Rape as a Weapon of War

According to the UN and other humanitarian actors monitoring conflict related sexual violence in Darfur, different government affiliated armed groups have been using rapes as a weapon of war...

According to the UN and other humanitarian actors monitoring conflict related sexual violence in Darfur, different government affiliated armed groups have been using rapes as a weapon of war since 2003. Conflict related sexual violence which may include rape, forced impregnation, abduction and sex enslavement of women and girls, is widely being used as a weapon to still fear among the targeted ethnic groups. In Darfur rape is specially used to force the targeted ethnic groups namely the ones with black African origins to leave their land which is then occupied by the Arab related tribes, armed and politically supported by the government. According to the survivors, the perpetrators are called with names such as “Black Nubian” which indicates tribes or ethnic groups who continue to speak African languages such as Fur, Massaleit, Tama, Zahgawa and Dahju. Using rape as a tactic of war, these perpetrators are always on the look for opportunities of raping women and girls, in some cases in the presence of their family members.

These armed groups use women’s vulnerability when they  venture for pursuing their livelihoods such as fetching for water, firewood, and farming. An example of a local town which has been recently invaded and women and girls were mass raped is Golo, located in the West of Jebel Marra, in March 2015. In this town, according to reports from the UN and other humanitarian actors, about 70% of women and girls were allegedly raped and some killed, the women interviewed vividly recall about 15 brutal rape incidents, most of them occurred publicly. Terrifying reported episodes of rape include a mother and a daughter brutally gang raped by nine rapists in one room while the elder son was held under a bed at gunpoint; four schoolgirls aged 9 to 12 were found lying unconscious stained with blood inside a mosque, where they run into to escape rape; two sisters were raped at a corner of a street inside the town while they were yelling for help and because they were consistently resisting the rape both of them had their legs broken and now suffer leg fractures.

More serious rape episodes involve murder whenever survivors showed resistance. For instance in Golo, a daughter and a father were forced to stripe off their clothes and when the father verbally blamed the rapists he was shot in the head and killed while his daughter was being raped.

What has happened in this town is a typical example of conflict related sexual violence because according to the survivors these forces had been defeated by the Sudan Liberation Rebels when they went to attack rebels in Sorroung, a town which still remains rebels’ strong hold in Jebel Marra. The defeated forces who lost about 200 elements retreated westward to Golo just to punish the civilians because they were believed to be rebel supporters. The former Janjaweeds invaded the town using another type of war against innocent civilians: raping, pillaging, killing and setting houses on fire. The women interviewed believe that every woman and girl who could not flee the town the moment these forces entered is presumed as raped.

As you see, conflict related rape in Darfur is systematically committed against a certain ethnic group as a strategy of war, therefore it has a serious negative impact on the populations of the targeted ethnic groups. About 2 million internally displaced persons thus continue living in the so called IDP camps, unable to return to their villages for fear of sexual violence.  Other negative consequences include: high number of unwanted pregnancies, risky abortions, HIV-AIDS, chronic muscle and bones symptoms and disruption of family ties.

When it comes to combating conflict related sexual violence in Darfur, the humanitarian actors, including the UN/AU Hybrid mission, have faced many challenges; for example sexual violence is always under reported because rape survivors rarely report cases to the authorities or even to their families because they mostly fear stigma and they want to avoid retaliation by the rapists who in most cases enjoy impunity.  Rape survivors are also afraid to have their report changed to adultery, which would end up with the arrest of the victim. This happens because article 149 of the Sudanese Criminal Code of 1991 which pertains to rape, confuses rape with adultery, which can be stated by a judge in the presence of 4 witnesses. For this reason the AU/UN Hybrid Mission from 2008 to 2010 could only report 166 incidents of conflict related cases of sexual violence in addition to 132 alleged rape cases out of several thousands of rape episodes.

Another challenge  in  fighting sexual violence is the lack of effective response by the law enforcement institutions due to impunity by officials carrying out offences whilst being on duty in Darfur. In addition to this, the government, the police and the judiciary have limited capacity, expertise and resources for prosecuting sexual violence. In some areas after an armed attack against civilians, the government police, especially the Central Reserve Police Forces, is accused  of committing rapes against women and girls.  This creates enmity between the government law enforcement forces and the civilians who are supposed to be served and therefore only few rape survivors turn to these institutions for filing their cases. It is for this reason that International Criminal Court has indicted Omar Bushier, President of Sudan, because the country lacks an adequate jurisdiction system to try thousands of rape cases committed from 2003 up to the present. On the other hand, there are no other alternative regional human rights courts for filing such complaints,  although the African Human Rights Court was recently established but only two countries have ratified so far and Sudan is not one of them.

On the other hand, the UN Security Council has so far issued several resolutions which aimed not only at fighting sexual violence in conflict settings but also required parties of the conflict to respect women’s rights and to support their participation in peace negotiation and in post conflict reconstruction.  Some of these UN Security Council resolutions include:

  • 1325, issued since 2000, calls for the protection of women and girls against conflict related sexual violence and their participation in conflict resolutions and others;
  • 1820 of 19 June 2008, demands that all parties of the conflict to stop using violence against women as a tactic of war and to take steps to protect women and girls from such attacks.
  • 1960 calls for enlisting, naming and prosecuting conflict related sexual violence perpetrators and others.

Although these  are  considered as land mark resolutions with some achievement, they are still not well implemented in Darfur because the government is not cooperative and creates many impediments against the international community efforts in the fight of conflict related sexual violence.

Even inside the UN Security Council, countries such as China and Russia have been supporting Sudan government in spite of the fact the International Criminal Court indicted the president of Sudan for crimes against humanity including mass rape; another example is the political and economic  support from the Arab league including some African presidents (Dictators Club). To strengthen the mechanisms of fighting against conflict related sexual violence, at first the Security Council should work to modify the current mandate of the existing UN/AU Peacekeeping mission to function and to work freely without limits made by the Sudan Government since it has failed to cooperate with the UN Mission. Because there are more than 50,000 armed militia and Arab nomads including the rebel forces, Security Council should press and enforce Sudan government to disarm these illegal forces under the supervision of the UN mission in Sudan. Lastly Security Council, should mobilize troop contribution countries to increase their support with better equipped troops which could be able to enforce disarmament program in Darfur.  These are the only measures which will guarantee peace and security in Darfur.

Human Rights
Sabir Abdalla

Sabir Abdalla is a pseudonim created to protect the identity of the author. He is gender specialist working on issues related to women’s empowerment programs in Sudan. He is also an advocate for women’s protection, women’s human rights in Sudan and his goal is to work to end existing gender inequalities in Sudan.
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