Global Policy Forum

UN Expert Speaks Out on Rape in Darfur

Integrated Regional Information Networks
October 20, 2004

Sexual violence and rape of women and girls in the western Sudanese region of Darfur should be considered a war crime, Pamela Shifman, a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) adviser on violence and sexual exploitation, was reported as saying on Tuesday. "The perpetrators must be held accountable. There are Sudanese laws against rape and there are Sudanese courts, and they have to be used," Shifman, who visited the region last week, said.

Shifman told UN News that she had heard dozens of harrowing accounts of sexual assaults - including numerous reports of gang-rapes - when she visited internally displaced persons (IDPs) at one camp and another settlement in North Darfur State. "Rape is used as a weapon to terrorize individual women and girls, and also to terrorize their families and to terrorize entire communities. No woman or girl is safe. It is a very effective tool of war. It is a war crime," UN News quoted her as saying.

Shifman said every woman or girl she spoke to had either endured sexual assault herself, or knew of someone who had been attacked, particularly when they left the relative safety of their IDP camp or settlement to find firewood. "They know this is a treacherous trip and they fear the trip. But they have absolutely no choice; they must go out," she said.

Warning that experience had showed that whenever there was sexual violence during war, sexual health problems followed, she said UNICEF was concerned that some of the women and girls who had been raped could endure unwanted pregnancies, or contract sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

The UN mission in Sudan reported on Monday that the security situation had remained tense in Darfur. It said there had been incidents including possible ceasefire violations, an attack on a village, another on a relief convoy, militia activities and rape cases. "The situation has remained extremely tense over the past days," Radia Achouri, spokesperson for the UN Advance Mission in Sudan, had told IRIN. According to Achouri, relief workers had been harassed in separate incidents in North Darfur State either by suspected government soldiers and Janjawid militias, or by rebel fighters from the Sudanese Liberation Army.

In London on Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged support for African Union (AU) efforts to bolster its monitoring and protection presence there. He called on all sides to respect the ceasefire and take measures to protect civilians, even before the arrival of AU troops.

Annan had earlier this month, given the planned expansion of the AU's current 350-strong group of monitors, recommended that the AU force be given the power to protect IDPs and refugees, including those living in makeshift camps, monitor the activities of the local police, and disarm fighters, including the Janjawid militias accused of committing most of the attacks against civilians.

The conflict in Darfur between the Sudanese military supported by Janjawid militias, and rebels fighting to end alleged marginalisation and discrimination of the region, has displaced about 1.45 million people and sent another 200,000 fleeing across the border into Chad. The UN has called the crisis in Darfur one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

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