My Sister’s Murder in Darfur

Sudanese women at a food-distribution center in West Darfur, Sudan, in 2008. The rape and murder of women has been commonplace since Sudanese government began attacking the region in 2003. Credit Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Yet another woman is attacked and killed in an isolated place outside her village in Darfur. The story line is terribly familiar, not only from 2003 when the genocide began in Sudan, but to this day. Beyond the village, who notices now? Where is it reported as news? How will justice come if it is not reported, if no one cares?

I care. The woman who was attacked and killed on Aug. 21, 2017, was my sister, Noi.

I care. I am angry. I cry out for justice for Noi.

I am the youngest of seven children, five of whom survived, until now. Our two brothers and our other sister moved away from our village, Muzbat, in North Darfur. Noi stayed behind. She was the second youngest, but to me, she was my big sister. She helped look after me when I was a child. She was kind, strong and brave, capable and independent.

After the first wave of attacks by Sudanese government forces in Darfur in 2003, I became an interpreter and guide there for aid organizations and Western journalists. In 2006, I was captured, imprisoned and tortured by the government of Sudan. With help from the United States, I was released from prison and came to America as a refugee in March 2007.

Muzbat is one of the thousands of villages destroyed by Sudan’s army and militias in the Darfur genocide since 2003. We are from the Zaghawa tribe, one of the three tribes targeted by the government. Muzbat was attacked repeatedly. The people would flee, return and rebuild.

Living in Muzbat, Noi married and raised her children. She was the one who took care of the family. After our father died in 2006, Noi looked after our elderly mother, now nearly blind and deaf. Noi had five children. The two oldest girls are grown and married. The two younger girls, Alia and Henneni, still lived with Noi, along with her youngest, a boy, Ali, who is 14.

Despite hardships, Noi thrived. She owned seven cows, 15 sheep, more than 25 goats and a donkey. Some years ago, I was able to sneak back into Darfur for a visit. In August 2014, I got married in Muzbat, in my sister’s house. I last visited Noi in June last year.

More recently, Noi and I had been in touch via telephone. This required complicated prearrangement through family members in El Fasher, the capital city of North Darfur. They would coordinate a time for Noi to use my prepaid phone card from a telephone in the Muzbat market. Noi and I had fixed a time for a phone call on Tuesday, Aug. 22, but she was killed the day before our appointment.

The Sudanese government’s infamous and deadly Janjaweed militia, which has preyed on Darfuris since 2003, has formally become part of the National Intelligence and Security Service, and is named the Rapid Support Forces. In recent months, an R.S.F. base with about 150 vehicles was established near Muzbat.

It is the rainy season in Muzbat. There is grass for grazing, but it is a long walk from Muzbat. On Monday morning, Aug. 21, Noi rode her donkey and led her seven cows out to pasture. Later in the day, the donkey made its own way back to Muzbat — to the consternation of the villagers. The next day, a small group men and women followed the donkey’s tracks.

Four hours later, they found Noi’s body. She had been shot in the head. There was blood on the ground and tracks from her attacker. The women brought Noi’s body back to Muzbat. The men followed the tracks to the R.S.F. camp, where the base commander came out to meet them. He refused to allow them into the camp, but told them he was holding the militia man who had confessed to killing Noi. The R.S.F. commander sent the villagers home.

The villagers learned that the suspected killer was an R.S.F. soldier, who had an injury to his head. He had wiped the blood from his gun and clothes but had taken Noi’s shoes. He had left the R.S.F. camp with his rifle. He saw Noi and followed her for hours to an isolated place, where he attacked her. He had tried to rape her, but Noi fought back, wounding him in the head before he shot and killed her.

Back at Muzbat, the villagers raised the alarm and sought help from surrounding villages. The next day, hundreds of villagers from the area went to the R.S.F. base to demand justice for Noi. With tension rising, the R.S.F. sent the suspect to El Fasher under arrest.

It is very unusual in such cases that a killer is ever found. Even more unusual that one should be arrested.

Perhaps the R.S.F. commander thought he had to act because the evidence was undeniable and he was confronted with the angry villagers. Yet there have been no news reports, either about the attack and killing of Noi, or concerning the arrest of her suspected killer. In fact, two government officials later visited the village, found and deleted pictures of Noi’s body on villagers’ cellphones, and warned the inhabitants not to speak to the media.

We, Noi’s family, are not surprised that the government is taking steps to hide its crimes. We fear that the killer will not see justice.

Incredibly, the same R.S.F. that attacks villages in Darfur and is responsible for killings and rapes is being paid by the European Union to help stem the flow of refugees who might find their way to Europe. An EUobserver investigation earlier this year found that European Union funding for the Sudanese effort to curb migration already amounted to nearly 215 million euros. Another report called this European support for the R.S.F. a case of “Border Control From Hell.”

I can testify that this rebranded Janjaweed militia is not a source of stability, but an agent of death and destruction. It is a scandal that the R.S.F. is, in effect, funded by the European Union.

I tell Noi’s story in the hope that some publicity about her murder will help to ensure that her killer will not escape justice. I hope, too, that the European Union and the United States, which is expected to decide next month on whether to lift sanctions on Sudan, will see the R.S.F. and the government in Khartoum for what they are. I dream of the day that peace and justice come to Darfur, for Noi’s sake and for all Darfuris.

Daoud Hari, a former interpreter from Sudan, is the author of The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur.

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