by Tchérina Jérolon, and Daisy Schmitt
Today, as we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, we demand accountability for sexual crimes committed in Sudan, including those committed during the Darfur conflict as well as those which occurred during the June 3rd massacre. When perpetrators go unpunished, it emboldens them and others to continue committing such acts with no fear of consequences. Meanwhile, victims suffer lasting physical, psychological and social effects, as we saw in our recent visit to refugee camps, home to many victims of these atrocities.
When members of Sudanese security forces, mainly from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), attacked civilians participating in the peaceful sit-in settled in front of the military headquarters earlier this month, at least 118 people were killed and at least 500 others wounded. RSF reportedly used live ammunition against protesters, threw bodies into the Nile, attacked hospitals and medical personnel. Cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence were also reported, with some doctors estimating that at least 70 rapes were perpetrated against women and men on that day.
We reiterate our call for the dispatching of an international fact-finding mission to investigate the June 3rd massacre in Khartoum and the violence that has taken place in Sudan since protests broke out last December. Such an investigation must include a focus on cases of sexual violence, and provide concrete and enforceable recommendations to hold those responsible to account and guarantee reparation for victims.
These reports of rapes committed by the RSF came as no surprise. This military body, mostly composed of former members of the Janjaweed militia, is notorious for having committed serious crimes, including sexual crimes, during the conflict which erupted in Darfur in 2003. The RSF are led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as “Hemetti”, the current deputy head of the Transitional Military Council. Hemeti is known for being a former influential Janjaweed leader who also held the position of security advisor to the government for South Darfur.
Sexual crimes were one of the most salient facets of the conflict in Darfur. Dozens of investigations revealed the devastating violence inflicted upon women and girls – many of whom suffered public gang-rapes – during military operations against their villages. Some were kidnapped and held captive as sex slaves for days in military camps; others were raped in or near camps for displaced people that were supposed to serve as a refuge for them. Still, others had their unborn babies ripped from their bellies, endured genital mutilation and the humiliation of forced nudity. Men, too, fell victim to abuses – many have described suffering sexual mutilation. Most of these crimes were committed at the hand of Sudanese security forces and their allies within the Janjaweed militia, who have so far enjoyed complete impunity.
Following Omar Al-Bashir’s removal from power, demands for his transfer to the Hague, for him to stand trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC), were invigorated. A decade ago, on March 4, 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against him, for his alleged responsibility into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. In July 2010, the ICC issued a second arrest warrant against him for genocide. Charges brought against Al-Bashir include rape, which initially gave hope that justice would finally be served for thousands of victims of sexual crimes. Yet, ten years after this historic arrest warrant was issued, not a single legal action has provided any measure of justice for the victims, while systemic sexual violence is still alive and well in Sudan, with no accountability to speak of.
During a recent visit to refugee camps in Djabal and Goz Amer in eastern Chad, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) spoke with nearly one hundred women and men, most of whom were victims of sexual crimes. They arrived at the camps mainly between 2003 and 2013, having endured rape, including gang-rape, or other acts of sexual violence amounting to torture.
Z.M. told us about her experience as a slave for the Janjaweed, being subjected to a gang-rape whose painful effects still haunt her. Two of her sisters, who live with her in the camp, bore the same treatment. A.Q. described to us the stigmatization that her daughter, conceived by an act of Janjaweed rape, continues to face. B.C. described acts of sexual torture he suffered while in jail, acts whose effects persist to this day.
The vast majority of refugees interviewed did not intend to return to Darfur. Before any potential repatriation, victims must be offered effective reparations, as well as urgently needed medical, social, and psychological assistance.
A.A. had just come back from a visit to some villages in Darfur when we spoke with her. She observed that “nothing has changed. Women continue to be raped. Why should we go back to Darfur? […] Before going back, the criminals who attacked us must leave the country. For now, they are still there. None of them has been prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.”
The testimonies we gathered in eastern Chad, which will be made available in an upcoming report, attest to a failure to do right by the victims; in short, a collective abandonment.
The June 3rd massacre committed in the streets of Khartoum is a disturbing extension of the serious crimes RSF have been committing in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan. It is reminiscent of how entrenched impunity has constituted a fertile ground for the continuation of serious human rights violations throughout Sudan. It is imperative that those who oversaw this institutionalized brutality are brought to justice.
Tchérina Jérolon, Africa Desk Deputy Director, FIDH. Daisy Schmitt, Women’s Rights Programme Officer, FIDH