ANNEX : Project Update, March 28, 2023 : Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur
From the Coordinating counselor of Team Zamzam (translated by Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen)
This report covers what has been accomplished by Team Zamzam in the period from February 22 to March 21.
With the advent of the month of Ramadan there is a much increased craving for sugar by those living in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Sadly, the month of Ramadan always leaves the people of Sudan to face the largest wave of price hikes in the markets, including the commodities that give a Ramadan character to their meals and a much-valued special flavor.
Among the most important of the commodities on Ramadan tables—and the most consumed throughout the country—is sugar. But since the military coup of October 2021, there have been shocking price hikes throughout the economy; these are experienced with greatest intensity by those living in the IDP camps. They endure terrible scarcity, even rarity in a number of essential commodities. This has coincided with the authorities’ doubling the electricity tariff. Further, the increased prices of the most consumed commodities—such as sugar, bread and cooking oil—come with the emergence of a critical of lack of cooking gas used by many families; these same families also suffer from poor water services, as is the case in many of Sudan’s peripheral regions.
Camp residents rightly fear continually rising prices, which are often the result of merchants’ greed and exploitation. The prices of Ramadan commodities, for which demand significantly increases, mean that the prices of sugar, oils, flour, dairy, meat, and other consumer commodities increase dramatically. Merchants seem to be exploiting the holy month of Ramadan, employing monopoly tactics and creating artificial scarcity during Ramadan. Local markets that have experienced long periods of stagnation are all too keen to take advantage of the conditions of citizens during the holy month of Ramadan. What is obvious—something on which the vast majority of Sudanese in all groups agree—is that the Burhan/Hemeti junta has failed to intervene to provide, on an urgent basis, the commodities necessary for people’s livelihoods. No action has been taken to prevent the occurrence of acute scarcity of consumer goods, which is what ultimately leads to increases in food prices.
The groups who are most affected by these continuous and outrageous price increases are the victims of exploitation of merchants who take advantage of people in deprived regions, particularly the residents of the camps in Darfur. They have been suffering from a scarcity of the most basic necessities of life along with a serious deterioration in the security situation. The latter has prevented farmers from enjoying successful agricultural seasons for the past two years. Many are struggling harder than ever simply to provide a single daily meal for their families.
From the opinions and the interviews we have gathered during routine inspections of various places within Zamzam camp, it is clear that the severity of living conditions and the difficulties people are enduring at the present time are unbearable. But the future looks even gloomier, as there is a total disregard of the situation by the state authorities.
In light of these conditions, the distribution of basic necessities for this month has been allocated in the form of a Ramadan food packages to assist some of the poorest families. Altogether, 250 families have benefited from this distribution.
Number of families benefited
105 with widowed women
60 with elderly people
40 hosting orphans
21 with physically disabled persons
24 with paralyzed children
Total: 250 families
The quantity and type of foodstuffs that have been distributed in Zamzam camp sector A:
 8 large sugar sacks containing 50 kilograms per sack
 5 tea cartons each containing 45 tea bags
 6 cartons of laundry soap, each containing 40 bars of soap
 10 pasta cartons containing 20 bags, each of one half kilo
The quantity and type of foodstuffs that have been distributed in the Zamzam camp sector C:
 4 large sugar sacks containing 50 kilograms per sack
 3 tea cartons each containing 45 tea bags
 4 cartons of laundry soap, each containing 40 bars of soap
 5 pasta cartons containing 20 bags, each of one half kilo
Many of the displaced have benefited from the distribution of foodstuffs, including sugar, flour, oil, pasta and other necessary commodities. For the poorest residents of Zamzam this provides what is necessary for survival.
Continuing Sexual Violence Against Girls and Women
As Team Zamzam, we are proud to say that women and girls affected by sexual violence have benefited a great deal from health education, from daily counseling sessions, and from awareness-raising. One of the victims told us: “We are ashamed to say we were raped because we saw this as shameful. But now, thanks to Team Zamzam, we have overcome this old taboo. This is important because the silence of the victims leaves them vulnerable to many diseases such as depression, infections, and urinary fistulas.”
We continue to provide intensive training courses and give advice to avoid future harm.
The case of Hajja Abdullah Saleh Jumaa, 54 years old from Qalab Kaluqi area of the locality of Tawila
She is a mother of three boys and five girls; her husband was killed in the events of Qalab Kaluqi in 2021. He was murdered inside their farm by the Janjaweed militia. Further, her house was completely burned down and her livestock—camels, cows, goats and donkeys—were all stolen. She said: “All our belongings have been looted and burned down and that’s why we have fled here to Zamzam camp for protection; but things aren’t that easy, as we suffer from shortages of food.”
She is very grateful and elated to receive a Ramadan food package and thanks Team Zamzam team for providing such important assistance. She said: “We hope that other humanitarian organizations could hear our frail voices.”
Khamis Siddiq Salih Jumaa also said that the living conditions inside the camp are dire and that security is completely non-existent, with living conditions far from stable. Since their displacement by the Janjaweed and the so-called Rapid Support Forces, no one has come to help them. She said they feel very sad and forgotten.
Health Conditions in the Camp
In addition to the poor living conditions, camp residents complain of a deteriorating health situation: the worsening of children’s health and the spread of multiple diseases, such as skin infections, eye infections, dengue fever, polio, cholera, diarrhea, intestinal infections, and hepatitis.
In this regard, one of the sheikhs of the Zamzam camp in Sector A said: “We are asking government agencies, charitable humanitarian organizations and civil society organizations for quick and urgent intervention to provide health services and offer us medical treatment.”
At the same time, one of the young activists from Zamzam said: “All that the people want here is security, safety, and stability so that people can provide a decent life for their families and educate their children; but unfortunately we have been besieged by the Janjaweed, and people today cannot leave the camp for a distance of even three kilometers to fetch firewood to cook for their families. Girls and women here are constantly beaten, harassed, and raped at gunpoint in broad daylight.
As for sector (C), Team Zamzam have found conditions inside this sector rapidly deteriorating, and most of the residents there suffer from acute food shortages. Their children suffer from severe malnutrition and are more vulnerable to disease outbreaks. One of the beneficiaries of the distribution said: “We are completely besieged by the reality of living with hardships on one side and the guns of Janjaweed on the other side; and we unable to return to our villages to make a living on our farms because of the heavy presence of the Janjaweed everywhere.
Moreover, one of the newly displaced women from C section who benefited from the distribution said: “Every day we are driven to suffer from frequent beatings—and the rape of girls who do not know anything about life is constant. Young girls are raped under the threat of firearms by the Janjaweed militias. All we demand here is the provision of security. We also hope for the provision of basic services: clean water, health, and education.”
In addition to the dismal living conditions endured by the residents of Zamzam camp and the security challenges, the displaced people of the Zamzam camp suffer from an acute shortage of clean drinking water. There is also a shortage of critical medicines, as well as constant delay in distributing food rations by the World Food Program, supposedly on a monthly basis. The current situation will lead to even greater dangers, especially given the shortage of clean water. There is also a terrible deterioration in environmental health, in part because of the lack of municipal toilets in the camp. Many of the displaced are forced to defecate in the open, and this has led to environmental pollution.
Returning to the issues of sexual violence
The phenomena of sexual violence and rape of girls and women by the Janjaweed militias in North Darfur state occur on a daily basis and are continuously increasing.
The rape of women and young girls by the Janjaweed in the vicinity of Zamzam camp has become a common and systematic practice. Most of the heinous crimes occur while the girls and women leave the camp to collect firewood or fetch other necessities from agricultural areas. Other girls have been raped as a result of militia attacks on their villages. The perpetrators of these heinous crimes always benefit from almost total impunity, which only leads to an increase in these terrible crimes. The authorities have consistently failed to take effective measures to investigate complaints of rape. Indeed, to make matters worse, some of the girls who were raped have been arrested for adultery.
Just last month (February 2023) a group of young girls with two women were raped near Zamzam camp. Afterward the sheikh and elders of the camp immediately reported this crime to the police. The police arrested three of the criminals, but they were all released the next day.
In another telling example, last September the Janjaweed accompanied the regular armed forces in a military operation in Zamzam camp. Dozens of young girls and women between the ages of 13 and 24, in areas around Zamzam camp, were raped and severely beaten before being released.
A specific example
On February 20, 2023, at exactly seven o’clock in the morning, Nadia Abdullah went out with three of her cousins two kilometers west of Zamzam camp to gather straw for their livestock. When the girls reached their destination, four armed Janjaweed men on camels appeared and began to ask the girls questions such as, “where do you come from? why are you here? which tribes do you belong to?” The girls became frightened, and Nadia replied that they were from Zamzam camp. After this, one of the militiamen pulled out his weapon and demanded that the girls lie down. One of the assault victims said that the attackers demanded they throw their phones on the ground; but when they refused, they were beaten until they lost consciousness.
“Why did you leave your dirty camp that is full of harmful black beasts? You are worth nothing to us Arabs except as pleasurable objects!” These words terrified the girls even more as they endured the following humiliation. Nadia said: “I screamed and begged them to stop, but they continued to beat us very violently. They put a weapon to my head and told me ‘to shut up or we will finish you.’ The Janjaweed then said that no one should move from her place, and then asked all of us to take off our clothes.” Another of the victims said: “After that each one of them seized one of us and then carried out their heinous crimes [i.e., rape—ER] while one of them stood guard with a weapon on top of a camel.”
During all this, however, Nadia resisted and managed to escape her ordeal. But the attackers chased her, and when they realised they couldn’t catch her, they fired at her, wounding her in the arm and stomach.
As for the other three victims, they continued to be insulted and humiliated by the aggressors for several hours until people who heard screaming while they were passing by an area close to the scene of the assaults. They told the people of the camp that they heard the girls’ screams and gunfire. After that, people from the victims’ families rushed to the scene and found them in terrible psychological condition, their clothes torn, and their bodies covered with beatings and scratches.
The victims were taken to the hospital first, and then procedures began with the police to make a formal complaint. And after that, some of the victims’ families followed the trail of the aggressors until they reached the Qilaab area, and there they found one of the perpetrators, but they could do nothing.
After initial examinations and primary treatment in the hospital, the medical report confirmed the presence of several severe scratches at the entrance to the three victims’ urinary tracts which had been caused by group sexual intercourse with extreme violence. But even now, no legal entity of the state has taken any steps to assist these victims or hold the perpetrators accountable—and this is inevitably the case in Darfur for the countless other victims of sexual violence. Team Zamzam visited the victims to provide them psychological and moral support, and will follow up to support them when they have fully recovered from their injuries.
Conditions of fistula patients and testimonies of those who received treatment
The worsening of traumatic urinary fistulas in Darfur is due in large part to the lack of health education, shyness, isolation, and social stigma that is endured by victims. This often leads to a delay in the arrival of the patients at hospitals to receive timely treatment.
And of course one of the main challenges most patients face is the financial inability to pay for treatment at early opportunity. For two and a half years, Team Zamzam has been trying as hard as possible with its modest means to alleviate the pain and psychological trauma of fistula patients through counseling, health awareness-raising and accompanying them to hospital for medical treatment, as well as providing post-surgical care.
From 1st April onwards, each month three patients will be prioritized for surgical treatment; sadly, the waiting list remains very long and currently exceeds 210 girls and women in need of reparative surgery.
Fistula surgeries this month
This month 22-year-old Awatif Mohamed Arga and 27-year-old Shadia Hassan Ibrahim were accompanied to the hospital for surgical treatment, and both patients are experiencing continuous improvement in their physical and psychological conditions.
Awatif, before she felt the effects of her traumatic urinary fistula, had a life that was full of joys, optimism, vitality; she loved her life, loved people, and she aspired to become a nurse. But two years ago, when her fistula was diagnosed, her life changed completely. She lost more than fifty percent of her body weight, lost her hair, and psychological depression forced her to isolate herself from all contact with people. This remained the case until she was rescued by the sisters of Team Zamzam. She said: “The fistula not only prevented me from continuing my studies, but forced me into to become an exile in a world of depression. Deeply negative thoughts and feelings kept me hostage for a very long time, but now I thank God for giving me a second chance.”
As for Shadia, life was not that easy for her either: her condition and suffering may have been worse than Awatif’s, but she resisted with will, perseverance and determination as long as possible. But eventually, she said: “The fistula had destroyed and broken my life into small pieces—and only those who suffer from such pain and harm can understand. Indeed, the worst of it all wasn’t the pain itself but the bullying from the closest of relatives of ex-husband, and the stigma has forced me to feel ashamed and guilty for something that I didn’t have any control over.” Shadia continued: “We were about to get married, and at the time everything looked fine; but I felt severe pain and went to the doctor for a consultation and check-up; it was at that time that I learned I had a traumatic fistula.” She continued: “My husband was in love with me, and I am sure he still loves me; but his family forced us to divorce, and this is what shattered my spirit and broke my heart for a year and a half.”
Awatif concluded by saying: “I now feel grateful and happy, and this is all thanks to the sisters of Team Zamzam, who supported me throughout difficult times and provided me with everything from health guidance, moral uplift, to valuable counseling.”
Other activities carried out by Team Zamzam over the past month
 Accompanying 82 patients suffering from various illnesses to different hospitals in El Fasher for check-ups and medical consultations.
 40 door-to-door visits were made to homes in different neighborhoods and sections of the camp to check living conditions and listen to people’s complaints and concerns.
 4 meetings with two different groups of the camp’s women leaders to follow up on issues concerning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); meetings also focused on the problem of early teen-age marriages amd led to discussion of how to work together in the face of present challenges.
 Several visits were carried out to water pumps and other water assembly points where people queue up for drinking water, often for many hours; Team members observed the challenges and listened to people’s concerns about water.
 Several meetings were held with camp’s youth groups, with omdas, with neighbourhood representatives and sheikhs to listen to their concerns about recent attacks and other security issues concerning the welfare of the camp’s population.
 Team Zamzam continued to provide psychosocial counseling throughout Zamzam (and in other locations in North Darfur), both in individual and group counseling sessions. Girls and women of all ages have benefited over the past two and a half years, a grim roster that is now well over 4,000 victims of sexual violence.
Additional context (ER):
Group sessions typically have between six and twelve women/girls, with two three-hour sessions, divided by a break for lunch or tea. The linguistic and cultural fluency of the counselors, along with the tremendous experience they have acquired over the past two and a half years, makes them perfect interlocutors for victims who in some cases have never spoken to anyone—even in their own families—about the terrible trauma they have experienced. Most are deeply depressed and suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); intense feelings of shame are often exacerbated by social shunning, even by old friends.
As the counselors have all learned, tremendous patience and empathy are required. Breakthroughs are often exceedingly difficult to achieve. But the invaluable esprit de’corps that has developed among this group of committed women sustains them all, even in the most challenging of cases.