“Genocidal Rape and Assault in Darfur” (Dirksen Senate Office Building & Rayburn House Office Building, July 21, 2005)
Sponsored by members of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus & the Congressional Caucus on Woment’s Issues
Testimony of Eric Reeves, Smith College, “Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur”
A month ago, Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, declared, “In Darfur, rape is systematically used as a weapon of warfare.” Throughout the Darfur crisis, Egeland has been the most forthright UN official, and his words here are piercingly accurate on several counts. Rape does not simply occur in Darfur; it is used as a weapon. And it is used not on a random basis, but systematically. And it is not a phenomenon of the past; as Egeland’s use of the present tense clearly indicates, systematic rape is being deployed today, in ongoing genocidal war against the non-Arab or African tribal populations of Darfur.
I strongly believe that in the absence of international humanitarian intervention, extraordinary violence against women and girls in Darfur will continue for the foreseeable future. I believe equally strongly that exclusive reliance on the African Union to provide security to acutely vulnerable civilians and humanitarian operations in Darfur is a cynical refusal of our responsibility to stop genocide. For we may be sure that whatever contributions are made by the AU—and the deployment of military, police, and other personnel has been painfully slow and inadequately equipped—women and girls will continue to be raped, sexual and other violent assaults will continue at wholly unacceptable levels. In an area the size of France, with many scores of camps for displaced persons, and villages under siege, even the optimistically proposed 7,700 AU personnel are not nearly enough. Not if we are realistic about the threat posed by Khartoum’s military proxy in Darfur, the brutal Janjaweed militia.
The inauguration on July 9 of a Sudanese “government of national unity” should not be the occasion for facile or expedient conclusions about the future of Darfur. Historic though this achievement is, as important as the inauguration of John Garang of the SPLM may be, we must be honest about the dominant power in this new government, the National Islamic Front. For it was the NIF that set in motion the primary agents of violence in Darfur, including violence against women, the Janjaweed. Until this brutal Arab militia force is disarmed and controlled, the lives of women and girls will be constantly at risk.
And yet there is no evidence whatsoever that this is occurring. This despite the fact that exactly a year ago the UN Security Council “demanded” that Khartoum disarm the Janjaweed and bring its leaders to justice. On five separate occasions, in five separate agreements, Khartoum promised to disarm or neutralize the Janjaweed—the first time in the April 2004 N’Djamena (Chad) cease-fire agreement. Again, there is no evidence that the National Islamic Front has any intention of honoring its agreements or yielding to the UN Security Council demand. Rather, in many cases Janjaweed forces have actually been incorporated into the police and security forces in Darfur, including in the camps for displaced persons. Thus women and girls who have been raped are often nominally being “guarded” by the very men guilty of this brutal crime.
We don’t know how many women and girls have been raped in Darfur, but evidence from Doctors Without Borders and research in an important study last October by Tara Gingerich and Jennifer Leaning of Harvard University strongly suggest that the figure is likely tens of thousands, perhaps many tens of thousands. We will never of course know: fear of stigma, fear of the Darfur authorities, and death will obscure the vast majority of rapes and other violence against women.
But we have more than enough evidence of the ethnic hatred animating all too many of these rapes. Though I might offer countless examples, from a wide range of sources, let me cite only one, from the Doctors Without Borders report of this March (“The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur”):
(from three women of the Fur tribe, 25, 30 and 40, October 2004, West Darfur)
“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, they would rape them again to change the colour of their children.'” (page 1)
Again and again, women have reported such explicit comments coming from their Janjaweed attackers. Here we should recall that the language of Article 2 of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide specifies, among other genocidal acts:
“Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”
“Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”
In addition to massive ethnically-targeted human destruction by the Janjaweed and Khartoum’s regular military forces, rape as a systematic weapon of war clearly causes both bodily and mental harm to the victims. Together with the racialized nature of sexual attacks and efforts at impregnation, such actions compel the conclusion that sexual violence against women is genocidal in nature.
Rape in Darfur is part of ongoing genocide that has already claimed almost 400,000 lives. As we enter the deadliest part of the current rainy season, as transport becomes increasingly difficult—along with meaningful surveillance—we face a stark choice that many would blur, but which cannot be avoided if we are honest: will we commit to providing all the security that is required by women, girls, and all vulnerable civilians in Darfur—as well as the humanitarian organizations struggling heroically amidst intolerable levels of danger?
No such commitment has been made by any government or by any legislative body. A year ago the Congress declared the realities in Darfur constitute genocide; a year later the genocide continues apace. I must ask, what do your words mean?
Key reference source:
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/)