Sudan: Darfur: Rape as a weapon of war: sexual violence and its consequences

July 18, 2004

Sudan: Darfur: Rape as a weapon of war: sexual violence and its consequences

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In February 2003, a new armed insurgent group, calling itself the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and composed mainly of members of the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit ethnic groups of Darfur emerged and attacked government targets. In April 2003 another insurgent group emerged, calling itself the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The two armed groups demanded the end of the marginalization of Darfur and more protection for the settled population, which they claimed to represent. Their motives were connected to the exclusive character of the north-south peace negotiations of Sudan, which they claim has left them out and showed them that "Khartoum only talks to those who have arms."(10)

These peace negotiations are conducted, under international mediation, between the Sudanese government and the leadership of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the main armed political group in southern Sudan which has been at war with the central government for more than 20 years. The negotiations, conducted in Kenya, have been continuing since July 2002 and have come to a preliminary end with the signing by both parties of a number of important protocols(11). However the exclusive character of the peace process has, at the same time, triggered feelings amongst the population in other areas of Sudan of being left out of important power and wealth sharing agreements for the future of the country. The logic of "militarization", dominant in most Sudanese elite circles, has led the leaders of today's armed opposition groups in Darfur to the conclusion that they would only be represented in the transitional government and in the political future of Sudan if they would take up arms and fight the central government. Their demands include full representation in power and politics in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.

There have been reports of abuses and torture, including rape, by members of the SLA and JEM but due to the restrictions on access to the area, including those imposed by lack of security, it is difficult to collect more evidence on the human rights abuses reportedly committed by the insurgents(12). One report of rape by members of armed opposition groups committed against women from communities thought to support the Janjawid was reported by a German journalist. Osman Adam Mahmud, the sheikh of the Tarjem who had fled from attacks by the armed groups, told her that the rebels had attacked Kuala village twice, killing 12 people, destroying their goods and raping some women. The group now live in Mosai, an IDP camp of some 12 huts near Nyala(13). However, this is the only case Amnesty International has yet received of rape by members of armed opposition groups. During the two visits of Amnesty International to Sudanese refugee camps in Chad(14), refugees hardly mentioned the presence or actions of the SLA/M or JEM in their area. Despite seeking information on all rape and sexual violence, regardless of the identity of the perpetrators, Amnesty International did not receive any information in Chad on rapes or other forms of sexual violence committed by armed political groups in Darfur. As a result this report focuses solely on sexual violence committed by the Janjawid and government armed forces.

This does not mean that the insurgents do not commit human rights abuses. It may be because they do not happen on a large scale or because the refugees that Amnesty International met were not victims of such attacks or because the refugees would only report violations by those they perceived as their aggressors. Amnesty International asked the Sudanese authorities to provide information regarding abuses by the SLA and JEM. The Sudan government has listed a number of ceasefire violations by the SLA and JEM, which Amnesty International has not been able to investigate. In some cases it appears that the insurgents have put the lives of civilians at risk. Refugees have reported the presence of SLA and JEM among civilians or fighting between Government forces and insurgents before or after attacks against civilians(15). Allegations of possible serious abuses of international humanitarian law by the two armed opposition groups in Darfur include attacks on civilians and civilian villages(16); unlawful killings(17); and the taking of hostages, including relief workers(18).