8 December 2013

Sudan: 'Sexual Violence a Crisis in Sudan' - Victims of Rape Speak Out

Ottawa — Women who report being raped in Sudan are threatened and often accused of adultery. Victims of sexual violence are denied access to medical treatment, while they face many legal disadvantages.

"The women of Sudan are facing a crisis of sexual violence with no end in sight," according to the report 'Survivors Speak Out: Sexual Violence in Sudan', released on 6 December. It has documented the pervasiveness of sexual violence against women in Sudanese regions. The research team consists of Nobel Peace laureates, in the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.

In an equivalent report from 2011, the Nobel Women's Initiative stated that in Darfur, rape is used by armies and Janjaweed to terrorise and displace mostly non-Arab tribes. Also other parties have committed sexual violence during the war that arose in Darfur in 2003.

'Raped while doing daily jobs'

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has treated almost 500 raped women and girls during a five-month period in 2012. In August 2006, Human Rights Watch reported 200 sexual assaults in South Darfur's Kalma camp in five weeks. MSF also found that 82 per cent of the interviewed Darfuri rape survivors is assaulted while "undertaking daily activities", and less is abused when fleeing from an attack on their community.

Rape 'a weapon of war'

South Kordofan, which includes Abyei and the Nuba Mountains, has witnessed an increase in clashes between the Sudanese army and opposing armed groups since the division of Sudan and South Sudan in July 2011. Sexual violence has been perpetrated by both sides, according testimonies from civilians. According to the report, systematic rape has been used as a weapon of war and political repression in Sudan's campaign to "eliminate the Nuba identity", terrorise the population and "cleanse" them from the area.

The research on sexual violence in Blue Nile is thin as the United Nations mandate for peacekeeping expired in July 2011, and human rights groups were denied access to the region since then.

More vulnerable in IDP camps

Gender-based violence occurs in the cities as well. Internally displaced women living in refugee camps or urban centres such as Khartoum are more vulnerable to sexual violence. It is unsafe inside the centres, and the women going outside are exposed to attacks as they venture for water or firewood. Gangs that regularly rape women have emerged in and around camps for displaced people in Khartoum, the report says.

Women are silenced

"Several publicised cases hint at the heavy-handed treatment of women by government forces in Khartoum," the researchers state. Safiya Ishaq for example was 25 years old at the time she was kidnapped and gang-raped by three men of the Khartoum security forces in February 2011. She has revealed this publicly in her testimony on YouTube.

Ishaq has told the Nobel Women's Initiative that she was harassed by police agents when she wanted to file a police report. Journalists who reported about her sexual abuse were threatened or imprisoned as the National Intelligence and Security Services accused them of 'spreading false allegations'.

It is rare among people in Sudan to speak out and report being raped, because "there is are weaknesses in the legal system" according to a local activist working in camps for the displaced in Khartoum in 2012. One of them is that it is not a crime for men who rape their wives in a marital relationship.


Also, in Sudan's Criminal Act of 1991, rape is defined as adultery without consent. "And because adultery is a serious crime in Sudan, the woman who alleges rape risks being charged if she cannot convince the court that the sexual interaction was non-consensual," the report explains. "Simply being unmarried and pregnant is ample grounds to prove adultery."

Besides, the perpetrator must either confess, or four adult male witnesses have to testify to prove the sexual interaction has occurred without the victim's consent.

Another obstacle for victims of rape, is a document known as Form 8. Between 1991 and 2005, the government required women to obtain it at the police station in order to receive medical treatment after a sexual assault. Although the form is no longer required by law, doctors refuse to provide medical exams without the form for fear of reprisal.

Little help from organisations

The Nobel Women's Initiative complains about the government's effort nowadays to prevent their study on sexual violence. In 2009, many of the international humanitarian organisations in Darfur that delivered medical and psychological services to women were expelled from Sudan. "The local civil society groups that replaced the organisations are largely unable to fulfil the need for sexual violence programming in Darfur."

According to the report, one step toward ending the sexual violence would be "to distinguish the crime of rape from that of adultery." Finally, it demands that the International Criminal Court's (ICC) arrest warrant against President Omar Al Bashir be enforced so that he can stand trial for his war crimes against the people of Darfur.

In 2008, Bashir is accused by the ICC of using mass-rape to destroy target groups in Darfur. A year earlier, he had claimed: "It is not in the Sudanese culture or people of Darfur to rape. It does not exist."

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