ANNEX: Project Update, September 27, 2022: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur
From the coordinating counsellor of Team Zamzam (translated by Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen)
This report for the month of September offers a special salute to the steadfastness and determination of the residents of Zamzam camp. They have defied apparently insurmountable difficulties, including relentless extortion by the Janjaweed militias, threats by the corrupt North Darfur security apparatus, constant hunger, and most recently torrential rains. Despite all this the people of Zamzam have courageously held a sit-in for three consecutive weeks, attempting to hold up to the world with their voices the grievous suffering they are enduring. Their courage has baffled the regional governor of North Darfur, the junta leaders in Khartoum, and even the Janjaweed.
We salute this remarkable demonstration of great spirit, courage, and determination.
Any careful observer of Sudanese affairs will have noticed recent developments that present dangerous security challenges in all the peripheral regions of Sudan, but especially in Darfur. The almost total lack of human security has caused considerable anxiety and in a great many cases, a mass exodus of people from their village communities to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
This bleak security situation, certainly in Darfur, has been the result of continuing growth by multifaceted armed militias and Janjaweed, all ultimately under the supervision of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), commanded by Hamdan Daglo (“Hemeti”), second in rank within the ruling junta.
Under the military junta, which came to power by military coup in October 2021, there has been a severe deterioration in living conditions. This results from the rapid decline of the national currency, which has badly exacerbated prices and produced widespread scarcity, including basic life necessities, even medicines. The rise in unemployment and latest natural disaster caused by extremely heavy rains has only increased the burdens on those already suffering. This bleakness and apparently hopeless situation hovers daily over the skies of Sudan, from morning to night.
The forced migration from village communities to IDP camps around provincial capitals has been a major factor in the deterioration of living conditions and forcing many residents of larger cities and the middle-class population to flee north out of Sudan. The grim reality is that some ninety percent of Darfur’s rural areas have been depopulated by the constant raiding of Janjaweed militias. Darfur’s people are overwhelmingly farmers whose living depends primarily on agriculture; and yet again this season people were not able to return to farming because of the constant threat posed by armed militias. Expectations for the agricultural harvest in Darfur this year are bleak, even to the point of despair, especially in North Darfur, which has been particularly affected by Janjaweed violence from early 2020 to present day. This is the greatest consequence of the flight by people who would normally be farming to the areas southwest of the capital of North Darfur (El Fasher).
Determination of the oppressed people of Zamzam camp is a model of tenacity
“The Lord, who created us and brought us together from the various villages of Darfur to bear the burden of suffering here for a period of more than eighteen years, is the one who will protect us.”
These are the words of Omda Idris Ismail when he was asked about the Janjaweed threats to the Zamzam sit-in as it entered its third week.
After suffering for so long from repeated attacks by armed militias—including occupation of the southwestern part of Zamzam camp in a brutal attack during the middle of last year’s farming season—the people of Zamzam have had enough. Despite repeated pleas from Zamzam residents to the regional government to intervene immediately to provide protection, nothing has changed. So on the tenth of August, the residents of Zamzam camp decided to begin a sit-in until their legitimate demands were met.
In the first week of the sit-in, many parties—in particular the government, represented by the governor of Darfur, the security apparatus, and the Rapid Support Forces—refused to believe in the possibility of success for this sit-in. But by the beginning of the second week, momentum for the sit-in began to increase day by day. From this point on, the sit-in took its place on the national and even international stage.
At the beginning of the second week, delegations of solidarity began to join the sit-in, coming from the many villages surrounding Zamzam camp. Marginalized neighbourhoods in El Fasher, students from El Fasher University, as well as omdas and sheikhs from other IDP camps came to show their solidarity with the plight of Zamzam residents. Mudassir Ibrahim, one of the students from El Fasher University and the deputy head of the delegation, told the Zamzam team:
“We, as a delegation representing more than twenty thousand students in North Darfur state, have come here to stand in one line to express our solidarity with the plight of the oppressed people of Zamzam camp, who have been suffering from constant attacks by the Janjaweed militias. And what we have witnessed here in terms of organising and the collective spirit of the people is tremendously encouraging.”
“Most of us came here thinking that we might be able to help them in drafting their demands, but what we have found here exceeded anything we could have imagined: the people are well organised, everything is in its place, and all the committees are well organised at checkpoints. They have been speaking from podiums, declaring that the sit-in is in the spirit of December 2018 revolution in Khartoum.”
This historic sit-in, which lasted for a period of three weeks, was a revolutionary moment that the Darfur region had not previously witnessed. This impassioned revolutionary momentum caught the attention of the expedient putschist government, which tried various means to end such a powerfully symbolic moment: bribes, intimidation, distortion of realities, and a sinister attempt to create divisions among the camp’s active inhabitants and youthful supporters. But strong political awareness and collective dedication have finally allowed the people of Zamzam to prevail.
Zamzam after the sit-in will not be the old Zamzam. The people of Zamzam have not only learned how effective their sit-in was in raising their demands but an excellent opportunity has been afforded for the inhabitants of Zamzam to come together as one people to decide their fate in the current precarious situation. For his part, Saleh Ibrahim Hammad, one of the supervisors of the organizing committees of the sit-in, said to the Zamzam team:
“Today, thanks to God and thanks to the immense collective effort of the people of Zamzam camp, we have been able to establish a basis for a new revolutionary transitional authority that will represent the aspirations of the people of Zamzam camp from now onwards. Any party, whether it is a regional government or the central government in Khartoum, wanting to decide our affairs must pass through the truly legitimate authority established by this sit-in.
“The sit-in, which began with very basic legitimate demands such as security and protection for people of Zamzam, turned into a massive popular revolution that brought hundreds of notables from other camps throughout Darfur. Also coming were camp committees and representatives, civil society organizations, and local activists. The sit-in has also caught the attention of national, regional, and international media, sending a warning message to the illegitimate junta in Khartoum.”
One of the representatives of the displaced people who made a long trip all the way from Nyala to come to show his solidarity with the Zamzam sit-in said:
“I came all the way from El Salam camp in South Darfur carrying with me a message of strong solidarity from those people we represent there; and what we have witnessed here is very encouraging for all of us…and because we too have suffered for so long from all types of violence, intimidation, and harassment from the same Janjaweed militias who are protected by Hemeti [commander of the Rapid Support Forces] personally.”
The role of the women in the Zamzam camp sit-in
Women in Sudan, especially Darfur, have played a key role in all social and political transformations throughout Sudan’s recent history. They played a pivotal role in the Sudanese revolution of December 2018. Their constant presence at the forefront of the struggle was the main driving force and the engine that motived the youth of the country not to give up before the tasks was completed.
In the Zamzam sit-in, which lasted for a period of three weeks, the role played by the women of Zamzam camp was prominent, diligent, and marked by strong dedication—this despite their long and terrible suffering. They have been the victims of excessive violence, in all its forms, for years. Women from Zamzam and other places in Darfur have been subjected to deliberate and systematic marginalization. But on this occasion the women of Zamzam came from all corners of the 58 neighbourhoods to stand shoulder on shoulder alongside men, despite cynicism about their power.
During the three weeks of the sit-in, the women of Zamzam camp walked for half an hour to fetch drinking water, firewood, and then prepare food to feed hundreds of people who organized and participated in the sit-in. Hundreds of delegations, coming from different states of Darfur on a daily basis, were also provided for. Not only this, women participated equally in all organising committees and had their voices heard. For her part, Fatima Khalil, a member of the organizing committees of the sit-in, stated that this sit-in was originally the idea of the women of Zamzam who suffered from the scourge of violence.
“Women here in Zamzam have suffered a lot and it’s time for them to come out and express their respective opinions without feeling guilt or shame.”
As for Salwa Neseraldain, this sit-in was a perfect opportunity that came at the right time for the women of Zamzam to reaffirm their steadfastness and declare their commitments to continue to fight for their basic rights. She said:
“Look at me…what do you see different in me from these men hanging around here? Like them I have been wearing this security vest for the last two weeks, taken my turn to check the entry checkpoints, and I have participated in drafting our demands.”
The sit-in ends after high level meditation led by various local representative
Three weeks after the sit-in, on September 2nd, a high-level local delegation was led by Dr. Babiker Hamdeen, minister of health and social welfare in the region; Major Hamza Omar, adviser to the governor of the region for security affairs; major Adam Younis Hamid, adviser of the department of cabinet affairs; and Mr. Taj Al-Din Al-Helou, general coordinator of the government the region, as well as a considerable number of native administration notables from various states of Darfur. They all were compelled by the scope of the sit-in to become involved in mediating between the people of Zamzam and the regional government to prevent the acute security crisis from further escalation.
Moreover, one of the sit-in organizers from the media committee said:
“We know the governor is an opportunist and hateful person who is looking for an opportunity to implant sedition in order to divide the people of Zamzam into groups.”
Only a day after the delegations arrived at the sit-in, the organizing committee decided to end the sit-in end immediately and issued the following statement:
“The basis of our revolution is a continuous creation of greater awareness and deepened self-knowledge about the issues that define the revolution, whether in urban or rural sites, with the aim of finding fundamental solutions to the issues confronting our oppressed peoples.
“It is a revolution committed to shedding light on the plight of those who have fled burned villages, violent killings, and the terror of brutal sexual violence at the hands of Janjaweed militia. It is a revolution of solidarity for the sake of awakening our true humanity.
“In this context, the Friday of the martyrs, which was called by the high committee for the sit-in yesterday, witnessed a large revolutionary presence from various states of Darfur, media professionals, human rights activists, and the martyrs of the Families Organization; additionally, delegations included the Darfur regional government (headed by the minister of health and social welfare in the region), the advisor of the governor of the region for security affairs, the adviser of the department of cabinet affairs, the general coordinator of the regional government, and notables from respected civil administration.”
The statement stressed specific demands. It spoke of defining the basic principles and the parties to dialogue and the need for guarantees.
The negotiation dealt with three protocols, which were represented in the following:
 Provision of services
In total, the negotiating document contained 17 items. The delegation was urged to find urgent solutions with a specific time-frame.
In this connection, we should note that the civil administration in South Darfur state shows signs of deploying forces to protect civilians and the agricultural season, although we have little confidence in the powers of these forces and have questions about their neutrality.
The statement concluded saying:
“In our follow-up, we have noted with dismay that in an interview conducted with Governor Nimr [Nimr Abdel Rahman] on Radio El Fasher through the “Green Saturday” program. His counter-productive handling of the issues facing Zamzam camp was clear from his avoidance of the presenter’s questions, instead circulating the proposed agenda for the camp to the “college crises space.” We consider this to be an additional trick to escape responsibility and a refusal to confront honestly realities on the ground.
“We believe that the Sudanese people, especially the masses in and around El Fasher, have become aware of the legitimacy of our demands, whatever Governor Nimr believes. We are still hoping that our brother Nimr wakes up and acknowledges the problem and strives with us in finding solutions and confronting the realities of Zamzam. He must leave off demonizing everyone and working to obscure the issues with his own “plan.”
“His refusal to act in good faith may lead to our expanding the sit-in area and moving inside the city of El Fasher; we may even extend the borders of our actions to every village and valley throughout areas south of El Fasher.
“Despite the promises that were made by Khartoum-backed officials concerning our demands, the committees of the sit-in and the representatives of Zamzam are still pessimistic that anything will be achieved from this incompetent, and finally illegitimate government.
“But they feel very proud of what they have achieved so far. For them, the sit-in was not only a forum for the people of Zamzam to send their demands in a civilized manner, but it was a forum for those whose voices have remained unheard throughout Darfur. It was a great moral and psychological victory for the people of Zamzam. It was a moment of defiance—defiance of the ruthless scavengers and their militias. Certainly, it was a decisive moment in sending a message that the Zamzam camp does not and will not retreat from their demands, despite official conspiracies, terrorism, extortion, and illegal machinations. Rather they will disobey the dictates of anyone who tries to manipulate our people. The message of the people of Zamzam camp to the local community, the regional government, and international community is that they still face many dangers, particularly from militias who occupy the areas southwest of the camp. The world must stand in solidarity with them during this crisis, which threatens the very existence of their camp.
“They have lost confidence in the officials who seek to control Darfur with the assistance of the Khartoum junta; but even so, they are relying on the unity of their people.”
General observations for September and the work being carried out
As I have mentioned at the top of this report, the security situation on the ground has not changed, but rather has worsened in a number of ways. Moreover, with the recent torrential rains in North Darfur—unusual in their intensity—hundreds of newly displaced people who fled their villages because of recent militia attacks have also been badly affected by the floods, adding more misery to already existing suffering.
Flooding occurred while several hundred families, with many children, had already been stuck in self-made shanties and plastic tents for almost a year now (located mainly on the outer edge of the Zamzam camp).
The sudden outbreak of autumn season diseases, such as malaria and other diseases caused by the malnutrition among children, is ominous. This and the constant scarcity of basic necessities is the focus of discussion at present in all the camp neighbourhoods and the main concern for countless families. Life here in Zamzam camp and in many other camps is simply unbearably difficult. But while everyone is conscious of the tough days ahead, they remain resilient.
We of Team Zamzam, in the next month, will continue to focus primarily on providing counseling for the victims of sexual violence, providing basic necessities for the most impoverished, and providing health advice to the camp’s population. We will also continue to accompany patients to hospitals, check on people’s living conditions, and monitor human rights violations and the ongoing epidemic of sexual violence.
But the work that remains to be done on a daily basis here Zamzam camp, and other camps, is beyond our capacity. A new reality on the ground has been created by a multitude of factors—from the ruin of this year’s agricultural season to high inflation for food and medicine. The uncontrolled freefall of the Sudanese currency contributes hugely to inflation and shows the incompetence of the al-Burhan/Hemeti junta in responding to economic collapse. The failure of their policies has worked to create a huge number of newly unemployed people. There is a disturbing increase in the number of young students dropping out of school.
Yet despite the present challenges, we are managing to cope with an extremely volatile situation thanks to our volunteers, our local partners, and various women groups within the camp. What we want to emphasize, however, is that the situation is going from bad to worse, and we appeal to everyone, especially the appeal to international organizations, to quickly intensify their efforts in providing urgent humanitarian assistance.
Work carried out during September 2022
 23 inspection visits carried out in different areas and neighbourhoods that were hit by the floods and torrential rain, inspecting the condition of people, and assessing the extent of the damage.
 Attending and participating in several meetings with the newly set up emergency committees to take urgent measures to provide shelter, blankets and food for flood victims.
 several meetings with the security and camp monitoring committees of different neighbourhoods to hear the latest developments and the challenges they face on a daily basis.
 Accompanying 126 patients suffering from various diseases, most of whom were children suffering from malaria, to El Fasher civilian hospitals. Among these were eight pregnant women and three fistula patients.
Distribution of basic necessities
Due to the exceptional circumstances, the priority for this month has been given to the flood victims who are still suffering from shortages of the most basic necessities. The total number of those assisted is unknown at present, but according to the assessments of the local committees, at least about twenty percent of the camp’s population was affected by the floods. And yet I must painfully report that up to the present moment, no official from either state entities or the local authority has come to find out what is happening to these suffering families. This is so even as there is still an urgent need for many necessities, especially blankets, clothes, medicines, and more urgently food.
Among the huge number of affected people, Team Zamzam was able to provide about 183 families with basic necessities including sugar, pasta and flour. In addition, Team Zamzam has campaigned with the emergency committee in collecting 800 hundred blankets and 2,756 pieces of second-hand clothing.
• Total beneficiaries of food distributions:
• Hygiene kits
Total beneficiaries: 16 girls and women
The counseling program for victims of sexual violence continues as usual, with a noticeable increase in the number of new arrivals during the past three months. At the same time there is at least the promise of significant improvement. We look forward to expanding the size of the program so that we can reach other camps, such as Abu Shouk camp, where there are a large number of young victims. But this all depends on what resources are available to us. What is encouraging us to think of expanding beyond Zamzam is the bravery of some of these young victims, who walk all the way from Abu Shouk [about 20 kilometeres] and other places to attend these sessions. Magboula, a 21-year-old woman who walked for one hour to attend the sessions in Zamzam said:
“The first time I was brought here by a relative of mine who is also a good friend, and since then I too have brought three friends. And every one of us loves these sessions where we discuss things openly at ease without worries. Here we talk things that we cannot shares with even our mums.”
Total of individual counselling sessions: 58
Total of group counselling sessions: 23
Total number of sessions: 91
A testimonial from Zahara A. Saliem, 23 years old
She is victim of sexual violence and fistula patient. She said:
“Two years ago, while we were coming from the farm which is in Shaqra area to the west of the camp [roughly 10 miles—ER]. We were a group of four girls and two women when suddenly we were attacked by a group on camels and who wore turbans. In response to the attack, we immediately tried to escape, each of us leaving her donkey and belongings behind and running in different directions.
“I was chased by two of the men until I was out of breath and fell to the ground. With that, they started beating me; I cried out but there was no one around to rescue me from them. They then did to me whatever they wanted to do and left.
[There is an extraordinary reluctance by victims of sexual violence in Darfur to speak of rape in anything but the most euphemistic terms. This is finally a measure of how shameful the crime is to victims. Indeed, many victims never speak explicitly about what they have endured, even within their own families. It is the great ability of Team Zamzam counsellors to be able to overcome this painful silence in individual and group counselling sessions in many cases—ER]
“I lay down, bleeding, until a passerby helped me to get home the next day. I didn’t want to tell anybody about what happened to me, but last year I felt very ill and was experiencing terrible pain. The pain was simply too much to bear, so finally, at the end of last year, I went to see a doctor. But the doctor told me I was suffering from a fistula, although I couldn’t afford the cost of treatment. For over a year I suffered in silence. But I was brought to the attention of Team Zamzam by some of my friends. The Sisters have helped me with counselling to recover from my stress, comforted me with good advice, and then taken me to hospital to receive surgery. I feel blessed. I thank them.”