Monday, April 23, 2007

Women in Darfur: The Situation

The Conflict

Darfur has been embroiled in a deadly conflict for over three years. At least 400,000 people have been killed; more than 2 million innocent civilians have been forced to flee their homes and now live in displaced-persons camps in Sudan or in refugee camps in neighboring Chad; and more than 3.5 million men, women, and children are completely reliant on international aid for survival. Not since the Rwandan genocide of 1994 has the world seen such a calculated campaign of displacement, starvation, rape, and mass slaughter.

Since early 2003, Sudanese armed forces and Sudanese government-backed militia known as “Janjaweed” have been fighting two rebel groups in Darfur, the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The stated political aim of the rebels has been to compel the government of Sudan to address underdevelopment and the political marginalization of the region. In response, the Sudanese government’s regular armed forces and the Janjaweed – largely composed of fighters of nomadic background – have targeted civilian populations and ethnic groups from which the rebels primarily draw their support – the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa.

Women in Conflict

Much of the violence perpetrated in the Darfur conflict has resulted in grave human rights violations against women. These violations against women and girls include abductions, rape and forced displacement. The only real protection being provided for Darfuri women and girls has been from African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), despite significant restrictions on its capabilities.

Rapes and Sex Slavery

As Amnesty International reported in July, women and girls as young as 8 are being raped and used as sex slaves in the conflict area, despite guarantees by the Sudanese government to disarm the Janjawid.
In some cases the Janjawid have raped women in public, in front of their husbands, relatives or the wider community. These women and girls are being attacked not only to dehumanize them, but also to humiliate, punish, control, inflict fear upon, displace and persecute the community to which they belong.

The Janjawid have acted with full impunity and with the full knowledge or acquiescence of the government army, and the government of Sudan has not charged a single member of the Janjawid or of the armed forces with committing rape or kidnapping.

In fact, the mass rapes ongoing in Darfur are war crimes and crimes against humanity that the international community is doing little to stop.

Despite the Security Council's actions and our report, the situation appears only to be getting worse. On Aug. 10, a United Nations High Commission for Refugees spokesperson reported that the agency has received reports of an increasing number of rapes inside government and Janjawid-run displacement camps. Authorities in Khartoum not only have done little to stop the rapes; medical resources for the proper care of victims, including trained personnel and facilities to treat sexually transmitted diseases, are sorely lacking.

Single Women in Most Danger

Women and children make up the majority of the population in the camps. As Amnesty International learned from testimonies gathered last May, married women who have lost their husbands to violence and single women are in particular danger of abuse and exploitation, whether they have settled in camps for the internally displaced or have fled to nearby villages.

Their children are more likely to be affected by malnutrition, less likely to receive an education and these survivors and their daughters may be forced into prostitution.

Displacement has also led to an increase in the number of early marriages, with some families resorting to marrying their daughters at a very young age in the hope that marriage will give some measure of protection from the threat of sexual violence, protection parents feel unable to provide.

The Janjawid have raped many women who, fearing their husbands will be killed if they venture outside the camps, have gone in their place to collect firewood. The Janjawid also have tortured women to coerce them to report the whereabouts of their husbands. Forms of torture reportedly have included forcing the faces of women between wooden sticks and pulling out women's nails. Some women also have reported that the Janjawid have broken the legs of rape victims in order to prevent them from escaping.

While giving ample attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the international community needs to do more to stop what is happening to Darfur's women and girls. If the victims were our mothers, our daughters and our sisters, the international community would respond more vigorously.

From “Help Stop Violence Against Women in Darfur” by Beth Glick, program associate for the Crisis Preparedness and Response Unit of Amnesty International USA.

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