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Sudan: UN condemns sexual violence amid weeklong cease-fire

May 24, 2023

US and Saudi monitors said both parties have violated the truce. UN human rights chief Volker Turk called on both sides to stop sexual violence and spare civilians' lives.

A man walks past a burnt out bank branch in southern Khartoum on May 24, 2023.
Residents of Khartoum attempted to go about their daily lives amid a relative lull in fighting during the ongoing cease-fireImage: AFP/Getty Images

Clashes continued in Sudan's capital of Khartoum as a seven day cease-fire agreement entered its second full day on Wednesday, with the UN condemning the use of sexual violence in the conflict.

The latest truce is being monitored by Saudi Arabia and the United States. It is meant to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid, with hopes it could pave the way for a more lasting pause in the deadly clashes.

Heavy fighting, which has been ongoing since April 15, has been taking place between Sudan's military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Several cease-fire agreements have been brokered, yet none managed to completely quell the fighting.

The current cease-fire began in the evening on Monday and is meant to last for seven days, with the possibility of extension.

Sudan's rival factions meet for preliminary talks in Saudi Arabia.

'Heartbreaking' humanitarian situation

Volker Turk, the United Nations human rights chief, described the situation in the country as "heartbreaking" to a Geneva press briefing on Wednesday. He reported violations of the ongoing cease-fire, saying his office had received reports of fighter jets and clashes in Khartoum.

"Many civilians are virtually besieged in areas where fighting has been relentless," Turk said.

The UN human rights chief also reported the use of sexual violence in the conflict, saying his office had documented at least 25 cases so far. The real number was likely to be much higher, he added.

Turk called on army leader Abdel-Fattah Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the RSF paramilitary group, to "issue clear instructions, in no uncertain terms to all those under your command, that there is zero tolerance for sexual violence."

"Civilians must be spared and you must stop this senseless violence now," he said.

Meanwhile, the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that the fighting has displaced over 1 million people so far inside the country. An estimated 319,000 people have crossed into neighboring countries, including Egypt, Chad and South Sudan.

What is happening on the ground?

Residents reported heavy artillery and exchanges of fire in greater Khartoum on Wednesday, despite the truce.

While some clashes have been reported, news agencies reported a relative lull in the fighting since the start of the latest cease-fire.

Saudi and US observers also reported a slowdown in fighting. However, they also acknowledged breaches on both sides.

Khartoum resident Ali Mohammed told the French AFP news agency that water supply "still hasn't been restored" on Wednesday, "but at least I was able to go out and buy water for my family."

Another resident, Mohammed Taher, told AFP that he finally managed to "go to Khartoum's central market 5 kilometers (3 miles) away to buy food and return without incident."

Washington and Riyadh also said preparations "to deliver lifesaving assistance" were underway. However, the Reuters news agency cited aid workers as saying that many of the supplies and staff arriving at the Red Sea's Port Sudan await security permits and guarantees.

People shop at an open market in southern Khartoum, on May 24, 2023.
One resident reported being able to visit the local market and return 'without incident'Image: AFP/Getty Images

rmt/rs (AFP, Reuters)