|UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy meets with women in Kass, South Darfur|
NEW YORK, 26 July 2004 – UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy recently visited Darfur. While there, she heard many testimonies from women and children describing widespread rape and sexual violence. UNICEF has begun training Sudanese police officers in how to interview children who have been raped. UNICEF’s Dan Thomas interviewed Ms. Bellamy about the impact of sexual violence on Darfur’s vulnerable populations.
Q: How widespread are rape and sexual violence in Darfur?
Bellamy: Rape, sexual violence, fear of violence are all pervasive in the Darfur area, certainly among the women and girls that I talked to. There’s a great deal of fear. The public reports that people see – they see that people need shelter, they need water, they need good sanitation – are all true, but the fact is the security situation in Darfur is a critical one. It is particularly harsh when it comes to girls and women.
Q: Is sexual violence inevitable in times of war?
Bellamy: Too many people assume that rape and sexual violence is inevitable in war. But frankly from UNICEF’s perspective it is something that is growing. It’s growing because increasingly the victims in war today are civilians, largely women and children. So the tactics being used in conflict are tactics of the worst kind of abuse, the worst kind of violence, and focused very often on the most vulnerable. So we are seeing more sexual violence, more rape. And it has to stop.
Q: What is the greatest need right now for Darfur’s families?
Bellamy: Perhaps the thing that is needed most in Darfur immediately is better security, because for all the shelter, for all the food, without security people are going to be afraid. They are going to keep moving. Conditions are going to get worse. Security is going to be brought about largely by police. If the police don’t have some sensitivity to the needs of the people who’ve been displaced, then the police will become as scary as the people who came into the villages and burnt the villages down. So the police need to be sensitive to the needs of the people who are now living in the camps.
Q: What touched you most personally about the stories you heard from women in Darfur?
Bellamy: The stories I heard were touching to me in that I asked the women what they wanted. Instead of saying shelter or food, the first thing that almost every woman said is they were afraid. They wanted somebody to protect them, which said to me that the very basic things to live were not as high a priority for them as the terrible fear they were experiencing at this point. They had seen people they loved, perhaps their family members, their husbands, their parents, their children killed, when they were pushed out of their villages. So the first thing that came to almost everyobody’s mouth was the issue of fear.
Q: Who are the victims of sexual violence in Darfur?
Bellamy: Sexual violence knows no gender in many cases. It is those who have power, and power very often comes from the gun, against those who have no power. And those that have no power are women and children of either sex.
Q: How vulnerable are women and children in Darfur?
Bellamy: I think it’s fair to say that the environment before people were forced out of their villages wasn’t wonderful, but at least they were in their villages, and they had the security their villages offered. Now they’ve been forced out of their villages and are living in difficult environments: makeshift shelter, barely enough food, little in the way of clean water and sanitation. The rains have now come. They are not able to harvest their crops. They are unable to plant new crops. They are afraid. The women and children are afraid to leave the camp areas, to go out and collect the small amount of materials they need for shelter, or the berries and fruit they need to eat. I heard over and over again the instances where women were attacked, where the straw on the on the back of their donkeys was burnt and the donkeys killed. Violence pervades the atmosphere right now and the situation has been tense for some time.
Q: Will UNICEF and the world be watching what’s going on to make sure that security improves for those women and children of Darfur?Bellamy: I hope that the eyes of the world will focus on Darfur, and the voices of the world will focus on Darfur calling for more security. That is a responsibility first and foremost of the government. All of us can help, for example UNICEF can help provide training for the police. But we will also monitor, and if the abuse becomes worse our voice will become louder.