An 85-year-old British national was shot dead by snipers in Sudan and his wife starved to death after they were left to their own devices by the British embassy in Sudan, her family told BBC News Arabic.
Abdalla Sholgami lived with his 80-year-old disabled wife, Alaweya Rishwan, directly across from the British Diplomatic Mission in Khartoum.
But despite repeated calls for help, the London hotel owner was never offered assistance exiting Sudan, even as a British military team was dispatched to evacuate diplomatic staff. Instead, the elderly couple were told to go to an airfield 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside of Khartoum – which would have meant crossing a war zone – to board an evacuation flight.
Britain’s Foreign Office conceded to the BBC that the Sholgamis’ case was “extremely sad” but added that “our ability to provide consular assistance is severely limited and we cannot provide personal assistance in Sudan”.
Since the conflict broke out on April 15, fierce fighting has erupted in the Khartoum diplomatic sector.
The violence was triggered by a power struggle between former allies – the leaders of the regular army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Just days after the conflict began, the family began contacting the British Embassy.
Just over a week after fighting began, the embassy was evacuated with the support of the British Army and Royal Air Force.
The British Embassy is “maximum four steps away,” explained Mr Sholgami’s granddaughter, Azhaar, who grew up in Khartoum.
“I was informed that they had 100 soldiers who came and evacuated their staff. Couldn’t cross the street? I’m still very disappointed in them.”
Facing hunger and lack of water, Mr. Sholgami was forced to leave his wife to seek help. While he was out, snipers shot him three times – in the hand, chest and lower back. As there were no hospitals in his whereabouts, Mr Sholgami was taken to a family member in another part of Khartoum and survived.
But his wife was now left to her own devices and it was impossible for any family to reach her in an area surrounded by snipers.
The family continued to contact the British Foreign Office hotline to help Alaweya Rishwan, but she remained stuck in the house without assistance and was found dead by a Turkish Embassy official a few days later. Her body remains unburied in the house.
The family say the UK government has done nothing to support them and have not been in touch since May 3, when the last evacuation flight to the UK took off.
Azhaar Sholgami is desperate.
“What happened to my grandparents was a crime against humanity, not just on the part of the RSF, not just on the part of the RSF [Sudanese army]but from the British Embassy because they were the only ones who could have prevented something like this from happening to my grandparents,” she told the BBC.
Britain’s Foreign Office told the BBC: “The ongoing military conflict means Sudan remains dangerous… the UK is taking a leading role in diplomatic efforts to secure peace in Sudan.”
Mr Sholgami has now managed to flee to Egypt, where he is receiving medical treatment after his wounds were operated on in Khartoum without anesthesia by his son, a doctor.
That’s because only a handful of Khartoum’s 88 hospitals remain open after weeks of fighting, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Union.
Hospitals were frequently attacked by both sides during the conflict.
A BBC News Arabic investigation has uncovered disturbing evidence of possible war crimes committed by both sides against medical facilities and staff.
The BBC team used satellite data and mapping tools, analyzed large amounts of user-generated content and spoke to dozens of doctors to get an accurate picture of who might be committing war crimes.
Ibn Sina Hospital is among hospitals said to have fallen victim to an airstrike or artillery fire while paramedics were treating civilian patients, according to the BBC.
dr Alaa is a surgeon at the hospital and was present when the April 19 attack occurred.
“There was no warning. The Ibn Sina hospital where I worked was hit by three bombs, while a fourth bomb hit the nurses’ house, which was completely set on fire,” he said.
“The duty to warn of any impending airstrike, to ensure that all civilians can evacuate a hospital before an airstrike occurs – that is very clear under martial law,” said international criminal law expert Christian de Vos at the NGO Physicians for Human Rights.
Chris Cobb-Smith, a forensic weapons expert, looked at images of the attack and said it could have been caused by artillery fire.
Due to the uncertainty surrounding the type of weapon used, it is difficult to say for sure which side was responsible or if it was a targeted attack.
Another medical facility that was targeted was the East Nile Hospital – one of the last operating facilities in this part of the capital.
The BBC has seen evidence that RSF fighters surrounded them with their vehicles and anti-aircraft weapons.
There were reports of patients being forcibly evacuated from the building. But we also spoke to witnesses who say that civilians continued to be treated in addition to the RSF soldiers.
On May 1, a public area next to East Nile Hospital was hit by an airstrike by the Sudanese army. According to sources the BBC spoke to, there was no warning.
Five civilians were killed in this attack.
Another airstrike followed two weeks later, but there was no independent confirmation of the number of casualties.
The World Health Organization has reported that nine hospitals have been taken over by militants from one side or the other.
“The preferential treatment of soldiers over civilians [is] “It is not an appropriate use of a medical facility and it may well violate the laws of war,” said Mr. De Vos.
An RSF political adviser, Mostafa Mohamed Ibrahim, denied that they were preventing the treatment of civilians. He told the BBC: “Our troops are just spreading out and they’re there… they’re not occupying and they’re not stopping civilians from being treated in these hospitals.”
The Sudanese Army did not respond to the findings of that investigation.
There is also evidence of another potential war crime – the targeting of doctors.
The BBC has seen social media messages threatening doctors by name and even revealing their ID number. In the news, they are accused of supporting the RSF and receiving money from abroad.
In a widely circulated video, Major General Tarek al-Hadi Kejab of the Sudanese Army said: “The so-called Central Committee of Doctors should be called the Committee of the Rebels!”
Sudanese medical organizations have monitored threats they believe are coming from both sides, and the BBC has spoken to doctors who have gone into hiding.
“We know this is a tactic used in wars to exert pressure and is illegal under all international law. Unfortunately, this has pushed the medical staff into a propaganda war – between the RSF and the Sudanese army,” said Dr. Mohamed Eisa from the Sudanese American Physicians Association.
Doctors around the world are calling for an end to targeted attacks on their colleagues.
At a conference in London last week, Sudan’s Doctors for Human Rights said medical workers had been killed, ambulances had been attacked and hospitals had been forced to close their doors.
dr Ahmed Abbas said: “We are collecting all evidence of these violations, which are crimes against humanity and war crimes, and these could be submitted to international judicial authorities or national authorities in Sudan.”
Reporting by Lara al-Gably, Vanessa Bowles, Mamdouh Akbiek, Ahmed ElShamy and Nawal al-Maghafi
In the UK, you can find out more on BBC2’s Newsnight on Friday from 10.30pm