Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Use of rape as a weapon in Darfur

According to a report by Refugees International, the Janjaweed militia backed by the Sudanese government is using rape systematically as a weapon of war in the ethnic cleansing of Darfur. To make matters worse, the laws of Sudan make it nearly impossible for women to pursue prosecution of rapists. The research for the report was cut short when Sudanese government determined it was too sensitive and forced the author of the report to leave the country.

This from today’s Washington Post:
A new report on the crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan has identified rape as a systematic weapon of ethnic cleansing being used by government-backed Janjaweed militiamen, and said Sudanese laws discriminate against female victims, who face harassment and intimidation at local police stations if they try to report the crime.

The report, "Laws Without Justice: An Assessment of Sudanese Laws Affecting Survivors of Rape," by the humanitarian group Refugees International, said rape was "an integral part of the pattern of violence that the government of Sudan is inflicting upon the targeted ethnic groups in Dafur."

"The raping of Darfuri women is not sporadic or random, but is inexorably linked to the systematic destruction of their communities," the report said. Victims are taunted with racial slurs such as "I will give you a light-skinned baby to take this land from you," according to one woman interviewed in the Touloum refugee camp in Chad, recalling the words of a Janjaweed militiaman who raped her.

For a woman to prove rape under Sudanese law, she needs four male witnesses. This requirement puts undue burdens on women in a traditional society where single women having sex can be sentenced to 100 lashes at the discretion of a judge. A married woman proven to have had sex outside of her marriage can be stoned to death, said Adrienne Fricke, an Arabic-speaking lawyer who worked on the report.

The study was compiled following extensive interviews in Khartoum over seven days in March with nongovernmental organization staff members, members of parliament, attorneys and activists. The visit, due to last 14 days, was cut short when Fricke was given 24 hours to leave the country.

"I was denied a permit to go to Darfur," Fricke said in an interview yesterday. She said the government's security officer in charge of nongovernmental agencies "told us pro forma that this research was not necessary and too sensitive for the Sudanese government."

Refugees International President Ken Bacon, who accompanied presidential hopeful and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) to Khartoum in January, said Sudan's Justice Ministry had invited the team to study what the government described as efforts to address sexual violence against Sudanese women and to analyze Sudan’s laws on rape.

"This report clarifies the use of rape as a weapon of ethnic violence and points to the international need to end this impunity," said Jimmie Briggs, who is writing a book about rape as a weapon in Congo.

Sudan's laws grant immunity to members of the military, security services, police and border guard; many Janjaweed members have been integrated into the Popular Defense Forces, which also makes them exempt from prosecution.

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