“In Darfur, rape is systematically used as a weapon of warfare,” Jan Egeland, UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, June 21, 2005
June 25, 2005
Egeland’s recourse to the present tense in describing the use of rape as an ongoing weapon of war in Darfur is entirely appropriate. The Janjaweed militia forces allied with the Khartoum regime are continuing a brutal campaign of systematic sexual violence directed against the women and girls of non-Arab or African tribal groups. Khartoum for its part remains deeply complicit in this campaign, now in its third year, as Egeland makes clear in his characteristically forthright statement:
“[Egeland said] the impact of [sexual] violence was compounded by [the government of] Sudan’s failure to acknowledge the scale of the problem and to act to stop it. ‘Not only do the Sudanese authorities fail to provide effective physical protection, they inhibit access to treatment.’ He said in some cases unmarried women who became pregnant after being raped had been treated as criminals and subjected to further brutal treatment by police. ‘This is an affront to all humanity,’ Egeland said.” (Reuters, June 21, 2005)
The consequences of systematic, racially/ethnically-animated sexual violence in Darfur are enormous. Rape as a weapon of war is one the largest elements of the insecurity defining most of Darfur; sexual violence increasingly paralyzes civilian movement and powerfully circumscribes the grim lives within overcrowded and under-served camps for displaced persons. More broadly, insecurity continues to attenuate humanitarian reach and efficacy.
The threat of rape severely inhibits the gathering of firewood, water, and animal fodder. The collapse in Darfur’s food production is also directly related to the ongoing intimidating effects of sexual violence. More generally, rape—and the impunity with which it is committed by Khartoum’s proxy military force in Darfur—contributes to a desperate decline in morale within many camps and among displaced persons, some now entering their third year in this debilitating condition.
A powerful study of sexual violence in Darfur was published last fall and deserves the closest attention. Written by Tara Gingerich, JD, MA and Jennifer Leaning, MD, SMH, “The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in the conflict in Darfur, Sudan” (October 2004) was prepared for the US Agency for International Development/OTI under the auspices of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights (available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/fxbcenter/). Virtually all of the conclusions and assessments made in this detailed and historically informed study continue to be borne out by realities on the ground more than half a year later.
Certainly the central claim of the report stands without meaningful challenge:
“Our findings suggest that the military forces attacking the non-Arab people of Darfur, the Janjaweed in collaboration with forces of the Government of Sudan, have inflicted a massive campaign of rape as a deliberate aspect of their military assault against the lives, livelihoods, and land of this population.” (page 1)
“The highest priority now is to introduce a measure of real protection for the populations now displaced in Darfur and Chad in order to reduce the ongoing risk of rape to women and girls as they move outside camps and villages to find firewood and water.” (page 1)
But again, more than half a year later, such protection is nowhere in sight. Indeed, June 22, 2005 Congressional testimony by US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick works to ensure that current plans for an expanded but still wholly inadequate African Union (AU) deployment will constitute the full extent of international response to ongoing genocidal violence and destruction:
“The Bush administration is opposed to the dispatch of US or European forces to help enhance security in Sudan’s Darfur region because they could be vulnerable to attack by terrorists, [Zoellick] said Wednesday. ‘The region is populated by some bloodthirsty, cold-hearted killers,’ Zoellick said, mentioning Somalia in particular as one possible source.” (Associated Press, June 22, 2005)
Leaving aside the disgracefully lazy geography invoked, Zoellick is apparently unaware of the grim irony in declaring that Western troops cannot be deployed to Darfur because of “bloodthirsty, cold-hearted killers” in Somalia (well over 1,000 miles away)—even as defenseless women and girls in Darfur are daily and directly vulnerable to the “bloodthirsty, cold-hearted killers” that are the Janjaweed. Genocide is a brutal, ongoing reality in Darfur—an assessment recently confirmed in the abstract by President Bush—and yet the US remains content with an “Africa only” response, despite the clear inadequacies of the AU, even with NATO logistical and material support. Zoellick offered nothing in his Congressional testimony that suggests how the deployment of even 7,700 AU personnel by September (a suspiciously optimistic time-frame) can address the multiple security tasks all too conspicuous in Darfur—including the protection of women and girls from sexual violence.
Though there can be no denying the significant physical risks associated with humanitarian military intervention by American, European, Australian, or Canadian troops, these risks are almost certainly less than those confronted in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as the basis for participation in such military action is morally and legally much less ambiguous: halting genocide, halting the deliberate destruction of the African ethnic groups in Darfur because of who they are, “as such.” Here we should bear in mind two of the acts of genocide specified in Article 2 of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (to which the US, the countries of the European Union, and all current members of the UN Security Council are contracting parties):
[b] Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
[d] Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
Considerable international jurisprudential thought has been given to the particular meaning of these phrases, but both have a clear bearing on how we consider the implications of systematic, ethnically-targeted rape in Darfur. Rape causes extremely serious bodily harm, particularly the gang-rape so characteristic in Darfur, as does rape accompanied by non-sexual violence, also typical in Darfur. Rape causes excruciating mental trauma. And for a variety of reasons, rape also serves as a means of preventing births on the part of women within the targeted African groups. Those girls and women raped are often socially ostracized, and become much less valued as potential wives; violent rape often leads to medical complications that make further child-bearing impossible or much riskier; and rape often carries the threat of disease and infection, including direct threats to the lives of potential mothers.
Rape as committed by Khartoum’s military proxy in Darfur is entirely consistent with the genocidal ambitions that have been in evidence for over two years, and contributes significantly to the current genocide by attrition that has succeeded the previous campaign of large-scale violent destruction of the lives and livelihoods of Darfur’s African tribal groups. That sexual violence continues on a significant and consequential basis has been confirmed by UN reports (including the most recent [June 2005] by the Secretary-general), and by reports from human rights observers and humanitarian organizations on the ground in Darfur.
But for Zoellick and the Bush administration—and clearly with the support of the European Union and officials within NATO—there is no willingness to contribute US or European personnel to this most urgent humanitarian intervention. Genocide, including rape as a weapon of war in Darfur, will as a consequence proceed at a pace limited only by the drastically inadequate AU deployment, currently operating without a mandate for civilian or humanitarian protection.
“Time must be given for an African solution to work,” Zoellick declared in his Congressional testimony (Voice of America, June 22, 2005). But as Zoellick well knows, the AU has been shamefully reluctant to admit its own fundamental limitations, has failed to secure a mandate for civilian protection, and has deployed (in well over half a year) only about two thirds of the 3,500 personnel planned for early last fall. The AU has no capacity—either in material, manpower, or logistics (including “inter-operability”)—to reach the 7,700 target figure for September, a date much too far in the future given critical current needs for protection.
NATO logistics and other assistance will help, but in fundamentally limited ways. Most significantly, 7,700 personnel are still far too few to address the insecurity that now claims thousands of lives every month. A force at least four times as large is required on an extremely urgent basis to halt the human destruction. Without such intervention, human mortality is poised to increase dramatically during the current rainy season (now well under way: see weather chart at http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/EGUA-6DNSTV?OpenDocument).
Certainly a meaningful political settlement is nowhere in sight. Stalemated peace talks in Abuja (Nigeria) may be on the verge of breakdown, with the largest of the two insurgency movements declaring that Khartoum is again engaged in a significant military offensive during negotiations (as was the case during the last round of talks in December). Moreover, violence in eastern Sudan is cause for ever greater concern (see June 17, 2005 analysis by this writer at http://www.sudanreeves.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=56&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0). Not only has one of the Darfur insurgency groups (the Justice and Equality Movement) joined cause with the Eastern Front (the Beja Congress and the Rashaida Free Lions), but Khartoum has reportedly responded to recent military actions with Antonov bombing attacks. (The insurgents have demanded that the international news media inspect the sites of reported bombings.) Such military tactics were used for many years by Khartoum in southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile, often targeting humanitarian operations; they have also been integral to Khartoum’s genocidal campaign in Darfur. Now it appears that the National Islamic Front regime is once again resorting to aerial bombardment of civilians as a counter-insurgency weapon.
NATURE AND CONSEQUENCES OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN DARFUR
So long as the international community fails to supplement the African Union in Darfur, and fails to provide a force in place with a mandate for civilian protection, an intolerable number of women and girls will be raped. This will compound the ongoing failure of the international community, in particular the UN Security Council failure to secure from Khartoum compliance with the only significant “demand” made to date: that the regime disarm the Janjaweed murderers and rapists, and bring their leaders to justice (UN Security Council Resolution 1556, July 30, 2004).
In a region the size of France, with over 2.5 million internally displaced persons and refugees (including eastern Chad), many hundreds of thousands of women and girls are daily at risk of the sort chronicled by Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in its immensely powerful and clinically informed study: “The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur” (Amsterdam, March 8, 2005, at http://126.96.36.199/search?q=cache:GI2JuloZ8BsJ:www.doctorswithoutborders.org/publications/reports/2005/sudan03.pdf+%22crushing+burden+of+rape%22+darfur&hl=en&ie=UTF-8). Without international protection, girls as young as eight will continue to experience the most vicious form of sexual violence. MSF provides all too many horrific examples:
“‘Five women, 2 young girls (13 and 14 years old) and 3 older women, went to collect grass for their donkeys. The group got ambushed by three armed men. ‘I was taken to the near-by river bed away from the other women. One man took me in one direction. The other man took the other girl. [ ] The man who took me told me to sit on the ground. But I refused. He hit me twice on my back with a stick. Then he took out a knife and threatened me by pointing the knife at me. I sat down. And then he told me to take off my underwear. I refused, but he threatened me again with his knife. He pulled his trousers down and raped me. He left without saying anything or even looking at me.’ (Young girl, 13, February 2005, South Darfur)”
“‘One of the three man took me away from the other women. He threatened me with his knife by pinching my chest with it. He pushed me on the ground and took off my underwear. He raped me and was repeating “I will kill you” all the time to intimidate me.’ (Young girl, 14, February 2005, South Darfur)”
(“The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur,” page 4)
A hateful racial/ethnic animus is all too often in evidence in these violent rapes:
“We saw five Arab men who came to us and asked where our husbands were. Then they told us that we should have sex with them. We said no. So they beat and raped us. After they abused us, the told us that now we would have Arab babies; and if they would find any Fur [one of the non-Arab or African tribal groups of Darfur], they would rape them again to change the colour of their children.’ (Three women, 25, 30 and 40, October 2004, West Darfur)” (page 1)
Gingerich and Leaning also report on the racial/ethnic animus in the accounts of rape coming from non-Arab or African women, accounts that make clear the genocidal nature of these assaults:
“It is widely reported that during the attacks, the Janjaweed often berated the women, calling them slaves, telling them that they would now bear a ‘free child,’ and asserting that they (the perpetrators) are wiping out the non-Arabs.” (page 15)
Gang-rape is, as MSF has established beyond doubt, a characteristic feature of sexual violence in Darfur:
“[A number of] women described that the rapists abducted them and held them captive for several days and during that period they were raped regularly by several men. One woman reported that her abduction lasted 6 days and she was raped by 10 men. In addition, almost half of the survivors report that
there was more than one victim in the attack.” (page 5)
Individual women offer counts of unsurpassable horror:
“‘I was walking with a group of nine women and two men. We met some armed men along the road. They took the nine women and held us under a tree in their camp. They released us after three days. During all this time, I was raped every night and every day by five men.’ (Woman, 30, October 2004, South Darfur) (Among the nine women, only three came to the clinic, among which two girls were 12 and 13 years old.)” (page 5)
This authoritative MSF report was the reason given by Khartoum for the recent arrest of the two most senior officials of MSF working in Sudan and Darfur. Aware of the clinical authority of MSF’s report, and the international respect for the organization (which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999), the regime clearly fears the impact of reports of rape within the Muslim world. For while all too much of the Muslim world has shown a disgraceful willingness to countenance mass murder in Darfur in the name of “counter-insurgency,” as promulgated by Khartoum, rape has proved to be much more difficult to justify as a tool of war.
But sexual violence has undeniably been an essential tool of war from the beginning of Khartoum’s barbarous counter-insurgency war in Darfur and continues to be so today, as MSF insists in the report that to angered the regime:
“Since early 2003, the people of Darfur have endured a vicious campaign of violence, which has forced almost 2 million people to flee from their destroyed villages in search of safety. Rape against women, children, and men has sadly been a constant factor in this violence throughout this campaign of terror. More tragically, it continues to this day even long after people have fled from their villages. The stories of rape survivors give a horrific illustration of the daily reality of people in Darfur and especially of women and young girls, the primary victims of this form of violence. [The] first waves of people in flight repeatedly recounted to our teams how armed militias attacked their villages, killing and raping the inhabitants.”
“The hundreds of thousands who fled the destroyed villages have now sought refuge in makeshift camps with little but rags and sticks as shelter. But they have found no safety there. In spite of high-profile visits of the world’s leaders, people still face persecution and intimidation inside the camps. Rape, a feature of the attacks on their villages, has now followed them insidiously into their places of refuge. Families, in order to sustain themselves, have to continue collecting wood, fetching water or working their fields. In doing so, women have to make a terrible choice, putting themselves or their children at risk of rape, beatings or death as soon as they are outside the camps, towns
or villages.” (page 1)
MSF has quantified a number of their findings, and it was for uttering these terrible truths that Khartoum arrested the senior MSF officials in Sudan:
“The majority (82%) were raped while they were pursuing their ordinary daily activities. Only 4% of women reported that the rape occurred during the active conflict, while they were fleeing their home village. Almost a third (28%) of the victims reported that they were raped more than one time, either by single or multiple assailants. In more than half of the cases, physical violence was inflicted beyond sexual violence; women are beaten with sticks, whips or axes. Further, some of the raped women were visibly pregnant at the time of the assault, sometimes up to eight months.” (page 3)
But MSF is far from alone in reporting on the realities of rape. There have long been numerous accounts from the UN as well as human rights organizations, both international and Sudanese expatriate. The scale and viciousness of rape, especially in the more violent phases of the Darfur conflict, are suggested by a UN dispatch following an attack in the Tawilah area of North Darfur (one in which the notorious Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal is clearly implicated):
“In an attack on 27 February  in the Tawilah area of northern Darfur, 30 villages were burned to the ground, over 200 people killed and over 200 girls and women raped—some by up to 14 assailants and in front of their fathers who were later killed. A further 150 women and 200 children were abducted.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 22, 2004)
This was but one of countless such attacks.
We have no clear idea about the number of women and girls who have been raped in Darfur, in part because of the extraordinary reticence—for cultural and religious reasons—on the part of the women assaulted. We may be sure that UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Egeland is correct when he refers to the implications of the MSF study and its clinical recording of the experience of rape victims: “‘This [MSF figure of 500 rape victims] is just a fraction of such attacks'” (Reuters, June 21, 2005).
Gingerich and Leaning report that,
“a Darfurian nongovernmental organization has documented 9,300 cases of rape [footnote 72: interview, October 12, 2004], although other observers on the ground have argued that the number of rapes is closer to double that figure [footnote 73: Interviews, September 21, 2004].” (page 16)
Given the enormous reticence of raped women and girls, and the extreme limitations in reporting range and access on the ground, such estimates clearly intimate the possibility that many tens of thousands of rapes have occurred in Darfur.
It is in such a statistical context that we must understand the implications of Gingerich and Leaning’s account of “the strategic use of rape,” and its particular relevance for Darfur:
“Rape in the context of war serves to create fear, shame, and demoralization among many others in addition to the individual who has been directly assaulted. Communities threatened by mass rape in war may well be more likely to choose flight in advance of the enemy attack and may delay return to captured areas. Further, if a war aim is to take territory and resources and prevent the return of the target population, systematic rape can be seen as a potentially effective means to sap the capacity of groups and societies to reconstitute themselves and organize a sustained return.”
“In extreme circumstances, mass rape has been used to further an agenda of cultural and ethnic destruction, by polluting blood lines and preying upon deeply-instilled prejudices about victims of rape to weaken marital and communal relations. The poisonous power of rape to drain capacity for explanation or re-organization of self and community makes it a uniquely effective tool for undermining the social order. When the war aims include the ethnic cleansing or annihilation of a particular identified group, systematic rape could arguably be deployed to manipulate norms of honor, chastity, virginity, femininity, masculinity, loyalty, marriage, and kinship, and insert an emanating set of experiences and memories that destroy group bonds through time.”
“‘Raped women become pregnant by the enemy, they may suffer grievous physical and psychological injuries, they may die, they may be abandoned or disavowed by shamed families and husbands, all of which degrade the ability of a culture to replenish itself through sexual reproduction’ [footnote 29, Jonathan Gottschall, “Explaining Wartime Rape”].” (page 8)
It is impossible to do full justice to either the data or accounts of rape as a weapon of war. The number of studies available is already considerable (for example, in addition to the reports by MSF and Gingerich and Leaning, see Amnesty International, “Sudan, Darfur: Rape as a Weapon of War” [July 19, 2004] at http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engafr540762004). What is clear from all extant accounts, surveys, and data is that rape has in fact been deliberately deployed as a weapon of war, indeed as a weapon in service of genocidal assault. The subsiding of large-scale conflict has not diminished the ongoing significance or extent of this weapon.
Here we must bear in mind the highly significant finding of MSF:
“The majority (82%) [of women and girls] were raped while they were pursuing their ordinary daily activities. Only 4% of women reported that the rape occurred during the active conflict, while they were fleeing their home village.” (page 4)
As women have continued to be forced into camps for displaced persons, or trapped in besieged villages, this statistic is terrifying in its implications: there is no hiding or respite from rape. The UN (in Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 14; May 1, 2005) estimates that 1.88 million Darfuris are now internally displaced (the UN estimates another 200,000 are refugees in eastern Chad). This figure for human displacement represents only those persons to which the UN has access (mainly through UN World Food Program registration); it does not represent a huge and inaccessible rural population that is either displaced or acutely vulnerable in situ. In short, the extreme threat of rape continues for as many as 1.5 million women and girls. This has immense implications for the populations of Darfur, as Gingerich and Leaning make clear in their superb analysis of the “strategic use of rape as a weapon of war in Darfur”:
“Aspects of the underlying strategic rationale for these rapes can be discerned as follows:
* “Create a sense of fear in the civilian population in order to restrict freedom of movement and economic activity. The consistency and implacability of the Janjaweed attack pattern has cast a massive shadow of fear across Darfur. Word of the rapes of the non-Arab population has spread to all those who have not yet been struck. This fear translates into a siege situation, whereby no one ventures outside the confines of the village unless it is absolutely necessary.” (page 17)
* “Instill flight to facilitate capture of land and killing of male civilians. The modus operandi of the Janjaweed and Government of Sudan military attacks on Darfurian villages has become known across the region. Defiance in the face of the onslaught simply leads to death. Over these months of war, the military aims of these forces have become easier to accomplish: they ride up to the horizon of a settlement and everyone before them tries to flee.” (page 18)
* “Demoralize the population to reduce their will to resist and prolong their forced exit from the land. Mass rape in war ruptures community ties and disorganizes family structure, behavior, and expectations through time. In a culture that places such high value on virginity and chastity as Darfur, the burden inflicted by rape is particularly devastating and enduring.” (page 18)
* “Tear apart the community, by breaking family and community bonds and by engaging in ethnic cleansing through ‘pollution’ of the blood line. A key motive of the Janjaweed use of rape as a weapon of war appears to be to destroy the non-Arab Darfurian society as a separate ethnic entity. Reports of rapes are replete with statements made by the Janjaweed perpetrators suggesting their intent to make a ‘free baby’ (implying that the non-Arabs are slaves) and to ‘pollute’ the tribal blood line, which is patrilineal in the Darfurian tribes.” (page 18)
The strategic use of rape as a weapon of war is also evident in the numerous reports of women deliberately scarred or branded as part of sexual violence, this in order to make them more conspicuously victims of rape and thus less desirable as prospective wives or mothers. Even women who will under no circumstances speak of their brutal experience must nonetheless bear the cruelly and purposefully inflicted marks of that experience.
As we are counseled by the Bush administration “to give time for an African solution to work,” the transparent inability of the AU—now or in any foreseeable future—to provide civilian protection ensures that rape will continue to be deployed as a strategic weapon of genocidal war.
ABUJA (NIGERIA) PEACE TALKS
Current Darfur peace talks in Abuja are deeply imperiled and could collapse rapidly. The African Union clearly lacks the political and diplomatic leverage to move either the insurgents or Khartoum toward substantive peace talks; their role is narrowly limited to mediation. The Sudan Liberation Army/Movement—by far the larger of the two main Darfuri insurgency movements—has accused Khartoum of current and significant military attacks in Darfur, of sufficient seriousness to end negotiations (Associated Press [dateline: Abuja], June 22, 2005). Though this may be a disingenuous means of obscuring the serious differences that exist between the leaders of the two insurgency groups (the other is the smaller Justice and Equality Movement), it is certainly a distinct possibility that Khartoum has chosen to provoke a collapse through military action, as it did during the last negotiating session (December 2004).
Abuja makes terribly clear that the women and girls who will be the future victims of rape in Darfur cannot wait for a negotiated agreement to provide them protection. Nor can they count on an adequate AU force deploying, in timely fashion, with sufficient numbers and a meaningful mandate for civilian protection. The most vulnerable of civilians have been left with only the callous words of the Bush administration, as well as a silent complicity on the part of leaders in Europe, Canada, and other nations with the power to stop genocide in Darfur: “Time must be given for an African solution to work.”
But time is on the side of Khartoum’s genocidaires and their brutal militia proxy, the Janjaweed. And though there are a number of reports that Khartoum’s regular forces have also participated in the mayhem of sexual violence in Darfur (see Gingerich and Leaning, page 19), it is the Janjaweed—still unconstrained by Khartoum in any meaningful sense—that continue to rape on a massive, systematic basis. This is so despite the UN Security Council’s futile “demand” that the regime disarm the Janjaweed and bring its leaders to justice.
Nor is there any prospect of justice for these girls and women. Violations of international law, including the use of rape as a weapon of war (see Gingerich and Leaning, pages 6-12), have nominally been referred by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court. But Khartoum continues to evince nothing but contempt for the ICC, insisting both that no Sudanese will be extradited to The Hague and that preposterous domestic show trials, hastily contrived by the “justice ministry,” will have sole jurisdiction for all of Sudan.
THE BLUNTEST TRUTH
The National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum has no interest in seeking and sustaining a just peace for Sudan, or for any of the marginalized populations of this vast country, including those in the increasingly explosive east. The regime’s genocidaires seek only political survival on the most favorable terms. They will make no peace with the people of Darfur that threatens them more than the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (January 9, 2005) with southern Sudan already does.
Those women seeking justice from this regime will seek in vain. And those in the international community who refuse to see this regime for what it is, who refuse to see that the regime seeks neither a just peace for the people of Darfur nor justice for the most aggrieved civilian survivors of ongoing genocide, are complicit in condemning the women and girls of Darfur to an indefinite future of the most heinous crimes of sexual violence.
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