One of the scary aspects of the armed conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region is that women and girls living in displaced persons camps, towns, and rural areas remain extremely vulnerable to sexual violence [SOURCE]. Those responsible are usually men from the Sudanese security forces, militias, rebel groups, and former rebel groups, who target women and girls predominantly (but not exclusively) from Fur, Zaghawa, Masalit, Berti, Tunjur, and other non-Arab ethnicities.
Perhaps even more scary is the public response of the Sudanese government. The government of Sudan has repeatedly denied that sexual violence is a problem in Darfur. As recently as March 2007 President Omar al-Bashir said in a television interview, “It is not in the Sudanese culture or people of Darfur to rape. It doesn’t exist. We don’t have it.”
Survivors of sexual violence in Darfur have no meaningful access to redress. They fear the consequences of reporting their cases to the authorities and lack the resources needed to prosecute their attackers. Police are physically present only in principal towns and government outposts, and they lack the basic tools and political will for responding to sexual violence crimes and conducting investigations. Police frequently fail to register complaints or conduct proper investigations. While some police seem genuinely committed to service, many exhibit an antagonistic and dismissive attitude toward women and girls. These difficulties are exacerbated by the reluctance—and limited ability—of police to investigate crimes committed by soldiers or militia, who often gain effective immunity under laws that protect them from civilian prosecution.
Americans are shocked beyond belief when we learn of sexual violence against young girls in our country. This week we are watching the raids on a Texas compound as a result of a 16-year old girl telling police that she was having unwanted sexual relations with a 50-year old polygamist. However, America doesn't seem to be willing to engender any outrage over the sexual violence occurring in Darufur. Women and girls continue to be brutally beaten and raped. Social stigma and obstacles to justice continue to discourage women and girls from seeking redress.
Since 2004 the African Union peacekeeping mission, known as AMIS, made efforts to protect women and girls victimized by sexual violence. But a lack of resources and various logistical and security challenges undermined these efforts. On January 1, 2008, an expanded United Nations-African Union mission (UNAMID) took over the mandate of the African Union mission and has been tasked to ensure security for humanitarian agencies, protect civilian populations, and monitor peace agreements, among other things.
It is imperative that the Sudanese government and UNAMID, still in the process of deployment, give high priority to meeting the challenges associated with addressing sexual violence. The government should demonstrate its resolve to address these serious human rights violations by state security forces and government-backed militias through concrete actions addressing the causes of sexual violence:
- Bring to an end all attacks on civilians, including women and children, by government forces and government-backed militia.
- Issue clear, public instructions in the form of a presidential decree to all members of the armed forces and government-sponsored militia, that rape and other forms of sexual violence will be promptly investigated and prosecuted.
- Hold those responsible for acts of sexual violence, including those in positions of authority, accountable as a matter of command responsibility.
- Ensure police and prosecutors are trained in victim-sensitive approaches to handling criminal investigations, and that properly trained female police investigators are deployed to police stations in Darfur, especially to internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.
- Revise criminal laws on sexual violence to provide for attempted rape and ensure rape victims are not exposed to prosecution for adultery, as is possible—and has happened in the past—under Sudanese law.
- Clearly and publicly instruct military authorities to comply promptly and transparently to requests from police and prosecutors regarding criminal investigations of members of the armed forces.
- Repeal immunity laws that provide members of the security forces effective immunity from prosecution in civilian courts for human rights violations, including acts of sexual violence.