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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When Amnesty International put these allegations to an SLA leader during his visit to the UK in June 2004, he answered that the SLA was attacking government targets; in the case of Buram, the SLA stated that the Janjawid had arrived to reinforce government troops and had then attacked the hospital in Buram, apparently thinking that they would find wounded SLA fighters in the building. Regarding the taking of hostages, including relief workers, he answered that, if the SLA was alerted of the arrival of relief convoys, it would ensure coordination and protection of these convoys, and that the SLA had briefly detained relief workers in the belief that government agents were amongst them. On all the allegations, he answered that further investigation was needed to clarify responsibility for human rights abuses and that Amnesty International and other human rights organisations should go to Darfur to "see for themselves" and independently investigate these allegations.

2. 2 The military response of the government

The central government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir came to power in a military coup in 1989 backed by the National Islamic Front of Hassan al-Turabi. Hassan al-Turabi, former speaker of Parliament under the current government, was removed from power in 1999 and created his own political party, the Popular Congress, a rival faction of the National Congress, the state party.

By April 2003, after an attack by the SLA on the airport of Al-Fashir, which killed some 70 members of the Sudanese army and destroyed several planes, the Sudanese government had decided to respond to the Darfur problem by military force. The central government has accused Hassan al-Turabi of backing the JEM, one of the two armed political groups in Darfur and arrested him in February 2004(19). He is, like many of his supporters, held incommunicado in Khartoum and has not been charged. Hassan al-Turabi claims that he supports "spiritually" the JEM but that he does not provide it with logistical support.

To counter the rebellion in Darfur, the government has used the Janjawid, a militia composed of members of nomadic groups and "bandits". Encouraging specific groups to fight against those who have taken up arms against Khartoum and whose actions are condoned and given impunity, is a recurrent strategy of the central government in Sudan. It was used by the government throughout the 21-year-old conflict with the SPLM/A in the south of the country. Former President of Sudan Sadiq al-Mahdi armed mainly nomadic groups of the Rizeiqat and Miseriya tribes from Darfur in the mid-1980s, which acted as a counter-insurgency proxy force in Bahr al-Ghazal. These militias, called murahilin, appeared to have been given a free rein to raid villages suspected of supporting the southern rebellion, abducting people and looting cattle and goods as a reward. Many of those abducted in the region of northern Bahr al-Ghazal have subsequently been used as domestic workers, field labourers or cattle herders, often for no pay and in slavery-like conditions(20).

This strategy allows the central government to control large groups of civilians, by spreading fear amongst them and reinforcing repression and is apparently aimed at collectively punishing the communities from which armed groups emerge. The government used specific groups to fight a proxy war not only against armed political groups, but also and largely against the civilian population. The government then denied responsibility for the atrocities committed and implemented a counterinsurgency tactic of divide and rule which has destabilized the social structure of communities. Sexual violence, including rapes and abductions were perpetrated by these groups and all parties to the conflict in southern Sudan.

Darfur village burned and attacked ©WFP/Marcus Prior