Rape as a Continuing Weapon of War in Darfur: Reports, bibliography of studies, a compendium of incidents

Attention to sexual violence and rape in Darfur has ceased to command the attention it once had—not because this brutal epidemic has ended but because of the absence of human rights reporting, news reporting, and the intimidation of humanitarian organizations ensures that we hear very little about one of the most brutal features of the Darfur genocide.  This brief provides [1] a select bibliography of reports and studies examining the realities of rape and sexual violence in Darfur (in progress); [2] an overview of what was already evident of these realities from mid-2005; [3] a lengthy compendium of reports of specific incidents of sexual violence and rape.  This compendium is also a work in progress, extending back into report archives, and grimly forward as rape continues to be reported on a nearly daily basis by Radio Dabanga, despite various assertions that Darfur is settling into a more "peaceful" state. 

There can be no possible claim to definitive figures; but the evidence assembled here makes clear than many tens of thousands of Darfuri girls and women have been raped.

By Eric Reeves


(i) Amnesty International, "Sudan, Darfur: Rape as a Weapon of War" [July 19, 2004] at http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR54/076/2004 ] One of the very earliest human rights accounts of what had already reached epidemic proportions.  This lengthy report by Amnesty is authoritative, based on very substantial field research, and compelling in its analysis and framing of issues in terms of international humanitarian and human rights law.  It has never been the case that the international community was unaware of the scale of sexual violence and rape in Darfur; such awareness simply did not translate into meaningful responses.

(ii)  Tara Gingerich, JD, MA and Jennifer Leaning, MD, SMH, "The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in the conflict in Darfur, Sudan" (October 2004). Prepared for the US Agency for International Development/OTI under the auspices of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights. A powerful study of sexual violence in Darfur published in fall 2004, it deserves the closest attention.

(iii) Human Rights Watch, "Sexual violence and its consequences among displaced persons in Darfur and Chad," (April 2005)

[from the Introduction]  "Since early 2003, Sudanese government forces and government-backed ethnic militias known as ‘Janjaweed’ have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the Darfur region of Sudan. They have targeted for abuse civilians belonging to the same ethnic groups as members of two rebel movements, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)."

"Rape and sexual violence against women and girls has been a prominent feature of the ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaign carried out by government forces and militias, both during and following displacement in Darfur. Once displaced into camps in Darfur, or into refugee camps in Chad, women and girls continue to suffer sexual and gender-based violence. As discussed below, rape and sexual violence have numerous social, economic and medical consequences, including increasing the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS as a result of the violence."

(iv)  Doctors Without Border/Médecins San Frontières (MSF)/Holland in March 2005("The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur," MSF-Holland, March 2005, http://www.nsvrc.org/publications/reports/crushing-burden-rape-sexual-violence-darfur). In the wake of the report’s release, Khartoum arrested and eventually expelled the two most senior MSF-Holland officials working in Sudan.  The MSF report, with an extraordinary body of first-hand evidence, documents more than 500 cases of rape; this report figured in Khartoum’s decision to expel the organization, along with twelve others, in March 2009.

(v)  "Genocidal Rape and Assault in Darfur" (Dirksen Senate Office Building & Rayburn House Office Building, July 21, 2005)   Sponsored by members of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus & the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues. Testimony of Eric Reeves, Smith College: "Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur."

(vi) Human Rights Watch, "Five Years On: No Justice for Victims of Sexual Violence in Darfur," (April 2008)  [from the Introduction]  "Five years into the armed conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region, women and girls living in displaced persons camps, towns, and rural areas remain extremely vulnerable to sexual violence. Sexual violence continues to occur throughout the region, both in the context of continuing attacks on civilians, and during periods of relative calm.  Those responsible are usually men from the Sudanese security forces, militias, rebel groups, and former rebel groups, who target women and girls predominantly (but not exclusively) from Fur, Zaghawa, Masalit, Berti, Tunjur, and other non-Arab ethnicities."

(vii) Physicians for Human Rights, May 2009.  The psychological, physical, and social destructiveness of rape as a weapon of war can scarcely be overstated. As deployed in Darfur, it is meant to destroy family structures within the non-Arab or African populations that have, overwhelmingly, been the target of campaigns of rape. The best account of the physical and mental devastation occasioned by rape in Darfur is a May 2009 study by Physicians for Human Rights, "Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women" (http://darfuriwomen.phrblog.org/nowhere-to-turn/ ). The effects of eight years of displacement by genocidal counter-insurgency warfare have left civilians suffering from a wide range of severe mental disorders, particularly girls and women who have been victims of rape. In its meticulously researched study, PHR chronicled in soul-destroying detail some of the devastation among Darfuri refugee girls and women in eastern Chad:

"Researchers asked women to rate their physical and mental health status in Darfur and now in Chad on a 1-5 scale with 1 being ‘very good’ and 5 being ‘poor.’ Women reported a marked deterioration in their physical health status since leaving Darfur, with an average ranking of 3.99 for health in Chad versus 2.06 for Darfur."

Even more alarmingly,

"The study indicated a marked deterioration in self-reported mental health, where the average score in was 4.90. ‘I am sad every day (since leaving Darfur). I feel not well in my skin,’ explained one respondent. [ ] Women who experienced rape (confirmed or highly probable) were three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than were women who did not report sexual violence."

(viii) Halima Bashir, Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur (Random House, 2009); Bashir, a Zaghawa woman trained as a doctor, was herself savagely raped and tortured because of her courageous medical response to the mass rape of school girls in North Darfur.  This searing account takes the reader to the very heart of darkness in Darfur.


Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, June 5, 2005: "In Darfur, rape is systematically used as a weapon of warfare."

Eric Reeves
June 22, 2005

Egeland’s recourse to the present tense in describing the use of rape as an ongoing weapon of war in Darfur is entirely appropriate. The Janjaweed militia forces allied with the Khartoum regime are continuing a brutal campaign of systematic sexual violence directed against the women and girls of non-Arab or African tribal groups. Khartoum for its part remains deeply complicit in this campaign, now in its third year, as Egeland makes clear in his characteristically forthright statement:

"[Egeland said] the impact of [sexual] violence was compounded by [the government of] Sudan’s failure to acknowledge the scale of the problem and to act to stop it. ‘Not only do the Sudanese authorities fail to provide effective physical protection, they inhibit access to treatment.’ He said in some cases unmarried women who became pregnant after being raped had been treated as criminals and subjected to further brutal treatment by police. ‘This is an affront to all humanity,’ Egeland said." (Reuters, June 21, 2005)

The consequences of systematic, racially/ethnically-animated sexual violence in Darfur are enormous. Rape as a weapon of war is one the defining features of the insecurity defining most of Darfur; sexual violence increasingly paralyzes civilian movement and powerfully circumscribes the grim lives within overcrowded and under-served camps for displaced persons. More broadly, insecurity continues to attenuate humanitarian reach and efficacy.

The threat of rape severely inhibits the gathering of firewood, water, and animal fodder. The collapse in Darfur’s food production is also directly related to the ongoing intimidating effects of sexual violence. More generally, rape—and the impunity with which it is committed by Khartoum’s proxy military force in Darfur—contributes to a desperate decline in morale within many camps and among displaced persons, some now entering their third year in this debilitating condition.

A powerful study of sexual violence in Darfur was published last fall and deserves the closest attention. Written by Tara Gingerich, JD, MA and Jennifer Leaning, MD, SMH, "The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in the conflict in Darfur, Sudan" (October 2004) was prepared for the US Agency for International Development/OTI under the auspices of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights.  Virtually all of the conclusions and assessments made in this detailed and historically informed study continue to be borne out by realities on the ground more than half a year later. [And indeed, continue to be borne out to the very present: see below—ER, March 4, 2012]

Certainly the central claim of the report stands without meaningful challenge:

"Our findings suggest that the military forces attacking the non-Arab people of Darfur, the Janjaweed in collaboration with forces of the Government of Sudan, have inflicted a massive campaign of rape as a deliberate aspect of their military assault against the lives, livelihoods, and land of this population." (page 1)

Equally certainly,

"The highest priority now is to introduce a measure of real protection for the populations now displaced in Darfur and Chad in order to reduce the ongoing risk of rape to women and girls as they move outside camps and villages to find firewood and water." (page 1)

But again, more than half a year later, such protection is nowhere in sight. Indeed, June 22, 2005 Congressional testimony by US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick works to ensure that current plans for an expanded but still wholly inadequate African Union (AU) deployment will constitute the full extent of international response to ongoing genocidal violence and destruction:

"The Bush administration is opposed to the dispatch of U.S. or European forces to help enhance security in Sudan’s Darfur region because they could be vulnerable to attack by terrorists, [Zoellick] said Wednesday. ‘The region is populated by some bloodthirsty, cold-hearted killers,’ Zoellick said, mentioning Somalia in particular as one possible source." (Associated Press, June 22, 2005)

Leaving aside the disgracefully lazy geography invoked, Zoellick is apparently unaware of the grim irony in declaring that Western troops cannot be deployed to Darfur because of "bloodthirsty, cold-hearted killers" in Somalia (well over 1,000 miles away)—even as defenseless women and girls in Darfur are daily and directly vulnerable to the "bloodthirsty, cold-hearted killers" that are the Janjaweed.

Genocide is a brutal, ongoing reality in Darfur—an assessment recently confirmed in the abstract by President Bush—and yet the U.S. remains content with an "Africa only" response, despite the clear inadequacies of the AU, even with NATO logistical and material support. Zoellick offered nothing in his Congressional testimony that suggests how the deployment of even 7,700 AU personnel by September (a suspiciously optimistic time-frame) can address the multiple security tasks all too conspicuous in Darfur—including the protection of women and girls from sexual violence.

Though there can be no denying the significant physical risks associated with humanitarian military intervention by American, European, Australian, or Canadian troops, these risks are almost certainly less than those confronted in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as the basis for participation in such military action is morally and legally much less ambiguous: halting genocide, halting the deliberate destruction of the African ethnic groups in Darfur because of who they are, "as such." Here we should bear in mind two of the acts of genocide specified in Article 2 of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (to which the US, the countries of the European Union, and all current members of the UN Security Council are contracting parties):

[b] Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

[d] Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

Considerable international jurisprudential thought has been given to the particular meaning of these phrases, but both have a clear bearing on how we consider the implications of systematic, ethnically-targeted rape in Darfur. Rape causes extremely serious bodily harm, particularly the gang-rape so characteristic in Darfur, as does rape accompanied by non-sexual violence, also typical in Darfur. Rape causes excruciating mental trauma. For a variety of reasons, rape also serves as a means of preventing births on the part of women within the targeted African groups. Those girls and women raped are often socially ostracized, and become much less valued as potential wives; violent rape often leads to medical complications that make further child-bearing impossible or much riskier; and rape often carries the threat of disease and infection, including direct threats to the lives of potential mothers.

Rape as committed by Khartoum’s military proxy in Darfur is entirely consistent with the genocidal ambitions that have been in evidence for over two years, and contributes significantly to the current genocide by attrition that has succeeded the previous campaign of large-scale violent destruction of the lives and livelihoods of Darfur’s African tribal groups. That sexual violence continues on a significant and consequential basis has been confirmed by UN reports (including the most recent [June 2005] by the Secretary-general), and by reports from human rights observers and humanitarian organizations on the ground in Darfur.

But for Zoellick and the Bush administration—and clearly with the support of the European Union and officials within NATO—there is no willingness to contribute U.S. or European personnel to this most urgent humanitarian intervention.

Genocide, including rape as a weapon of war in Darfur, will as a consequence proceed at a pace limited only by the drastically inadequate AU deployment, currently operating without a mandate for civilian or humanitarian protection. "Time must be given for an African solution to work," Zoellick declared in his Congressional testimony (Voice of America, June 22, 2005). But as Zoellick well knows, the AU has been shamefully reluctant to admit its own fundamental limitations, has failed to secure a mandate for civilian protection, and has deployed (in well over half a year) only about two thirds of the 3,500 personnel planned for early last fall. The AU has no capacity—either in material, manpower, or logistics (including "inter-operability")—to reach the 7,700 target figure for September, a date much too far in the future given critical current needs for protection. [ ]


So long as the international community fails to supplement the African Union in Darfur, and fails to provide a force in place with a mandate for civilian protection, an intolerable number of women and girls will be raped. This will compound the ongoing failure of the international community, in particular the UN Security Council failure to secure from Khartoum compliance with the only significant "demand" made to date: that the regime disarm the Janjaweed murderers and rapists, and bring their leaders to justice (UN Security Council Resolution 1556, July 30, 2004).

In a region the size of Spain, with over 2.5 million internally displaced persons and refugees (including eastern Chad), many hundreds of thousands of women and girls are daily at risk of the sort chronicled by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in its immensely powerful and clinically informed study: "The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur" (Amsterdam, March 8, 2005). Without international protection, girls as young as eight will continue to experience the most vicious form of sexual violence. MSF provides all too many horrific examples:

"’Five women, 2 young girls (13 and 14 years old) and 3 older women, went to collect grass for their donkeys. The group got ambushed by three armed men. ‘I was taken to the near-by river bed away from the other women. One man took me in one direction. The other man took the other girl. [ ] The man who took me told me to sit on the ground. But I refused. He hit me twice on my back with a stick. Then he took out a knife and threatened me by pointing the knife at me. I sat down. And then he told me to take off my underwear. I refused, but he threatened me again with his knife. He pulled his trousers down and raped me. He left without saying anything or even looking at me.’ (Young girl, 13, February 2005, South Darfur)"

"’One of the three man took me away from the other women. He threatened me with his knife by pinching my chest with it. He pushed me on the ground and took off my underwear. He raped me and was repeating "I will kill you" all the time to intimidate me.’ (Young girl, 14, February 2005, South Darfur)"

A hateful racial/ethnic animus is all too often in evidence in these violent rapes:

"We saw five Arab men who came to us and asked where our husbands were. Then they told us that we should have sex with them. We said no. So they beat and raped us. After they abused us, they told us that now we would have Arab babies; and if they would find any Fur [one of the non-Arab or African tribal groups of Darfur], they would rape them again to change the colour of their children.’ (Three women, 25, 30 and 40, October 2004, West Darfur)" (page 1)

Gingerich and Leaning also report on the racial/ethnic animus in the accounts of rape coming from non-Arab or African women, accounts that make clear the genocidal nature of these assaults:

"It is widely reported that during the attacks, the Janjaweed often berated the women, calling them slaves, telling them that they would now bear a ‘free child,’ and asserting that they (the perpetrators) are wiping out the non-Arabs." (page 15)

Gang-rape is, as MSF has established beyond doubt, a characteristic feature of sexual violence in Darfur:

"[A number of] women described that the rapists abducted them and held them captive for several days and during that period they were raped regularly by several men. One woman reported that her abduction lasted 6 days and she was raped by 10 men. In addition, almost half of the survivors report that there was more than one victim in the attack." (page 5)

Individual women offer counts of unsurpassable horror:

"’I was walking with a group of nine women and two men. We met some armed men along the road. They took the nine women and held us under a tree in their camp. They released us after three days. During all this time, I was raped every night and every day by five men.’ (Woman, 30, October 2004, South Darfur) (Among the nine women, only three came to the clinic, among which two girls were 12 and 13 years old.)" (page 5)

This authoritative MSF report was the reason given by Khartoum for the recent arrest of the two most senior officials of MSF working in Sudan and Darfur. Aware of the clinical authority of MSF’s report, and the international respect for the organization (which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999), the regime clearly fears the impact of reports of rape within the Muslim world. For while all too much of the Muslim world has shown a disgraceful willingness to countenance mass murder in Darfur in the name of "counter-insurgency," as promulgated by Khartoum, rape has proved to be much more difficult to justify as a tool of war.

But sexual violence has undeniably been an essential tool of war from the beginning of Khartoum’s barbarous war on the people of Darfur and continues to be so today, as MSF insists in the report that to angered the regime:

"Since early 2003, the people of Darfur have endured a vicious campaign of violence, which has forced almost 2 million people to flee from their destroyed villages in search of safety. Rape against women, children, and men has sadly been a constant factor in this violence throughout this campaign of terror. More tragically, it continues to this day even long after people have fled from their villages. The stories of rape survivors give a horrific illustration of the daily reality of people in Darfur and especially of women and young girls, the primary victims of this form of violence. [The] first waves of people in flight repeatedly recounted to our teams how armed militias attacked their villages, killing and raping the inhabitants."

"The hundreds of thousands who fled the destroyed villages have now sought refuge in makeshift camps with little but rags and sticks as shelter. But they have found no safety there. In spite of high-profile visits of the world’s leaders, people still face persecution and intimidation inside the camps. Rape, a feature of the attacks on their villages, has now followed them insidiously into their places of refuge. Families, in order to sustain themselves, have to continue collecting wood, fetching water or working their fields. In doing so, women have to make a terrible choice, putting themselves or their children at risk of rape, beatings or death as soon as they are outside the camps, towns or villages." (page 1)

MSF has quantified a number of their findings, and it was for uttering these terrible truths that Khartoum arrested the senior MSF officials in Sudan:

"The majority (82%) were raped while they were pursuing their ordinary daily activities. Only 4% of women reported that the rape occurred during the active conflict, while they were fleeing their home village. Almost a third (28%) of the victims reported that they were raped more than one time, either by single or multiple assailants. In more than half of the cases, physical violence was inflicted beyond sexual violence; women are beaten with sticks, whips or axes. Further, some of the raped women were visibly pregnant at the time of the assault, sometimes up to eight months." (page 3)

But MSF is far from alone in reporting on the realities of rape. There have long been numerous accounts from the UN as well as human rights organizations, both international and Sudanese expatriate. The scale and viciousness of rape, especially in the more violent phases of the Darfur conflict, are suggested by a UN dispatch following an attack in the Tawilah area of North Darfur (one in which the notorious Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal is clearly implicated):

"In an attack on 27 February [2004] in the Tawilah area of northern Darfur, 30 villages were burned to the ground, over 200 people killed and over 200 girls and women raped—some by up to 14 assailants and in front of their fathers who were later killed. A further 150 women and 200 children were abducted." (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 22, 2004)

This was but one of countless such attacks.

We have no clear idea about the number of women and girls who have been raped in Darfur, in part because of the extraordinary reticence—for cultural and religious reasons—on the part of the women assaulted.

Amnesty International delegates in Chad in November 2003:

“Women will not tell you easily if they have been raped. In our culture, it is a shame. Women hide this in their hearts so that men don’t hear about it.”

But we may be sure that UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Egeland is correct when he refers to the implications of the MSF study and its clinical recording of the experience of rape victims: "’This [MSF figure of 500 rape victims] is just a fraction of such attacks’" (Reuters, June 21, 2005).

Gingerich and Leaning report that,

"a Darfurian nongovernmental organization has documented 9,300 cases of rape [footnote 72: interview, October 12, 2004], although other observers on the ground have argued that the number of rapes is closer to double that figure" [footnote 73: Interviews, September 21, 2004]. (page 16)

Given the often determined silence of raped women and girls, and the extreme limitations in reporting range and access on the ground, such estimates clearly suggest the possibility that many tens of thousands of rapes have already occurred in Darfur.

It is in such a statistical context that we must understand the implications of Gingerich and Leaning’s account of "the strategic use of rape," and its particular relevance for Darfur:

"Rape in the context of war serves to create fear, shame, and demoralization among many others in addition to the individual who has been directly assaulted. Communities threatened by mass rape in war may well be more likely to choose flight in advance of the enemy attack and may delay return to captured areas. Further, if a war aim is to take territory and resources and prevent the return of the target population, systematic rape can be seen as a potentially effective means to sap the capacity of groups and societies to reconstitute themselves and organize a sustained return."

"In extreme circumstances, mass rape has been used to further an agenda of cultural and ethnic destruction, by polluting blood lines and preying upon deeply-instilled prejudices about victims of rape to weaken marital and communal relations. The poisonous power of rape to drain capacity for explanation or re-organization of self and community makes it a uniquely effective tool for undermining the social order. When the war aims include the ethnic cleansing or annihilation of a particular identified group, systematic rape could arguably be deployed to manipulate norms of honor, chastity, virginity, femininity, masculinity, loyalty, marriage, and kinship, and insert an emanating set of experiences and memories that destroy group bonds through time."

"’Raped women become pregnant by the enemy, they may suffer grievous physical and psychological injuries, they may die, they may be abandoned or disavowed by shamed families and husbands, all of which degrade the ability of a culture to replenish itself through sexual reproduction’ [footnote 29, Jonathan Gottschall, ‘Explaining Wartime Rape’]."

It is impossible to do full justice to either the data or accounts of rape as a weapon of war. The number of studies available is already considerable (for example, in addition to the reports by MSF and Gingerich and Leaning, see Amnesty International, "Sudan, Darfur: Rape as a Weapon of War" [July 19, 2004] at http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engafr540762004). What is clear from all extant accounts, surveys, and data is that rape has in fact been were widely and deliberately deployed as a weapon of war, indeed as a weapon in service of genocidal assault. The subsiding of large-scale conflict has not diminished the ongoing significance or extent of this weapon.

Here we must bear in mind the highly significant finding of MSF:

"The majority (82%) [of women and girls] were raped while they were pursuing their ordinary daily activities. Only 4% of women reported that the rape occurred during the active conflict, while they were fleeing their home village." (page 4)

As women have continued to be forced into camps for displaced persons, or trapped in besieged villages, this statistic is terrifying in its implications: there is no hiding or respite from rape. The UN (in Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 14; May 1, 2005) estimates that 1.88 million Darfuris are now internally displaced (the UN estimates another 200,000 are refugees in eastern Chad). This figure for human displacement represents only those persons to which the UN has access (mainly through UN World Food Program registration); it does not represent a huge and inaccessible rural population that is either displaced or acutely vulnerable in situ. In short, the extreme threat of rape continues for as many as 1.5 million women and girls. This has immense implications for the populations of Darfur, as Gingerich and Leaning make clear in their analysis of the "strategic use of rape as a weapon of war in Darfur":

"Aspects of the underlying strategic rationale for these rapes can be discerned as follows:

•"Create a sense of fear in the civilian population in order to restrict freedom of movement and economic activity. The consistency and implacability of the Janjaweed attack pattern has cast a massive shadow of fear across Darfur. Word of the rapes of the non-Arab population has spread to all those who have not yet been struck. This fear translates into a siege situation, whereby no one ventures outside the confines of the village unless it is absolutely necessary.” (page 17)

•"Instill flight to facilitate capture of land and killing of male civilians. The modus operandi of the Janjaweed and Government of Sudan military attacks on Darfurian villages has become known across the region. Defiance in the face of the onslaught simply leads to death. Over these months of war, the military aims of these forces have become easier to accomplish: they ride up to the horizon of a settlement and everyone before them tries to flee." (page 18)

•"Demoralize the population to reduce their will to resist and prolong their forced exit from the land. Mass rape in war ruptures community ties and disorganizes family structure, behavior, and expectations through time. In a culture that places such high value on virginity and chastity as Darfur, the burden inflicted by rape is particularly devastating and enduring." (page 18)

•"Tear apart the community, by breaking family and community bonds and by engaging in ethnic cleansing through ‘pollution’ of the blood line. A key motive of the Janjaweed use of rape as a weapon of war appears to be to destroy the non-Arab Darfurian society as a separate ethnic entity. Reports of rapes are replete with statements made by the Janjaweed perpetrators suggesting their intent to make a ‘free baby’ (implying that the non-Arabs are slaves) and to ‘pollute’ the tribal blood line, which is patrilineal in the Darfurian tribes." (page 18)

The strategic use of rape as a weapon of war is also evident in the numerous reports of women deliberately scarred or branded as part of sexual violence, this in order to make them more conspicuously victims of rape and thus less desirable as prospective wives or mothers. Even women who will under no circumstances speak of their brutal experience must nonetheless bear the cruelly and purposefully inflicted marks of that experience.

As we are counseled by the Bush administration "to give time for an African solution to work," the transparent inability of the AU—now or in any foreseeable future—to provide civilian protection ensures that rape will continue to be deployed as a strategic weapon of genocidal war.

And time is on the side of Khartoum’s génocidaires and their brutal militia proxy, the Janjaweed. Although there are a number of reports that Khartoum’s regular forces have also participated in the mayhem of sexual violence in Darfur (see Gingerich and Leaning, page 19), it is the Janjaweed—still unconstrained by Khartoum in any meaningful sense—that continue to rape on a massive, systematic basis. This is so despite the UN Security Council’s futile "demand" that the regime disarm the Janjaweed and bring its leaders to justice.

Nor is there any prospect of justice for these girls and women. Violations of international law, including the use of rape as a weapon of war (see Gingerich and Leaning, pages 6-12), have nominally been referred by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court. But Khartoum continues to evince nothing but contempt for the ICC, insisting both that no Sudanese will be extradited to The Hague and that preposterous domestic show trials, hastily contrived by the "justice ministry," will have sole jurisdiction for all of Sudan.


The NIF/NCP regime in Khartoum has no interest in seeking and sustaining a just peace for Sudan, or for any of the marginalized populations of this vast country, including those in the increasingly explosive east. The regime’s génocidaires seek only political survival on the most favorable terms. They will make no peace with the people of Darfur that threatens them more than the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (January 9, 2005) with southern Sudan already does.

Those women seeking justice from this regime will seek in vain. And those in the international community who refuse to see this regime for what it is, who refuse to see that the regime seeks neither a just peace for the people of Darfur nor justice for the most aggrieved civilian survivors of ongoing genocide, are complicit in condemning the women and girls of Darfur to an indefinite future of the most heinous crimes of sexual violence.


Authoritative reports of rapes from Radio Dabanga, human rights organizations, and other sources (identified where appropriate).  These accounts, while representative of the scale, range, continuity, and brutality of rape and sexual violence in Darfur, can do nothing to indicate total numbers.  Here we must be guided by generalizations from previous studies and field dispatches:

•As of fall 2004, Gingerich and Leaning report: "a Darfurian nongovernmental organization has documented 9,300 cases of rape [footnote 72: interview, October 12, 2004], although other observers on the ground have argued that the number of rapes is closer to double that figure [footnote 73: Interviews, September 21, 2004].” (page 16)

• Associated Press reported from Nyala (May 26, 2007): "UN workers say they registered 2,500 rapes in Darfur in 2006, but believe far more went unreported. The real figure is probably thousands a month, said a UN official. Like other UN personnel and aid workers interviewed, the official insisted on speaking anonymously for fear of being expelled by the government."

• UNICEF "Child Alert," page 19, December 2005:

"A recent report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that in almost one in three reported rapes [in Darfur], the victims were children, and a recent UNICEF/UN Population Fund study suggests that the number might be even higher."

•"Focus on Mornay camp," Médecins Sans Frontières, 20 June 2004 (Sudan: no relief in site): "Nearly 14% of the 132 victims of violence treated by medical teams from MSF over the last nine weeks were victims of sexual violence." [Altogether, more than 3 million people, more than half girls and women, have been displaced over the course of violent conflict in Darfur.]

Racist animus in sexual assaults:  It is imperative to bear in mind that rape and sexual violence have a strong racial/ethnic animus in Darfur.  Virtually all the reported attacks are of Arab men upon non-Arab or African women (in its 2004 study, Amnesty International found only one instance in which rebel forces from the Fur, Massalit, or Zaghawa non-Arab or African ethnic groups were responsible for rape).  This must not be lost sight of, as some have already done (for example, political scientist Alan Wolfe offers displays a painful ignorance in speaking on this issue: see Dissent Magazine (January 26, 2012).  The examples here from Amnesty International ("Sudan, Darfur: Rape as a Weapon of War," July 19, 2004) could be replicated from countless other reports and news accounts:

[1]  "Omar al Bashir told us that we should kill all the Nubas. There is no place here for the Negroes any more."  (Words of a Janjawid fighter, according to a refugee from Kenyu, interviewed by Amnesty International in Chad, May 2004)

[2]  "The Tama, a small ethnic group mainly composed of farmers, have been both victims of attacks and accused several times of siding with the Janjawid in the 2003-2004 conflict: ‘Slaves! Nubas! Do you have a god? You, ugly black pretend… We are your god! Your god is Omer al-Bashir.’"

[3] "You blacks, you have spoilt the country! We are here to burn you…We will kill your husbands and sons and we will sleep with you! You will be our wives!"

(The words of members of the Janjawid as reported by a group of Masalit women in Goz Amer refugee camp, interviewed by Amnesty International in May 2004)

[4]  "M., a 50-year-old woman from Fur Baranga reported: ‘The village was attacked during the night in October 2003, when the Arabs came by cars and on horses. They said "every black woman must be killed, even the children."’"

[5]  "Sudanese refugees interviewed by Amnesty International in Chad, who alleged that Salamat nomads from Chad and fighters from Mauritania were recruited to fight in Darfur:

‘What we heard from the Janjawid is that Omer al-Bashir tells the foreigners that they are Arabs and that they should come and live in a country that is ruled by Arabs. That they should not stay where they are ruled by Africans. They say that "Sudan is a country for Arabs."’"  (M., Sudanese refugee in Chad, interviewed by Amnesty International in May 2004)"

[6]"’The government gave the Arabs confidence, arms, cars and horses.  We cannot go back; there will be no security for African people in Darfur.’ (Sudanese woman interviewed by Amnesty International in Mile refugee camp, Chad, May 2004)"

[7]  "M., a Masalit chief of the village of Disa,reported that during attacks in June 2003 by the Janjawid and in July and August by the military, 63 persons were killed, including his daughter. In June the Janjawid reportedly accused the villagers of being ‘traitors to Omer Hassan Al-Bashir. [ ] In July the military arrested several persons including Brahim Siddiq, a seven-year-old boy. In June the Janjawid said during the attack: ‘You are complicit with the opponents, you are Blacks, no Black can stay here, and no Black can stay in Sudan.’ Arab women were accompanying the attackers singing songs in praise of the government and encouraging the attackers. The women said:

‘The blood of the Blacks runs like water, we take their goods and we chase them from our area and our cattle will be in their land. The power of al-Bashir belongs to the Arabs and we will kill you until the end, you Blacks, we have killed your God.’  They also insulted the women from the village saying ‘You are gorillas, you are Black, and you are badly dressed.’"

Gingerich and Leaning also report on the racial/ethnic animus in the accounts of rape coming from non-Arab or African women, accounts that make clear the genocidal nature of these assaults: "It is widely reported that during the attacks, the Janjaweed often berated the women, calling them slaves, telling them that they would now bear a ‘free child,’ and asserting that they (the perpetrators) are wiping out the non-Arabs." (page 15)

Specific dispatches, edited for length, highlight particular instances of rape and sexual violence; they are organized from the most recent to the most distant.  It is a grim and lengthy work in progress, to be found at: http://www.sudanreeves.org/2012/03/04/incidents-of-rape-to-be-read-with-rape-as-a-continuing-weapon-of-war-in-darfur/

Eric Reeves is a Sudan researcher and analyst at Smith College, and author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide (Key Publications/Canada, 2007); he has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade.

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