Five Years On, Sexual Violence Still Rife in Darfur
(New York) - Five years into the Darfur conflict, women and girls need protection from rape and brutal attacks still being committed by government forces and armed groups throughout Darfur, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.
Neither government security forces nor international peacekeepers have provided sufficient protection for women and girls, who remain extremely vulnerable to rape and other abuses during large-scale attacks and even in periods of relative calm, Human Rights Watch said. Survivors of sexual violence face numerous obstacles to justice, leaving them without meaningful redress. Where the perpetrators are soldiers or militia, the chances of prosecution are still more remote.
The 44-page report, “Five Years On, No Justice for Sexual Violence in Darfur,” documents the widespread prevalence of sexual violence throughout Darfur, and details incidents of violent rape perpetrated on girls as young as 11 years old. The government of Sudan has failed to rein in the abuse, much of which is carried out by their own soldiers and allied militia. In spite of the presence of international peacekeepers in Darfur, they have to date been under-resourced and unable to protect women and girls from rape and other forms of violence.
“Women and girls in Darfur are still living under the constant threat of rape,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Sudanese government has declared ‘zero-tolerance’ for sexual violence, yet has done almost nothing to protect these victims.”
Human Rights Watch documented numerous incidents of rape and other sexual violence by Sudanese government soldiers, members of government-backed “Janjaweed” militia, rebels, and ex-rebels across Darfur since early 2007. These cases represent a small fraction of the sexual violence incidents as the vast majority of them are unreported.
Women and girls continue to suffer rape and other forms of sexual violence in the context of large-scale attacks. In February 2008, at least 10 women and girls were raped when government forces and allied militia carried out a massive air and ground attack on the villages of Sirba, Silea, and Abu Suruj in West Darfur, according to local residents.
Soldiers, militia, rebels, and ex-rebels also rape women and girls outside displaced persons camps and in rural areas. A 12-year-old girl described how an armed Arab man in uniform lured her and her younger sister into a secluded area by pretending to help them find their lost donkey. “He said if we went with him he would show us. He grabbed me and took off my clothes to do bad things to me. My younger sister ran back to the camp.”
In another case, an 11-year-old girl was raped by three armed men when she went to collect grass with her 7-year-old sister. The attack left her so badly injured she had to be evacuated by an African Union helicopter to the nearest hospital for treatment.
The government of Sudan has repeatedly and publicly denied that sexual violence takes place in Darfur, but has taken some small steps to address the problem. The government has appointed a handful of additional police and prosecutors, and established committees to combat violence against women in each of the three Darfur states. However, these steps have not reduced attacks on women or girls or increased their access to justice.
“The victims of these horrific attacks have little or no hope of redress in Darfur’s current climate of impunity,” said Gagnon. “By failing to prosecute the perpetrators, the government is giving them a license to rape.”
Despite the presence of Sudanese police – at least in main towns of Darfur – and a somewhat functional judicial system, most attacks on women and girls go unpunished. Survivors are often too afraid to report their cases and lack confidence that authorities will assist them. Even when women do report incidents of sexual violence, police routinely fail to register and properly investigate reports. Some police exhibit a dismissive or antagonistic attitude toward the survivors.
In addition, police and judicial authorities are unwilling or unable to prosecute most crimes committed by soldiers or militia. For example, during a large-scale attack on the village of Abu Sakin, North Darfur in late 2006, government soldiers and Janjaweed militia abducted eight women and girls, brutally raped at least three, and forced them to walk back to their village naked. The suspects were identified by the victims, but to date the military has refused to hand them over to the prosecutor. In other cases, police openly admit that they cannot take action if the case involves the military.
Human Rights Watch called on the government of Sudan to:
- Issue a presidential decree that rape and other forms of sexual violence by government forces and government-backed militia will be promptly investigated and prosecuted, and ensure that such a decree is enforced;
- Bolster the justice sector’s capacity to respond to crimes of sexual violence;
- Train police and prosecutors in victim-sensitive approaches to handling criminal investigations, and ensure that properly trained female police investigators are deployed to police stations in Darfur;
- Revise criminal laws on sexual violence to provide for attempted rape, and ensure rape victims are not exposed to prosecution for adultery.
Rebel forces, former rebel groups, and other non-state armed groups should issue clear, public instructions to group members that rape and other forms of sexual violence will be fully investigated and prosecuted, and perpetrators held accountable.
Human Rights Watch also called on the United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force (UNAMID) to address sexual violence and the lack of access to justice in Darfur, by:
- Ensuring it deploys a sufficient number of experienced and high-ranking female police officers;
- Continuing and increasing preventative “firewood patrols” to protect women and girls who venture outside IDP camps and in rural areas; and
- Ensuring all UNAMID personnel observe confidentiality guidelines and established referral pathways with the relevant humanitarian workers on the ground.
“Five years living in fear of rape is five years too long,” said Gagnon. “Women and girls in Darfur urgently need protection, and those who are victims need justice.”