Monitor March 2024

Atrocities Watch Africa (AWA) is a non-partisan civil society organisation that provides continental leadership in matters pertaining to the prevention of mass atrocities within Africa. Our strategies and approaches are grounded in the realisation that atrocities can be prevented through various interventions, including, but not limited to, early warning mechanisms, diplomatic efforts, use of social media and new technologies, litigation, and advocacy campaigns.

This newsletter builds on our team’s continuous monitoring of the region to identify deteriorating situations where atrocities may be committed and track ongoing situations of atrocities to detect increasing tendencies or opportunities for improvement.

This month’s newsletter includes a special focus on conflict related sexual violence in the horn of Africa and covers:

  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Senegal

A special focus on conflict related sexual violence in the Horn of Africa 

As the world greeted International Women’s Day on 8 March, women affected by conflict in the Horn had little to celebrate. Violence against women and girls, prevalent worldwide, continues to be particularly acute in conflict settings across the region where war and instability exacerbate dynamics that enable the perpetration of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). While  SGBV and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) are closely linked and sometimes used interchangeably, CRSV is a type of  SGBV that occurs within the context of armed conflict and is perpetrated by state and non-state actors. 

Women are disproportionately vulnerable to sexual violence, globally, one in three women will experience some  form of SGBV in her lifetime and one in ten girls under the age of 20 has endured forced intercourse or other coerced sexual acts.

Conflict is increasing, and with it the risk of CRSV. According to the United Nations Secretary General’s report, there were more than 600 million women and girls living in conflict-affected areas in 2022, an increase of 50% over five years prior. The Horn of Africa is particularly affected by this surge in violence, and the ongoing situations in Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia are characterised by high rates of CRSV. This special report highlights some of the key patterns of this violence. However, the true extent of these types of violations remains unclear as cases are widely underreported due to social stigma and lack of adequate support services for survivors, it is estimated that for every reported case another 10 to 20 go undocumented and unaddressed.


Since the outbreak of conflict  between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on April 15, 2023, women and girls have borne the brunt of CRSV while preexisting types of SGBV, including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), have increased. Women have been attacked while fleeing and searching for food and water. Credible sources have witnessed women and girls being transported in chains on pick-up trucks and cars. Despite documentation efforts, the figures reported are a vast underrepresentation of reality.

Sudan reported a surge in the number of individuals in need of GBV services with UNHCR estimating that 4.2 million were in need by October 2023. The number is expected to increase to 6.9 million this year.

Despite the difficulties of carrying out documentation amid the ongoing violence several reports are coming out, the Sudanese women’s advocacy group, “Together Against Rape and Sexual Violence,” documented 81 rape cases in five Sudanese states between mid-December 2023 and late February 2024, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHA) reported at least 60 incidents, involving at least 120 victims across the country since the start of the war and the Strategic Network for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) documented 117 cases between the period of 15 April and 31 December 2023. 

The Together Against Rape and Sexual Violence report reveals a disturbing trend of violence against children. In nearly one-third of the recent documented rape cases, the victims were underage. The group documented 81 rape cases in five Sudanese states between mid-December 2023 and late February 2024. The OCHA report also highlights attacks on children. The UN Panel of Experts also reported that girls as young as 14 were raped by the RSF.

Among these 117 cases documented by SIHA, 25 were gang rapes. In 47 cases, the perpetrators were identified as RSF, additionally, 34 cases of abduction were reported to have been perpetrated by the RSF during that time.

After the RSF invaded Gezira State and the city of Wad Madani in December 2023, similar crimes were committed. Despite limited reports from Gezira, due to the lack of network connectivity and widespread fear of retaliation, SIHA reported that between 19 December 2023 to January 10, 2024, at least six women were sexually assaulted in Rufa’a Town by the RSF. In Wad Medani, RSF soldiers assaulted and robbed a mother, resulting in injuries, and caused the death of her three-month-pregnant daughter in the aftermath of an attempted rape. Doctors faced significant challenges in addressing the overwhelming number of cases.

Despite their vulnerability, Sudanese women rights defenders and activists have emerged as key drivers of change by actively leading the humanitarian response, contributing to building peace efforts and monitoring and documenting human rights abuses.

Somalia and Somaliland:

GBV remains prevalent in Somalia. According to Somalia Health and Demographic Survey (SHDS), over 60% of women face physical abuse, denial of education, forced marriage, rape and sexual harassment among other forms of domestic violence.

The 2024 Somalia Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan emphasised a rise in incidents of GBV, with female-headed households being especially susceptible. Somalia ranks tenth globally in terms of the prevalence of child marriage and has a female genital mutilation (FGM) prevalence of 99.2% among women aged 15–49. The UN documented a surge in gender-based violence from 2022 onwards.

 In Hargeisa and Mogadishu, three men murdered their wives, two with knives and one by setting her on fire. In the Afgooye district, local residents and security forces intervened to prevent a man armed with petrol and matches from setting his wife and children ablaze. The incidents sparked femicide protests in Somalia. On 7 February 2024, a coalition of women’s rights organisations, activists, and human rights defenders in Somalia expressed serious concern regarding the alarming surge in femicides.

Some argue that the targeting of women and girls constitutes a mass atrocity crime. The prevailing culture of impunity and the inadequate regulatory framework within Somalia, along with deep-rooted gender disparities, create ideal conditions for these  atrocities. 

As in Sudan, many reported cases involve youth. Between January and October 2023, 265 cases of sexual violence against children were documented, 209 girls and 56 boys. The majority of the crimes were committed by armed men.

Somalia has not yet adopted any laws to enhance the legal framework for prosecuting conflict-related sexual violence. In 2022, UN Women ranked Somalia as the sixth-most gender-unequal country in the world. This ranking underscores the patriarchal nature of Somali society, which perpetuates strict gender roles and disadvantages women and girls.

South Sudan:

South Sudan has experienced significant levels of sexual violence, particularly in the context of its long-standing civil conflict and instability. 65% of South Sudanese women have experienced sexual or physical violence, according to the International Rescue Committe

The UN Human Rights Commission’s report to the Human Rights Council on South Sudan, reveals that as the country gears up for its initial elections in December 2024, the government has failed to achieve crucial milestones outlined in the 2018 peace agreement for promoting accountability, including for SGBV.

There report also reveals  an increase in abductions of women and children in Jonglei state and the Greater Pibor Administrative area, often involving disturbing cases of sexual violence and the cruel separation of parents from their children.  These abductions are part of a broader pattern of commodification in which they can be trafficked or traded for cattle or money.

The commissioners also interviewed survivors of sexual violence in Bentiu, where a densely populated camp shelters approximately 100,000 people displaced by violence and flooding. There they documented incidents of rape in 2023 by both the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-in-Opposition (SPLM/A-IO). Often, the victim was outside the camp gathering firewood, burning charcoal, or searching for food to supplement their income and dwindling food assistance.

The ongoing brutal sexual violence and gender-based violence crimes are exacerbated by the lack of security and protection measures for women and girls, coupled with their exclusion from national agenda-setting processes. This has had devastating effects on the lives of both individuals and their families


Ethiopia continues to grapple with the aftermath of the Tigray conflict, where thousands of women suffered sexual and physical violence. According to the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) the violence left at least 10,000 people,predominantly women and girls, survivors of sexual violence in Tigray alone, between November 2020 and June 2023. Similarly, Amnesty International documented160 cases over a similar period.  Incidents took place in civilian residences and the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) military camps. A medical expert told the organisation that their centre received 2250 cases of CRSV between November 2020 and June 2023, with 76 cases occurring in just one week in June 2023. A report by Physicians of Human Rights (PHR) and the Organisation of Justice and Accountability in the Horn of Africa (OJAH) revealed similar patterns by reviewing medical records, the majority of the survivors were adults with 33% aged between 18-25 and 7% were minors.

Many survivors of CRSV remain internally displaced and unable to go back home due to ongoing insecurity. Despite the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) in November 2022, Eritrean soldiers continue to subject women to horrific abuse including rape, gang rape and sexual enslavement. 

Unfortunately, CRSV is not limited to Tigray. Numerous cases of gender-based violence have been reported in IDP camps in the Oromia region.  Assistance for survivors is inadequate as pregnant rape victims were either forced to deliver in extremely precarious conditions, while others opted to terminate their pregnancies due to associated health risks. Survivors urgently need access to emergency medical care, including treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, emergency contraception, and mental health support. 


In response to this ongoing crisis of violence, it is important to note that women in the region are organising to protect themselves and support each other. Examples include the women’s protests against violence in Somalia and the frontline role of women’s organisations in responding to survivors in Sudan. Women’s organisations such as the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa have been critical in documenting the scale of the abuses. 

More needs to be done, however, to prioritise women’s needs in crisis response. Some organisations, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), are supporting economic empowerment, poverty alleviation and prevention. There are also efforts to ensure access to essential services, such as physical and mental health. The Government of Japan contributed over one million USD to UN WOMEN Sudan to address the urgent needs of hundreds of thousands of IDPs women and girls impacted by the ongoing Sudan crisis. UNFPA has worked to create a one-stop centre” in Ethiopia, a facility that offers a variety of support to survivors in a single location to ensure access and prevent retraumatization coming from women having to tell and retell their stories. There is also a need for greater support to local organisations within these responses.

In addition, there is a strong need to ensure accountability for past crimes as a way of preventing future atrocities. In one recent new mechanisms for pursuing this, in June 2023, the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned two South Sudanese individuals for having engaged directly or indirectly in conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). This was the first time that sanctions were explicitly framed in response to CRSV. Although the effectiveness of these sanctions remains to be seen, it is a signal that accountability for CRSV is being taken more seriously that they were focused in this way. 

Despite these efforts, however, the continued prevalence of CRSV shows clearly that much more remains to be done. 

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Although conflict has raged in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for the better part of the last 30 years, the conflict is escalating in worrying new ways , M23 has made substantial progress in North Kivu, advancing within 27 kilometres of Goma, the provincial capital. Civilians were forced to flee to Goma and South Kivu to escape the escalating violence. There was an increase in clashes between the Congolese army and their allied armed groups against the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF). ACLED reported that the number of political violence events involving the RDF in the first two and a half months of 2024 already surpassed the total for the previous year. 

The increased violence and regional political tensions led to protests due to the overall indifference from the international community, in Kinshasa demonstrators burned vehicles belonging to embassies and the UN stabilisation mission, MONUSCO. In Goma, they burned flags from western countries. Louis Gitinywa, a Rwandan-based political analyst, argued that protests were intended to put pressure on Western states to hold Kigali accountable for supporting M23. 

The resurgence of intensified hostilities could be perceived as a strategic manoeuvre aimed at forcing Kinshasa to reconsider its longstanding reluctance to engage in negotiations with M23. At the end of February Tshisekedi signalled a willingness to initiate dialogue with Kagame. 

There was also a significant escalation of violence in Ituri due to deadly fighting between Zaïre and the Cooperative for Development of the Congo (CODECO) militias in Djugu territory. ADF continued to kill and kidnap civilians in both Ituri and North Kivu and began attacking military targets after almost a year of avoiding direct clashes with security forces. According to ACLED, although the ADF was responsible for the largest number of civilian attacks in 2023, more recently M23 has become the greatest threat. 

The crisis has left an estimated 1.7 million people displaced in North Kivu alone, adding to the estimated seven million internally displaced persons in the DRC at the end of 2023. A surge in civilian targeting has overwhelmed local health facilities. The International Committee for the Red Cross reported that 40% of the victims reaching health facilities showed injuries from shelling or other heavy weapons that were being used in densely populated urban areas, including IDP camps, further signalling that Rwanda is supporting M23 with sophisticated weapons . Women and children continue to be the most vulnerable, and the increase in fighting brought an increase in cases of sexual and gender-based violence as well as child recruitment into armed groups. 

Regional dynamics: 

Since Tshisekedi came to power in 2019, the Congolese president  placed significant emphasis on improving relations with neighbouring countries. Substantial advancements were observed in relations between Kinshasa and Kigali during Tshisekedi’s first years in power and bilateral agreements were established with both Uganda and Burundi in 2021, leading to the deployment of troops to Eastern Congo to combat ADF and Red-Tabara, respectively, signifying a noticeable momentary change in regional cooperation. However much has changed since then, analysts believe Kigali felt its position and influence in Congo had diminished and probably felt isolated from its neighbours, thus Kagame resumed backing M23 to maintain its influence in the DRC. The situation between Uganda and Rwanda has since improved, as well as with the East African Community (EAC), leaving Tshisekedi surrounded by neighbours of whom he is suspicious. 

The resurgence of M23 killed whatever progress had been made between Kinshasa and Kigali and tensions are currently at an all time high with Kigali accused of supporting and fighting alongside M23 militants. During the election campaign in December, Tshisekedi compared Kagame to Adolf Hitler and accused him of expansionist aims. Amid the escalation of fighting with M23 around Sake, Congo accused Rwanda of carrying out a drone attack which damaged a civilian aircraft in Goma Airport. According to an Al Jazeera report, Rwanda has been providing M23 with sophisticated weapons.

Kigali, on the other hand, has accused Kinshasa of having fully integrated the Rwandan rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) into the Congolese Armed Forces and of engaging in operations against the Tutsi population present in the east. 

Tensions escalated between neighbouring Burundi and Rwanda when Burundian President Ndayishimiye shut down their shared border and cut off diplomatic ties. This came after Burundi accused Rwanda of hosting and training Burundian rebels – Red Tabara. Rwanda denied any association with the group. Phil Clark, a professor of international politics at SOAS University of London, said that there is very little evidence to suggest that Rwanda is backing the group. However, such accusations may serve as a justification for increased Burundian military presence in DRC following the EAC withdrawal. Burundi’s unilateral decision to close the border and suspend diplomatic relations may further complicate EAC integration. 

Military leaders from Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa – deployed through SAMIDC- as well as Burundi and DRC met to discuss a coordinated military strategy to end the hostilities.

Under much pressure from the US, Angola attempted to revive the Luanda process. Angolan President Lourenco hosted a mini-summit including both Kinshasa and Kigali in Addis Ababa  in mid-February. At the end of February, Tshisekedi expressed his willingness to meet with Kagame, a second  meeting is expected in the near future. 

International response: 

The United States and France called on Rwanda to stop support to M23 and pull out its troops from Congo and on the Congolese army to cease its cooperation with the FDLR and called both parties to the Luanda process. 

The UN Security Council was briefed on the situation by UN Special Representative Bintou Keita who highlighted the risk of the conflict expanding on a regional scale. Per a request by France, the UK, and the US the UN sanctioned six individuals including Willy Ngoma, the M23’s military spokesperson, and leaders from the FLDR and ADF. The Security Council held a briefing on the deteriorating situation and increased regional tensions.

The African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) endorsed the deployment of troops from the South African Development Community (SADC) and condemned the Ugandan and Rwandan troops interfering in the region. 


After a month’s delay presidential elections took place in Senegal and opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye was declared winner with over 54% of votes, runner up was candidate Amadou Ba, the ruling party’s choice, who secured over 35% of votes. Faye’s victory was declared days after he was released from prison. The candidate ran as an independent due to the dissolution of the Patriots of Senegal (PASTEF) party. 

Elections were initially set to take place on 25 February but were postponed by former President Macky Sall citing concerns about the “credibility of the ballot” when a handful of candidates were excluded for not meeting the eligibility criteria put in place by both Sall’s administration and the presidentially-appointed Constitutional Council, and limited the participation of prominent opposition candidates. The Parliament backed Sall only after security forces removed some opposition lawmakers who opposed the bill.

The delay in elections brought protests throughout the country and especially in the capital, Dakar, which turned violent.  Security forces fired live and rubber bullets as well as tear gas at close range at protesters. At least three people died, some of them bystanders that weren’t even protesting. The opposition reported that at least 60 people were injured and 271 people were arrested throughout the country, most of them members and supporters of the dissolved opposition party PASTEF. By mid-February at least 66 of those detained had been released. Some of the detainees reported having suffered physical abuse at hands of the police. Human Rights organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on the Senegalese government to ensure freedom of expression and assembly and highlighted the need for a credible, transparent and impartial investigation of attacks on protesters.

Journalists covering the protests were targeted in what some believe was a deliberate effort to prevent them from reporting on the protests. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that at least 25 reporting in Dakar were physically attacked, detained, targeted with tear gas, or harassed by the police. A media channel was briefly suspended for showcasing the protests and internet access was restricted.

Violence had already previously been used to suppress the opposition, media, and civil society, ahead of elections. The authorities had been using the judicial system to target political opponents and dissidents by arbitrarily detaining them based on politically motivated allegations that lacked substantive basis. There were accusations of ill-treatment and torture in detention. 

Senegalese were unhappy with the postponement and believed Sall, who has been in office since 2012 and is no longer eligible to run himself, was trying to hold onto power for longer. Opposition parties, including PASTEF called the postponement efforts a “constitutional coup”

Meanwhile, amid the political crisis, Sall’s government passed a general amnesty law for political crimes committed between 2021 and 2024, which absolves government officials and security forces for abuses committed during political protests held between 2021 and 2024. On the other hand, the bill hasended legal proceedings against opponents and could lead to the release of prominent candidates such elected president Faye who had been detained for spreading false news on a social media post and defamation. Sonko was also released, and threw his weight behind Faye in the election at the end of March.

Tensions had been brewing since December 2020 after Sall hinted at a potential third term. Following opposition to the idea, he announced in a July 2023 interview that he wouldn’t seek reelection, however, widespread distrust persisted due to the continuous crackdown on the opposition. In March 2021, after PASTEF opposition candidate Sonko was arrested, at least 13 people were killed by police violently cracking down on the demonstrations. The government also implemented an internet shutdown at that time. 

Human Rights Watch reported that at least 37 people were killed by the excessive use of force by security forces and 1,000 opposition party members were arrested between March 2021 and January 2023. In recent months several political prisoners were released in response to both domestic and international pressure.

The postponement of the elections caused political turmoil unprecedented in Senegal, which is considered to be one of the most stable democracies in Africa. However, the space for political opposition has been steadily shrinking in recent years, with opposition candidates often obliged to leave the country or face detention under what may be considered unjust charges designed to limit their political involvement. The increasing absence of political freedom has begun to create an environment conducive to conflict and violence, as individuals and groups strive to assert their rights and oppose the government. The situation is particularly concerning when considering that over the past decade over a dozen African heads of state have manipulated constitutions or disregarded term limits to prolong their stay in power, this undermining of democratic governance has frequently led to violence, including coups. Similar challenges are emerging in ostensibly stable democracies like Ghana, which may indicate broader threats to democracy ahead of elections. Sall’s government will officially end on 2 April. Could a peaceful transition of power in Senegal signal a significant shift towards democracy in West Africa?

The US Institute of Peace marked the next three months as critical for the country’s long term political and economic path, any further setbacks in the country’s democratic process put it at risk of experiencing economic decline, social destabilisation, and heightened security challenges.