ANNEX: Project Update, November 29, 2022: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur
From the coordinating counsellor of Team Zamzam (translated by Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen)
November 2022 Update by the Coordinating Counselor of Team Zamzam (received November 25, 2022)
(Sections of this report have been re-organized to highlight the most important achievements of Team Zamzam; but there is important information about the health and security conditions prevailing in Zamzam camp, as well as other parts of Darfur.)
Work carried out by Team Zamzam from late October to November 23, 2022:
 Two separate visits were made to several villages surrounding the area of Tabit, Shangil Tobay, and Abu Zariqa to check on people’s conditions and evaluate the present security situation in the area.
 Four different meetings were held with the camp’s security committee to hear their concerns.
 Different meetings were held in various neighbourhoods in Zamzam with the camp’s women’s groups to follow up on recommendations from previous meetings.
[i] Two meetings have been held with the volunteer groups to discuss issues concerning the camp and share points of views.
[ii] Several visits and tours of primary schools in the camp and the secondary schools in the surrounding area to inspect health conditions of pupils and raise awareness concerning potential outbreaks of fever.
[iii] A total of eight visits to different hospitals accompanying patients and sick people with various illnesses for treatment.
Distribution of basic necessities:
As for basic necessities, food remains the most preferred commodity, as the majority of IDPS in Zamzam are struggling with great difficulty to meet daily ends. The severe shortage of food and lack of income to buy food is becoming an ever-greater burden, forcing families to resort to begging on the streets. For the vulnerable families who previously depended on humanitarian aid, today life has become extremely difficult for them: their aid portion [mainly from the UN World Food Program] has been decreased to less than 25% of what they previously received.
This scarcity of food has been triggered by the deliberate, violent ruining of agricultural production over the past two seasons; the result has been outrageous increases in prices and thus the inability of impoverished families to buy what they need. This has created an atmosphere of despair and increased the spread of malnutrition and disease among children.
During the past month, 162 families benefited from food distribution
Feminine Hygiene kits
Total beneficiaries: 12 girls and women
Individual counseling: 81 sessions
Group counseling: 35 sessions
The importance of these psychosocial counseling sessions is highlighted in two deeply moving testimonials:
The story of Khadija Suleiman Ibrahim, 23 years old, from the Zamzam camp.
Khadija, after spending about three years in a severe depression caused by gang rape, got married last year and gave birth to a beautiful daughter, whom she named Amani which means “the wishes.” She is one of the first to receive moral and psychological support from the program of private talk sessions with Zamzam team’s counselors.
Since the end of 2020, our constant contact with her hasn’t stopped but rather, after recovering from depression, she has volunteered continuously to encourage attendees who are suffering from the same problem. After giving birth to her first child in October this year 2022, Khadija and her husband Mubarak have invited the counselors of team Zamzam for dinner at their house to share their happiness and pay their gratitude for the help they received.
“Life in 2020 was almost over for me had not I found you, my Sisters. I tried many ways to end my life, but each time I failed and felt even more shame, which was killing me slowly.
“I didn’t realise that God wanted to spare me until I met you. Looking back to those horrible days, today I feel neither ashamed nor remorseful but rather regret at how deep I had fallen because of thugs on Janjaweed militias. Before meeting you Sisters, I wasn’t only suffering from depression and daily stress, but I was suffering from the desire for vengeance on those who humiliated me.
“Then I couldn’t stop thinking about them, and the more I thought about them, the more nightmares and flashbacks haunted me through the night. My life had continued like this in nightmares and stress for three years until that day when you Fatima, Manheil, and other women from the volunteers who came to see me. Their powerful words of that day had turned things around for me and it stayed with me until this day. Their words had not only helped me to get on my feet but I memorised by heart to use it to help others who are in difficult situations.
“Immediately after recovering from my depression, I began to think constantly about my childhood lover, Mubarak, who I thought would have abandoned me. This worried me so much, but thanks be to Allah he didn’t. You know, in Darfur one wouldn’t find many reasonably understandable men like him and today I feel luckiest wife around here. Mubarak and I both came from the same village, we grew up in the same neighbourhood, and he perfectly understands what we girls are going through.
“I must admit that the name of my daughter has popped up in my mind after about four sessions. Because then all I was thinking was my lover and I never stopped wishing to have children with him—and thank God my prayers were answered. That’s why I named her Amani and I still continue to wish for a few more children to make us happier.
“For those thugs of Janjaweed militias who humiliated me and my friends while we were on the way back from Kolgai, I don’t have the same desire for vengeance on them now. This doesn’t mean that I have forgiven them; no, I have neither forgiven them nor forgotten what happened to us that day and what is still happening every day.
“But I feel pity for their ignorance; I’m still disgusted by their idiocy and their imbecility. I feel pity for their mothers and their sisters too. For the Janjaweed militias and the Arab nomads in general, degrading women is in their blood and in their culture and we can only change their behaviour by being strong and fighting back. What is good, though, is that many girls are now coming out to talk about what happened to them, even though no one in this country dares to press charges against Arab militias.
“But victims talking to each other through the Sisters’ Team Zamzam programme, and it is really helpful in many ways. Talking to each other through sisters who perfectly understand us is so very helpful. It helps to release all negative energies, anxiety and anger that is boiling inside the victims. Since I recovered, I haven’t stopped coming to help the Sisters who helped to get myself back until the latest stage of my pregnancy. And I won’t stop coming to participate until at least all of my friends are fully recovered.
“I feel I’m the luckiest wife and happiest new mum around. You Sisters and my husband helped me so much to defeat that devilish spirit which hunted me for three years simply by talking. But there are still many young girls out there suffering in silence from the pain of fistula and the nightmares of humiliation. I hope they all get through these difficult times, and I wish them speedy recovery. All this because of you and I’m grateful forever. I love you my Sisters of Team Zamzam.”
The story of young victim (Lemon Sharif), 13 years old, who had suffered from a urinary fistula since last year
Her mother came to tell us about her daily struggles.
“Everything in our lives began to change last year when my little daughter suddenly became restless,” said Lemon’s mother. She continued: “As a mother I was so worried, as any loving mother would be. I tried in every possible way to understand what was going on inside her head. Some people in my neighbourhood, even relatives, said that she may be suffering from wicked evil spirits. So I went everywhere looking for advice from informed people, but nothing worked. She woke up in the middle of night and wandered around the house until early morning.
“I didn’t know my daughter was suffering from such pain that she felt ashamed to tell me what was bothering her. The problem for young girls here in Darfur is that of terribly fearful shyness and shame, which is causing them immense depression and lack of self-esteem. Today, had you Sisters not been involved in helping her, she probably wouldn’t tell me what happened to her.
“Her thinking and mindset are not that much different from us when we were young. What happened to my daughter is what happened to me twice in my adolescence [violent sexual assault]. But I thank God at the time I didn’t get fistula. But nowadays, many victims are afflicted with this painful problem.
“Since her fistula treatment, she is doing very well. Her pain has almost disappeared, but psychologically it may take many weeks, even months for her to get a sense of herself. I thank you for your efforts to help my daughter, and I wish all mothers might have a good understanding of the suffering of their daughters; and everyone should realise that since the Janjaweed are roaming around no young girl is safe in this country.”
Broader Observations from the Coordinating Counselor of Team Zamzam:
This report for the past month attempts to offer an account of the numerous reports of hysterical behavior and high fevers among girls to in South Darfur State [reported on several occasions by Radio Dabanga—ER]. The psychological stress experienced by these girls can hardly be overstated: girls of all ages in Darfur experience such stress, resulting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as severe mental illness that is rarely treated. Health care is almost entirely absent in Darfur, placing a heavy burden on girls and young women who have been the victims of rape/gang-rape, or who are all too aware of the threat of rape. These mental health issues have put enormous pressure on the resources that do exist.
In Zamzam camp, various issues have been exacerbated by new Arab settler groups forcibly occupying an important strip of land in the north of East Jebel Marra [this is the fertile area east of the Jebel Marra massif and the site of some of the worst atrocity crimes over the past 20 year—ER]. The armed violence of this takeover has produced many new victims, a great number of whom have fled to Zamzam IDP camp. A number of these have received assistance from Team Zamzam and two testimonials from victims appear in this report (see above).
The spread of fevers and convulsions, accompanied by hysteria in South Darfur
In the second week of November, the local security committee in the Gereida region of South Darfur announced the immediate closure of local schools for a period of least 72 hours due to the emergence of 62 cases of fever and convulsions. Gereida secondary school for girls witnessed the spread of fevers and convulsions, accompanied by hysteria and this quickly spread to other schools, primarily at the secondary level.
A doctor working in Gereida Rural Hospital has said in press statements that cases had been increasing since the second of November. The small local hospital of Gereida has already admitted over 40 patients suffering from the same fever, which includes fainting in a number of cases. But the hospital’s capacity is far too small to take on even this number of cases. Ominously, there were three cases of dengue fever reported in the area in September. According to the Undersecretary of the Omda of Gereida, the clinical capacity of Gereida rural hospital is 30 patients; those not admitted simply lie in the shade of trees.
The medical director of Gereida Rural Hospital, Dr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, told the local press that the disease and cases appearing in the city were unfamiliar, and samples had been sent to the national laboratory for analysis. Meanwhile, the hospital struggles to respond with inadequate capacity and a scarcity of medicines,
A spokesman for the state government appealed for an expedited dispatch of an urgent care medical team and ambulances to transfer some cases to Nyala teaching hospital. Furthermore, media of the ministry of health of South Darfur said that the ministry had sent a medical team to Gereida locality to assess the situation on the ground against the background of the emergence of further cases of hysteria.
So far, the cases of this strange fever have been reported only in South Darfur; but the state has very long borders with all the other four states of Darfur and there is strong possibility that the fever-producing illness will spread to other states, including North Darfur.
At the local level, people are becoming concerned about this strange fever and several videos have gone viral on social media showing a number of high school students falling and screaming for help. When several high school students from Zamzam camp were asked about this strange epidemic, the majority of them said they are not attending school these days because of fear and the news that comes to them. There is a state of fear and anxiety among young schoolgirls in every part of Darfur and in IDP camps in particular.
The health situation in the politically and economically marginalized Darfur region is one of the worst in Sudan; compared with the other parts of Sudan, there are many fewer operating public health centres in the entire region, which is the size of one third of Sudan in terms of land, with extreme concentrations of its very large population.
There is also an ongoing deterioration of economic and security conditions. This stems from political instability created by the coup d’état of October 25, 2021: Sudan is becoming increasingly militarized with many destructive effects, including the continuing deterioration of the health sector, particularly in the marginalized regions of the country. Conditions in Darfur in particular are deteriorating especially rapidly, with almost no attention given by the al-Burhan junta, from which no accountability can be expected.
The horror of the past and the present nightmares
Here is a telling vignette. With the approach of sunset, during the hours in which the residents of Zamzam are busy preparing whatever they have in their possession for the dinner before night falls, on the southwestern part of the camp sixty-four-year old El-Haj Issa Ibrahim leaves his home to head towards the dara. This is a night watch-out camp located roughly 400 meters from his house. Before setting off for his nightly duty, he neatly arranges his few possessions—a small teapot, a half dozen tea cups, tea, sugar, water container—in a small bag and proudly drapes his lengthy night blanket on his right shoulder. On his left shoulder he carries his long sword, his only weapon for the night.
With a big smile on his wrinkling face, he thanks the Team Zamzam’s counselors, saying: “Thank you my daughters! For this month because of you, we have enough sugar to last for many nights and everyone at the dara is so happy.”
The dara is made up of some men of middle age and many youths of Zamzam. The dara is traditional in Sudanese culture—a place within the neighbourhood where older and younger men gather in the evening: to eat dinner together; to break the fasting of Ramadan; to resolves social disputes from marriage to divorce; to discuss issues and concerns of sovereignty; to share news with each other; and to pass on the daily camp reports. But their primary concern each night is to conduct surveillance of the main entrances to the camp, especially from southwestern part of the camp, until sunrise.
“Every evening we are supposed to meet here a quarter of an hour before the Maghrib prayer to organize the night’s patrolling; if these days the young people are not always punctual, they are nonetheless strong, enthusiastic, and brave,” said El-Haj Issa.
The very idea of night patrolling of Zamzam camp emerged in 2018, after the sudden departure of the UN/African Union protection forces for Darfur (UNAMID), which greatly increased the cycle of attacks against the camp’s population. Those at particular risk are those whose livelihoods depend on agriculture and those civilians still living in the villages southwest of the camp.
According to Mr. Issa, since the sudden departure of UNIMID there have been numerous of attempts by the Janjaweed to attack Zamzam camp from southwest, but all resulted in failure because of the resilient, collective efforts by the camp’s population, who have refused to give in to Janjaweed threats. What has made Zamzam camp a primary target of attack by the Janjaweed is the strong will and the determination of its diverse people who fled their villages from all parts of Darfur to seek protection here years ago. Ever since, this population of diverse tribes has lived side by side in peace, even as the number of displaced persons grew. They have risen up above their tribal differences to create a solid fraternal community. This reflects a “miniature Darfur,” surviving in the heart of its lands seized by armed Arab militias and groups.
The truth is that not only the Janjaweed and their leaders are worried about what Zamzam camp and its people represent, but others as well. Many of those the so-called “Juba signatory rebel groups” have unsuccessfully tried to win some political support and the endorsement of Zamzam’s camp with bribes and by means of intimidation; all such efforts have been fruitless.
As it stands, Zamzam camp is not only an impenetrable barrier to the repeated failed armed attempts by the Janjaweed, but politically it will remain a deadly dagger at the throats of those seeking to trade politically on the camp under pretext and slogans of revolution. But for the people of Zamzam camp, the problem of Darfur is deeper than the expedient views of those who think that the conflict in Darfur will end with political manoeuvres and partial peace agreements; political gestures to date do not begin to meet the minimum requirements.
For the people of Zamzam IDP camp, the real problems are much deeper, with historical roots requiring equal participation by all the real stakeholders in the region. The central problem for people is the armed occupation of their farmland, a seizure made possible by weapons of the military state. The central issues derive from a violation of their most basic rights: in addition to the violent seizure of farmlands there have been: mass killings; widespread sexual violence directed against their daughters; and complete impunity enjoyed by those responsible for the most serious violence. Those in power continue to distort the realities of the past 20 years and deny the crimes of the perpetrators. Reconciliation is impossible so long as these perpetrators are not held accountable.
Until the issues are resolved in an equitable and transparent way, one that at meets the aspirations of the displaced, the people of Zamzam camp will remain determined to defend themselves from attacks; they will resist any attempts to dismantle the camp; and they certainly will refuse the temptations of those who would force them into cheap and expedient bargains.
People like El-haj Issa Ibrahim—who buried three of his children, as well several of his family members and relatives, with his own hands—believe that death for the sake of dignity is the most precious gift, one he has long yearned for. If this fate has missed him by some strange quirk, he would not think of running away, leaving his beloved Zamzam and its honourable people. He is adamant that he will fight to his last breath. This brave sexagenarian, who is currently suffering multiple illnesses, has witnessed a series of violent scourges throughout Darfur—and suffered from their consequences—since the 1980s when he was only a teenager. Despite the trauma of what he has witnessed, his memory is still sharp and vivid.
The relative calm during the past two months should not obscure the fact that the Janjaweed have been constantly lurking around Zamzam. Their latest effort has been to try to buy the hearts of some traditional leaders of Zamzam camp this November. This has prompted the group of youth from Eastern Jebel Marra to release a warning statement, clearly expressing their views.
A statement of warning and condemnation from the East Jebel Marra youth group, November 4, 2022
In the name of Allah the Merciful
Yesterday, Friday, we received from some of our reliable sources notice of the arrival of a delegation from the civil administrations of El Fasher and Khartoum. This delegation includes a number of those who visited Khartoum previously and met the leader of the Janjaweed militia (Hemeti, commander of the brutal Rapid Support Forces). Their purpose was to conduct “community reconciliations and peaceful coexistence” with the new settlers who have occupied the regions of Qalab, Kulqi, and other large areas east of Jebel Marra.
Immediately after the delegation arrived from Khartoum, it entered into secret and closed meetings with a number of Omdas and sheikhs headed by the Omda Bahr Muhammad Osman Sam, as well as a number of unscrupulous private groups who only care about their personal interests: their stomachs, new cars, and cash. These hungry opportunists decided to meet again in Zamzam camp to sit with a few of its civil administrators.
As a consequence:
 We the East Jebel Marra youth warn all those who bear responsibility for seeking to empower the new settlers in exchange for cars or a handful of dirty money received from the leader of the Janjaweed, Hemeti (Hamdan Dagalo). [The non-Arab people of Darfur typically refer to all Arab militias and Hemeti’s Rapid Support Forces as “Janjaweed,” although the designation has changed a great deal since the early years of the genocide—ER]
 We the youth of East Jebel Marra wish to make our position as clear as day: we will not reconcile with the foreign occupiers who came from outside the borders of the Sudanese state and occupied our homes, killed our people, raped our sisters, violated our freedoms, burned our villages, and looted our belongings.
 Anyone who claims to be an Oumda or a member of the civil administration and does not abide by the will of the people, who wants to manipulate the issues of the displaced and refugees: we consider him a traitor—an agent and an accomplice to the foreign occupiers. He will soon pay the price for his betrayal and collusion.
 We urge the displaced people in the camps—Zamzam, Tawila, and Shangil Tobay—go out in mass demonstrations whenever these criminal delegations visit.
[After only one week, the first statement was followed by another statement from the same youth group.]
Media secretariat for East Mountain Youth / Saturday, November 12, 2022
“In the name of Allah the Merciful”
Explanatory statement from the youth of Eastern Jebel Marra
Our dear Sudanese people:
We would like to explain to the public what happened today in the state of North Darfur. This was a ridiculous and absurd maneuver, under the pretext of community reconciliation—the latest attempt by the Janjaweed and their agents, acting without meaningful preparation. This failed effort was the work of puppets representing those who care nothing about the people of Darfur.
The youth of Eastern Jebel Marra assert that they have nothing to do with this Janjaweed farce, which was planned to distort the facts, sow doubts among people, and create divisions between the co-existing tribes which have lived side by side in peace for decades. The youth of East Jebel Marra, and the displaced people of Zamzam camp, are not part or party to this dirty game of bargaining away their justifiable cause.
Thus we affirm that Omda Bahr and those twelve people who met with Janjaweed representatives are not behaving responsibly and do not have any legal mandate to represent the hundreds of thousands in the East Jebel Marra area and Zamzam camp—and they bear the responsibility for this treacherous accommodation of the foreign occupiers.
As for the role of the governor, Nimr Abdel Rahman, we consider him a prisoner in the hands of the Janjaweed who cannot be trusted in any real reconciliation efforts. In fact, it is the Janjaweed leaders who are the de facto rulers of North Darfur State.
They are known as the Rapid Support Forces—simply a newer Janjaweed—and this fact is known to everyone. And their names are:
These Janjaweed leaders are among the worst of all the Janjaweed who committed atrocity crimes in the states of North and West Darfur against defenseless citizens, and any reconciliation and peaceful coexistence that takes place under the supervision of these men will be defined by bad faith and falsehood.
What happened today between those opportunistic Omdas who falsely claim to represent the people of the Eastern Jebel Marra and the desperate Janjaweed leaders was an effort to legitimize the illegal invaders and forcefully hand over the regions east of Jebel Marra to the Janjaweed.
The youth of Eastern Jebel Marra reject any reconciliation with the occupiers and the new settlers and demand their immediate expulsion from the lands of the displaced. And we seek immediate accountability for their criminal leaders.
The revolution of the people will continue until victory.