U.N. Report Details Rampant Sexual Violence in Darfur

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 30, 2005

UNITED NATIONS, July 29 -- Sudanese security forces and other armed groups continue to rape and abuse displaced women in Darfur with impunity, according to a U.N. report on sexual violence in the troubled Sudanese province.

Louise Arbour, the United Nations' high commissioner for human rights, wrote that victims are routinely subjected to humiliating treatment at the hands of the authorities if they say they have been raped. Sudanese police frequently fail to register or investigate sex crimes, and courts sometimes try rape victims as adulteresses if they cannot prove they are telling the truth, she wrote.

"Rape and gang rape continue to be perpetrated by armed elements in Darfur, some of whom are members of law enforcement agencies and armed forces, and the government appears either unable or unwilling to hold them accountable," the 29-page report said. "Many women do not report incidents, out of fear of reprisals, and are discouraged from reporting by the lack of redress for sexual violence."

Sudanese authorities have generally denied allegations that Sudanese forces engage in the systematic practice of rape, according to the report. Senior officials at Sudan's mission to the United Nations did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Arbour's report.

Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice, said the Sudanese government has taken some minor steps to address the crimes, including the establishment of a committee to combat gender crimes and a special criminal court to prosecute alleged war criminals. But she said Khartoum "needs to acknowledge the scope of the problem and to take concrete action to end the climate of impunity in Darfur."

Of the 230 cases of rape monitored by U.N. human rights observers in Sudan's courts, only seven defendants have been convicted of sex crimes. There have been virtually no convictions of Sudanese police or troops for the mass rape of displaced women living in Darfur's camps, Arbour wrote.

Arbour warned Friday that the systematic commission of sexual violence in conflict can constitute a crime against humanity or be used in establishing legal grounds for the crime of genocide. The International Criminal Court is conducting an investigation into such crimes in Darfur.

Arbour said the large-scale killings and abuses that marked the first two years of the conflict between the rebel groups who accused the Arab government in Khartoum with discriminating against the region's black African tribes have decreased. But she said government forces continue to terrorize young women who are forced to leave camps in search of firewood and other necessities.

Arbour cited cases in which rape victims have been denied access to confidential medical treatment to obtain evidence of a crime. In one case, a woman was forcibly taken from a medical clinic to "be repeatedly examined against her will by government doctors," Arbour wrote. "A major obstacle to establishing accountability for sexual violence is the insensitive and often intimidating treatment of victims of sexual violence by the authorities."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company