, armed Arab militias, and Dagalo’s family are working in concert (by the coordinating counsellor of Team Zamzam)
All of this occurs while Zamzam IDPs are battling against conspiracies and intrigues by the Janjaweed to dismantle the camp. But other camps throughout Darfur have not been spared from these brutal efforts to end them. The common denominator in all these repeated violent attacks is a desperate attempt to dismantle the camps; and the aggressor is always the same: not only the Arab militias loyal to the Rapid Support Forces, but also clearly the direct involvement of the family of Mohamed Hamdam Dagalo (“Hemeti”), led by his uncle Oumda Geoma Dagalo.
These recent tragic events clearly demonstrate to us the extent of the involvement of the Dagalo family and their various militias in the killings and forced displacement of villages throughout various areas of Darfur. And what is sickening is the silence of those who are pretending to represent the displaced persons now living under constant threats. These systematic attacks against unarmed civilians, even in their camps, make clear that these Arab militias, motivated by greed, intend to seize every inch of what remains of land in Darfur.
The conflict in Darfur has not ended. In fact, it has started again in a different way from before, and now those who are stirring up conflict are the very ones who control the state’s vast holdings in gold and other resources; they also possess all the tools of extreme political repression. During the past twenty years, some in the international community and many of Sudan’s friends have tirelessly given voice to the plight of Darfurians. And this led for a while to intervention by an international protection force. But the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was a very poor operation and now has departed; in the absence of effective mobilisation of a robust protection force, the situation on the ground will continue to deteriorate daily. The prospect of ending this cycle of violence is not in sight; and meanwhile these Arab militias have taken advantage of the complete absence of a meaningful security environment and do as they please.
Work and activities completed during the month of August 2022
17 routine inspection visits have been carried out in four sections of camp
34 adult patients suffering from various illness were accompanied to different hospitals in El Fasher
14 children between ages 6 and 12, mostly suffering from malnutrition, were accompanied to hospital in El Fasher
13 pregnant women have been accompanied to gynecology ward
8 meetings were held with different representatives of neighbourhood committees to listen to people’s complaints and concerns about the latest attacks
6 meetings were held with agricultural committees and different representatives of shieks and Omdas to listen to the challenges of this year’s farming season
1 emergency visit to the Umm-Hashaba and the Arbaa-Bayout village to inspect the condition of those recently displaced by the latest attacks
Distribution of food and other essential necessities for August 2022 (through August 26)
Despite the frightening security concerns that preoccupy everyone’s mind, the problem of daily food shortages, triggered by skyrocketing prices and growing scarcity, is pushing many displaced persons to the verge of famine. In past years, most of the inhabitants of the IDP camps, in particular the residents of Zamzam camp, have depended for most of their livelihood on rainy season farming in the areas to the southwest of the camp, and on various marginal jobs, including building, cleaning, and brick-making on the outskirts of El Fasher city. But these small sources of income have been deliberately and severely compromised by rampant insecurity.
The portions of food that displaced persons receive from the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) is grossly insufficient: rations provided cover less than 25% of what is needed by the IDP population. Rates of infant mortality resulting from malnutrition are higher than ever. As mentioned earlier in this report, with our modest budget Team Zamzam have been able to distribute food packages for the most impoverished families in the camp on a daily basis and this will continue despite the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities. We are committed to this because:  without essential necessities on hand to offer, it will be difficult for the team to approach people who are exhausted by hunger, and  these small gestures of help open up paths of good and healthy human relationships with the inhabitants of Zamzam, which facilitates the strengthening of friendship and strong bonds.
The daily suffering resulting from scarcity and high prices has become acute, tearing at the social fabric as people are becoming increasingly impatient, indeed desperate. To understand life in Zamzam, one must imagine the daily suffering in the shanties of these camps, one must put oneself in such a position where it is impossible to buy even a small amount of sugar to make breakfast tea for children, who are yawning from the hunger of the past night. The coming period—normally the fall harvest—will certainly see food needs here in Zamzam camp increase dramatically; we will do all we can to help those who are struggling for a daily meal.
For this month, as usual, sugar, flour and pasta were bought and distributed to the poorest groups:
284 families benefited from these distributions. Each included 3 pounds of sugar, 1 kilo of flour, and half a kilo of pasta.
For this month, hygiene essentials for girls are being temporarily suspended; funds are being re-directed to provide as much additional food as possible.
Sessions with girls continue at the same pace and progress is clearly noticeable. Despite the autumn season, which finds most people preoccupied with the economic difficulties and security challenges, new victims are still attending our counseling sessions on an ongoing basis. The counseling sessions programme in Zamzam camp is the only established sanctuary that exists and is known to the victims of sexual violence in North Darfur; it is not surprising that not only girls and women from Zamzam attend, but also girls and women from surrounding areas, even as far away as Abushouk IDP camp, come to attend sessions.
[Abushouk adjoins the northern part of El Fasher; Zamzam lies about 15 kilometers southwest from the center of El Fasher, a city and state capital with a large geographic footprint—ER]
The success story of these private sessions with victims of sexual violence lies in the determination, hard work, empathy, dedication, resourcefulness, and the professionalism of team Zamzam’s counselors. They work tirelessly to create images of a better future for the frail victims, many of them on the verge of psychological collapse. Many young girls have been rescued from despair and have regained their strength sufficiently to resume their normal lives. Many more have turned away from their depression, trauma, and self-isolation to become committed volunteers and ardent social activists, giving our collective efforts greater value.
Number of counseling sessions:
73 individual counseling sessions
29 group counseling sessions