Sexual violence defines the conflict in Darfur, but international efforts to prevent and respond to the issue have been insufficient. While this report critiques the international response, the primary obstacles to preventing rape and assisting survivors are the perpetrators and the Sudanese government officials who actively block the work of international agencies.
From police officers who arrest raped women to the harassment of humanitarian organizations, the Sudanese government has shown itself unwilling to treat the issue of sexual violence seriously. Nevertheless, the international community has also failed to do everything within its power to meet the needs of survivors of sexual violence in Darfur. This report summarizes Refugees International’s work on sexual violence in Darfur through 2006 and includes recommendations for improvement in the international community’s response.
After years of denying the rapes, Sudanese officials claim they are actively trying to prevent them and help rape survivors. These claims are false. The government of Sudan bears the primary responsibility to provide protection for the women of Darfur, and it is their responsibility to provide assistance to its citizens. But, they are failing to do so and are often the perpetrators of the violence. Refugees International believes that the government of Sudan lacks the political will to stop the violence or respond effectively. Instead of protecting the women of Darfur, the government of Sudan actually oppresses them, punishing those who bring cases forward.
Sudanese forces have used intimidation to threaten local civil society and local staff who work for international agencies, and have stepped up their attacks on international personnel. In addition to arresting or deporting international staff who dare to speak out, the government of Sudan is widely believed to have infiltrated most humanitarian agencies in Darfur, leading to suspicion and distrust. As the security situation deteriorates, many aid agencies have had to suspend operations and many threaten to withdraw completely. This will make it even more difficult to provide services to rape survivors and to build the needed trust within communities that would allow more survivors to come forward.
Sexual violence in Darfur affects not only the individual, but also her family and community. For the rape survivor, the physical consequences can be life threatening. Socially and culturally, the stigma associated with rape destroys lives -- women have been abandoned by their families, forced into marriages, and suffer from mental trauma. Some have even attempted suicide. Little is known of the welfare of children born of rape. Sexual Violence also victimizes men — both as victims and as family members of survivors. Yet programs designed to address sexual violence in Darfur often ignore the needs of men.
In response to the charges of genocide, the international community deployed a small, underresourced peacekeeping force — the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). AMIS’ efforts to protect women must be reviewed in order to improve the performance of UNAMID — the incoming African Union/UN hybrid force. Although AMIS’s attempts to establish “firewood” patrols were sporadic, limited, and ultimately ineffective, AMIS was successful in recruiting experienced female police officers, although much of the added benefit was lost by the lack of female translators.
Responding to the needs of rape survivors is also sporadic and insufficient — often because of government intimidation. Until 2005, women who were raped in Darfur were threatened with imprisonment when they sought healthcare. Both international and Sudanese health providers risked imprisonment if they treated these women. Although laws have changed, rape survivors remain reluctant to seek care and humanitarian agencies remain reluctant to provide treatment.
International response to sexual violence has focused disproportionately on legal response. “Laws Without Justice,” a Refugees International report, documents Sudan’s failure to provide justice to rape survivors in Darfur. UN agencies have been training police and judges with varying degrees of success. The large number of rapes has not decreased in spite of these trainings and the Sudanese police consistently impede justice. Yet, some female police officers have shown willingness to assist survivors of sexual violence and could become a valuable asset.
Responding to sexual violence in conflict is difficult, requiring effective coordination of the various agencies involved. Unfortunately, the international community’s ability to coordinate the response to sexual violence has been weak. Researching and documenting sexual violence is extremely challenging, particularly in a time of war. Reliable and accurate numbers remain elusive. UNFPA, who is mandated to coordinate prevention and response to gender-based
violence, has been overly focused on data collection at the expense of developing programs to support survivors. Meanwhile, the rapes continue and women are not receiving even basic care and treatment in many places. Policy makers should not ask “How many women are raped?” but rather, “How can we prevent sexual violence?” and “How can we improve services to those who have been raped?”
An Advocacy Agenda on Sexual Violence in Darfur
|Ending Sexual Violence in Darfur: An Advocacy Agenda ||1.51 MB|