By Peter James Spielmann
Sunday, May 31, 2009
NEW YORK, May 30 -- A survey of women who fled violence in the Darfur region of Sudan found that a third reported or showed signs of rape and revealed a widespread fear of sexual violence in their refugee camp in Chad, a human rights group reported Sunday.
About half the rapes were carried out in Darfur by Janjaweed militiamen allied with the Sudanese government, and half were assaults by Chadian villagers near the U.N. refugee camp, usually when the women left to search for firewood or herd livestock, according to the report by the U.S.-based group Physicians for Human Rights.
The group reached the 88 women included in the survey through camp leaders and by word of mouth -- a sampling method the report said hinders drawing general conclusions about the prevalence of rape in Darfur or in the Farchana refugee camp in Chad.
Recording rape or interviewing victims of sexual violence is problematic in Darfur's Muslim culture, where women fear social stigma or further trauma and sometimes recant their allegations out of shame. Further complicating the effort, women displaced inside Darfur live mostly in government-controlled areas and fear reprisal.
The issue is highly contentious for the Sudanese government, which denies any systematic rape or violence against women.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when mostly ethnic African rebels in the western Sudanese region took up arms against the government in Khartoum, the capital, complaining of discrimination and neglect. The government is accused of responding by arming the Janjaweed against civilians.
As many as 450,000 people have died as a result of the violence, mostly from disease, hunger and malnutrition, and more than 2.5 million have been forced from their homes. About 250,000 have fled into Chad, where they live in refugee camps.
U.N. officials said documenting the violence has become even more difficult following the Sudanese government's decision in March to expel 13 foreign aid groups, working mostly in Darfur.
The Darfur rapes fell into a common pattern, with a village overwhelmed by turbaned gunmen wearing green or khaki uniforms, often arriving on horses or camels. Airstrikes by the Sudanese military usually followed.
One woman from the Masalit tribe recounted how when she was 13, four Arab gunmen on horseback attacked her family's farm in a Darfur village, shot and killed her father and raped her.
"When they shot my father, they saw I was a little girl. I did not have any energy or force against them," said the woman, now 19. "They used me. I started bleeding. It was so painful. . . . I was sick for seven days. I could not stand up."
Physicians for Human Rights called for the prosecution of rape as a war crime and urged the International Criminal Court to issue warrants against Sudanese suspects. They also sought better protection for refugees in the Chad camps by Chadian police and international peacekeepers.
The group said three doctors and a human rights researcher interviewed 88 women in November at the refugee camp in Farchana, where more than 20,000 Darfuris are watched over by about 2,000 Chadian soldiers about 34 miles from Sudan's border.