Widespread sexual violence used as ‘tool of war’ in Sudan: UN experts

KHARTOUM: Widespread and in some cases ethnically motivated sexual violence is being used in conflict-ravaged Sudan as “a tool of war”, a dozen UN experts said on Thursday, demanding that perpetrators be held accountable.

Since April, forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan — Sudan’s de facto head of state — have been at war with the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commanded by his former deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

Over 10,000 people have been killed, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict and Event Data Project, and the UN says 6.3 million more have been forced to flee their homes.

“We are appalled by reports of widespread use of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, as a tool of war to subjugate, terrorise, break and punish women and girls,” the independent United Nations rights experts said in a joint statement.

The experts, including the special rapporteurs on violence against women and girls and sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, said RSF forces and their allies appeared to be behind most of the sexual violence seen in the conflict.

They pointed to reports of rapes, sexual exploitation, slavery and trafficking, which “in some cases may have been racially, ethnically and politically motivated”.

There had also been reports of forced prostitution and forced marriage of women and girls, they said.

The violence appeared often to be used “as a means of punishing specific communities targeted by the RSF and allied militias,” the experts said, adding that in some cases non-Sudanese migrants, refugees and stateless persons had also been targeted.

“These serious acts are reportedly no longer concentrated in Khartoum or Darfur, but have spread to other parts of the country, such as Kordofan,” they warned.

They called for a newly established UN fact-finding mission for Sudan to investigate in a bid to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.

The experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but do not speak on behalf of the UN, warned that the scale and seriousness of the sexual violence was “grossly underreported”.

“The world must not turn a blind eye to the atrocities and large-scale sexual violence unfolding in Sudan,” they said.

“The international community must send a strong and clear message to parties to the conflict that they will be held accountable for their actions and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law,” they added.

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