|© UNICEF Darfur/Wolf/2004|
|Nobody is safe from rape – young girls and older women are equal targets|
DARFUR/NEW YORK, 20 October 2004 - UNICEF has received further reports that armed militias are continuing to rape girls and women in Darfur as a tactic to terrorize and humiliate individuals and communities.
Assaults are indiscriminate – young girls and old women are equal targets – and there are no reports of the attackers being punished, says UNICEF Child Protection Officer Pamela Shifman, who has just returned from the region. “Over and over again, girl after girl, woman after woman, said the same thing: The biggest problem they are facing is security and they have tremendous fear about their safety and a terrible fear about sexual violence.”
Many of those she spoke to had been assaulted by militia groups who use rape and sexual violence as a form of punishment and torture. This has a devastating effect on individuals and instils fear and shame within communities. Families and children are sometimes forced to watch.
The rape and violence continues around the camps as women and children go out to collect water and firewood. Even though they are vulnerable to attack, they have to perform these tasks to survive.
“They’re in a situation where they need to get the firewood, they need to go out of the camp, they need to walk – many of them six or eight hours a day – in order to collect the firewood. And yet they know that journey is a treacherous one and that they face the very real and terrifying prospect of sexual violence,” says Ms. Shifman.
“Right now there is no protective environment for the children of Darfur. In particular, the girls that I spoke with did not feel safe – they did not have the basic sense of security that they need to thrive. The basic need to feel safe and secure is not being met.”
None of the people Ms. Shifman spoke with knew of any instances where an attacker had been punished or brought to justice for his crimes. “The perpetrators must be held accountable. There are Sudanese laws against rape and there are Sudanese courts, and they have to be used,” says Ms. Shifman.
Other reports indicate that the overall security situation has worsened and that the April cease-fire has broken down. Some 70,000 people have died in Darfur from hunger and disease and a further 1.5 million have fled their homes since conflict began in February last year.
The United Nations says Darfur is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and has threatened sanctions against Sudan if the violence isn’t stopped. The African Union hopes to have a 4,500-strong force in place by the end of November. About 300 armed Nigerian and Rwandan troops are currently in place.