Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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Sudan: Where Rape Became the Cheapest Weapon

In a country headed by an internationally wanted war criminal, in a country divided internally by race, religion, and gender, civil wars have become an accepted destiny.  For more than 50 years of independence, Sudan has never witnessed peace; except for a few short years.  When the longest and most brutal civil war in South Sudan was under negotiation for a peace deal in 2002-2003, a new war started in Darfur.  It wasn't new in terms of the atrocities or human suffering, but it was indeed new for the type of weapons used in the conflict.

Omar al-Bashir the president of Sudan for the last 25 years was the first president in office to be convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur.  One of the crimes which led the ICC to issue an arrest warrant against Bashir in 2009 was the mass rape of Darfuri women.  According to human rights groups and the ICC, thousands of women had been raped by the Sudanese government militias all over Darfur, in the first three years of the war from 2002-2005.

The so-called "Islamic regime" in Sudan has just nominated Bashir to become the only candidate for the presidency in the upcoming elections in 2015.  On October 31st, just a few days after this nomination, the Sudanese army raided a small village in North Darfur named Tabit.  The army troops separated women from men, and raped 200 women, 8 of them were children and 72 underage girls.  The incident was first reported by the local and well known Radio Dabanga on November 2nd.  Activists and media started an international call for immediate investigation in Tabit.  Since 2007 the Security Council sent a peace keeping mission in cooperation with the African Union to protect civilians in Darfur.  An important part of the mission mandate is protecting women in this conflict region from all kinds of violence, with sexual violence being at the top of the mandate.

UNAMID soldier in Tabit. (Credit: UN)

The peace keeping mission known as UNAMID tried to investigate the incident on November 5th, but it was denied access by the Sudanese authorities.  After strong demands from the international community, among them the UK and France, the Sudanese government granted access to the peacekeepers to enter Tabit on November 9th.  According to the UNAMID officials, there has been a heavy army and security presence in the village, which has previously intimidated the locals, reporters said.  UNAMID came out with a finding that there has been no mass rape, but the Security Council doubted the findings of the mission because of the large military presence during the investigation.  It's worth mentioning that UNAMID itself has been under investigations recently for covering up war crimes in Darfur and mis-reporting many violations to the United Nations.

Under these circumstances, the main issue was lost in the middle of the debate between the different bodies.  The main issue here is the situation of the victims, those women and girls who faced the horrible experiences of rape, either in Tabit or other areas of Darfur.  During the last 10 years, the rape of women and girls in Darfur became daily news.  Women are raped inside refugee camps, or on their way to collect firewood or water, or while cultivating their land or watching their animals.  But recently, Darfuri women and young girls were even raped and sexually abused inside schools and universities.

A woman collects water in a village in Darfur.

This October, Darfuri female students were sexually abused miles away from Darfur, inside the most prestigious university in Sudan, Khartoum University.  As a group of 70 Darfuri female students from different universities were living in Barakas dorm beside Khartoum University, the police and security raided their rooms, forced them to evict the dorm, arrested 20 girls and sexually abused many others.  The raid was during the Eid al-Adha holiday, but the Darfuri students were in the dorm because they could not afford to travel tens of miles to spend Eid with their families in remote regions.

In the conflict areas in Sudan (Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile), rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) have been used as a weapon of war, mainly by the Sudanese government militias and armed forces.  The Islamic regime in Sudan is justifying its attacks on the mostly African non-Arab Sudanese populations in these areas, as part of their supposed Jihad for Islam.  For example, they also use race divisions in these areas to mobilize the minority of nomad Arab tribes in Darfur to eliminate the rebelling African tribes in the region.  These militias, known as Janjaweed, committed the most horrific crimes in Darfur and they are now expanding into the Nuba Mountains.  For these militias, women are the reward for their fighting for the government.  Their salary is looting the villages and raping women.  In addition to the ultimate benefit which is spreading fear in the hearts of the locals.  This policy has been successful in driving hundreds of thousands of civilians in Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile to flee their homes and leave their lands.

Janjaweed militia men.

Despite the repeated calls from the International Criminal Court and human rights groups for accountability and justice for the victims of rape in Darfur, and other war regions, Omar al-Bashir is still safe and free.  Moreover, he is planning new military campaigns, where women are part of the paycheck of his militias.  Due to the collapsing economy of war in Sudan, the regime is relying on militias to replace the army; simply because they cannot afford the salaries of the troops.  In such a situation, women in war areas are paying the highest price of these conflicts.  They have lost their homes, their sons, and their psychological wellbeing.

One of the psychotherapists working in Darfur told me: "I watched these women and girls coming every day.  They felt unimaginable pain physically and mentally.  They could not even find words to describe it, they were just crying."

Poster from a local advocacy campaign against sexual violence.

The author of this blog is a Sudanese activist who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons.

This is the 8th entry in our #16Days 2014 blogging series.  We are bringing you an entry from one of our inspiring activists on each day during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

Peace and Security