The International Rescue Committee released a report this week documenting an alarming rise in instances of sexual violence in Darfur. According to the IRC, more than 200 female residents of one refugee camp have been victims of sexual assault in the past five weeks alone. [includes rush transcript]
- Heidi Lehmann technical advisor for Gender-Based Violence programs at the International Rescue Committee. She recently worked to set up programs in Darfur, and returned from Sudan just last month.
On the issue of rape as a weapon of war, before the show we reached Jane Alao Odo. Jane is originally from the South of Sudan. She was displaced from the south early in her life. In 2004 she co-founded the Amel Center for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture. In addition to providing medical support for victims, the Amel Center has attempted to prosecute the perpetrators of rape and torture. Jane talked about the legal obstacles to holding perpetrators of rape accountable, and she also described some of the long-term effects of systematic rape on society.
- Jane Alao Odo, co-founder of the Amel Center for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture. She joins us on the line from southern Darfur.
AMY GOODMAN: To discuss the issue of sexual violence in Darfur, we’re joined by Heidi Lehmann. She is a technical advisor for Gender-Based Violence programs at the International Rescue Committee, has worked to set up Gender-Based Violence centers in numerous areas, including Darfur. Welcome to Democracy Now!
HEIDI LEHMANN: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve spent many months in Darfur. Talk about this spike in violence.
HEIDI LEHMANN: Well, I mean, what we have seen over the last five weeks — I mean, let me just put it in some context. In the months preceding, what we saw was three to four reports of rape a month, and over the last five weeks, what we figured out was, what we were seeing was about 40 rapes a week. Keeping in mind that is information from one camp of many throughout Darfur, keeping in mind the underreporting that is associated with sexual assault, we can surmise that that’s actually a low figure and that there are many more women and girls out there that have experienced this that have not come forward.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And how is this happening, this increase happening, especially in the presence that there are some African troops there supposedly monitoring and protecting the civilian population?
HEIDI LEHMANN: Well, I think, you know, Mr. Reeves made a good point. The African Union forces on the ground are there for monitoring purposes. In May, there were several instances that caused the African Union to actually pull out of some of the major camps in Darfur, Kalma being one of them. That’s why one of our recommendations in the press release is that the AU force on the ground must be much more robust and must restart what is being called the "24/7 patrols," so they’re actually much more present in the camp. Another thing is that one of the things that the African Union did specifically to help prevent incidents of sexual assault was the firewood patrols. Those have stopped. There’s only been one since April, I think.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what are the firewood patrols?
HEIDI LEHMANN: The firewood patrols — you know, these women are being attacked when they leave the camp. This leaving of the camp is most associated with firewood, and the AU patrols would be — the firewood patrols would be when the AU accompanies the women at a predetermined time to go out of the camp. And this was to some extent a protective factor from the sexual assaults.
AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of rape as a weapon of war, just before the show, we reached Jane Alao Odo. She is originally from the south of Sudan. She was displaced from the south early in her life. In 2004, she co-founded the Amel Center for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture. In addition to providing medical support for victims, the Amel Center has attempted to prosecute the perpetrators of rape and torture. Jane talked about the legal obstacles to holding perpetrators of rape accountable. She also described some of the long-term effects of systematic rape on society. I wanted it play a clip of her discussion and get your response.
JANE ALAO ODO: We do have free programs in Amel Center: legal aid, medical treatment, and the rehabilitation program. And these free services are free of charge for victims of torture. Legal aid, the legal department has seen more than 1,000 cases since the establishment of the Center — that’s 2004.
And when we talk of rape, in the sense of filing cases under Article 149, according to the Criminal Code of 1991, we have only one case that we’ve succeeded in convicting the perpetrator on Article 149. To prove rape itself, first of all, you have to prove that it was not adultery. That’s according to Sharia law. And then, after proving that it was not adultery, then comes the second step, that’s proving — to prove that it was rape. And for this, it’s not usually easy to prove that [inaudible] first that not being adultery and then proving it to be rape, because it needs some other evidence, that you need to have four male eyewitnesses that saw the penetration during the rape. That’s the act itself. And that’s usually impossible, due to the fact that when those women or girls are raped, they’re either raped in the forest, in the bush, far away from the grouping of people, where nobody can see the rape itself. And thirdly, it needs the confession of the perpetrator. That’s the person who raped — who did the act of rape itself.
The widespread of rape arrest cases, future ones, and torture cases, future ones, that’s the biggest challenge that people are going to face. Children born out of rape, they’re going to face a real problem, and that’s why people should be looking at future ones. Women are raped, being the talk of the villages. They’re either raped in front of their community, in front of their families, in front of everyone in the area where they’re staying. So — and dealing direct assault — the man who committed the rape itself, usually they kill people. So you’re finding the family, the daughter was raped, the father either was killed, or maybe the brother, the aunt and small children were either killed during the attack. So it’s like you can’t control sad feeling. It needs some time for the wound to heal.
AMY GOODMAN: Jane Alao Odo, speaking to us from Nyala, a refugee camp in Darfur. A final comment, Heidi Lehmann.
HEIDI LEHMANN: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s very important that we recognize the long-term impact of these sexual assaults on the women and girls, and on the community, as a whole, because it’s not something certainly that the women and girls forget in the short term, nor the husbands or the other family members that are affected.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us. We will link to all the relevant groups, the International Rescue Committee. Heidi Lehmann is the technical advisor for the Gender-Based Violence program there.