Darfuri Women’s Long Wait for Justice

South Darfuri women

Women in South Darfur

If you are anything like me, you first viewed the term “rape as a war weapon” with a bit of bewilderment.  A number of documentaries, books and articles would speak of ending this inhuman practice but not go so far as to really define it.  After all, I thought, if you asked a woman who had been both a victim of rape and a victim of  “rape as a war weapon” wouldn’t she probably say that she couldn’t tell the difference?  Rape is rape.  Shouldn’t we be aiming to end the commonality of sexual assaults in Darfur (and other African regions) in general and not waste time separating them into categories?  But the intended effect of rape as an instrument of war, or more accurately, an instrument of genocide, involves generational devastation to entire populations.  A 2004 study by Tara Gingerich, JD, MA and Jennifer Leaning, MD, SMH, finds the method aims to:

  1. Create a sense of fear in the civilian population in order to restrict freedom of movement and economic activity.
  2. Instill flight to facilitate the capture of land and the killing of male civilians.
  3. Demoralize the population and force exit from the land.
  4. Tear apart the community and pollute blood lines.

Despite many similar studies from both NGOs and government agencies attempting to form accurate statistics on the number of women raped in Darfur, there appears to be, almost literally, countless numbers.  It has been overwhelmingly expressed that:

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. (src)   

An almost daily journal of horror, collected from a variety of  studies and news agencies from roughly 2004 to 2012, can be found in Eric Reeves’  Compromising with Evil.   A few more recent accounts have made their way to Radio Dabanga over the past few months:

  • In late June, four women and three children were gang raped in an IDP camp in West Darfur by nine government militiamen.  A spokesperson for the camp has demanded that the accused be arrested and tried immediately.
  • Another incident occurred just one week ago when a 14 year old girl was farming with a relative in North Darfur.  She was kidnapped by government militiamen and continually raped over a period of two days.  A group of villagers were able to rescue her and also to apprehend one of her captors.  The alleged perpetrator was “handed over to the commander of the region, with demands that he be punished”, according to a relative.  The girl was in serious condition when admitted to the hospital.
  • Earlier this month, four girls living in an IDP camp in South Darfur were attacked (also while farming) by militiamen.  A 17 year old was abducted from the scene and raped nearby.  While no perpetrator was brought to the authorities as in the previous two cases, the crime was reported to police.  But according to witnesses, “The local police refused to file a report or to visit the crime scene.”

An Uncertain Future,  a Culture of Rape?

The disturbing trend in all of these cases is an apparent lack of closure.  Even in cases where a predator is brought directly to authorities, and a demand for reparation is made, there is seldom any real investigation, trial, or sentence handed down to the attacker.   Perhaps even worse, is that when used as a weapon, rape seems to encourage the overall acceptability, and thus, frequency of sexual attacks both within the regions that are being targeted and well outside of them, spreading like a virus through communities.  Women flee their homes to be raped in refugee camps, female detainees are raped by security personnel, and even female civic leaders in Khartoum risk abuse if they stand up for women’s rights.  If the nation of Sierra Leone provides any foresight (where the civil war ended 11 years ago), violence against women can be a learned behavior that continues long after a conflict is over.  The head of the International Rescue Committee said of the region:

We saw rape and sexual violence used as a tool during the war, and now it is morphing into this culture’s society as something that is understood and even accepted. (src)

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