Sudan blocks UN investigation into claims that soldiers raped hundreds of women in Darfur

Rape as a weapon of war has a long history in the troubled region, with soldiers fingered for the latest accusations

Last week reports emerged stating that “more than 200 women and girls” were collectively raped in their village of Tabit. These attacks were reportedly carried out by Sudanese soldiers belonging to a military garrison south of El Fasher in North Darfur. At least 80 of the victims were said to be minors. 

Local news sites reported that the troops entered the village of Tabit on October 31 after a soldier went missing and raped the girls and women. 

Khartoum has denied the allegations.

For the second time, Khartoum has blocked a UN investigation into these probes, prompting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to publicly urge Sudan to allow the peacekeepers in. 

The UN-African mission in Darfur (UNAMID) team was barred entry to the village of Tabit on November 4, but returned five days later and found no evidence. The mission vowed to follow up the investigation but was again denied access to Tabit on Sunday by the Sudanese foreign ministry.

“Only a full investigation by UNAMID will help shed light over these serious allegations,” Ban said in a statement.

He urged Sudan “to grant UNAMID unfettered access, without further delay, to Tabit and its population so that these reports can be verified.”

Intimidate villagers

While UNAMID said it found no evidence after its first visit to Tabit, an internal UN report obtained by AFP said the Sudanese military had tried to intimidate villagers as the peacekeepers interviewed them.

During the team visit, there was a heavy presence of Sudanese soldiers who followed the monitors and recorded interviews with the villagers, according to the report.

Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Yousif al-Kordofani said Sunday “the government of Sudan decided not to allow the mission to visit the village another time.”

“The accusations of mass rape have been met with the strong resentment of the people of the village of Tabit and the surrounding villages and provoked their anger, raising tensions in the area,” Kordofani said in a statement, suggesting it was too dangerous for UNAMID peacekeepers to visit.

UNAMID deployed to Darfur in 2007 to protect civilians and secure humanitarian aid. Last month an investigation by the United Nations criticized the mission for under-reporting crimes in the region.

History of rape

Darfur is a highly dangerous place for women, rape as a weapon of war has a long history here. In 2005, a US State Department-funded investigation undertaken in July and August 2004 by the Coalition for  International Justice, found that 16% of respondents said they were raped or had heard about a rape from a victim. A Darfurian NGO had also documented 9,300 cases of rape.

 In 2006, the Alliance for Direct Action against Rape in Conflict and Crises documented 200 cases of sexual assault in five weeks in Darfur’s largest displacement camp, Kalma. Women and girls also endure various other forms of sexual violence including forced marriage and prostitution. 

In 2005 a report found that “military forces attacking the non-Arab people of Darfur, the Janjaweed in collaboration with forces of the Government of Sudan, had inflicted a massive campaign of rape as a deliberate aspect of their military assault against the lives, livelihoods, and land of this population.”

Lack of protection

For women who are raped, the prospect of coming forward is daunting - for fear of their own persecution and lack of protection. Earlier this year, an Ethiopian woman who was gang-raped in Sudan, was sentenced to a one-month jail term for “indecent acts” but this was suspended because she was three months pregnant. She was also fined $880. Meanwhile her violators were each sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery, while two got 40 lashes for distributing indecent material. 

For those living in Darfur, particularly as refugees, the situation is even more helpless. Victims trying to recover from their ordeal have no judicial support and are often even stigmatised. Many women who have been raped in Sudan have been thrown out of their communities, while children conceived in rape have been abandoned. In addition to this, victims face the added fear of contracting HIV.

More than 300,000 people have been killed in some 11 years of conflict in the region, with another two million displaced, according to the UN.

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