"Rape and sexual violence have been used to terrorize and uproot rural communities in Darfur," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of Human Rights Watch. "Donors urgently need to set up programs to protect women and girls from sexual violence and address the needs of those who have been raped."
The Human Rights Watch briefing paper documents how the Sudanese security forces, including police deployed to protect displaced persons, and allied Janjaweed militias continue to commit rape and sexual violence on daily basis. Even as refugees in Chad, women and girls fleeing the violence in Darfur continued to face the risk of rape and assault by civilians or militia members when collecting water, fuel or animal fodder near the border. Human Rights Watch interviewed many victims of sexual violence in camps in Chad and Darfur during two research missions to these areas in February.
Some women living in the refugee camps in Chad had been imprisoned by the Chadian authorities for trying to collect firewood outside the camps, only to be raped by Chadian inmates while in jail. Human Rights Watch documented 10 cases of women and girls from Farchana camp who were imprisoned in such circumstances in January.
Rape and sexual violence against women and girls has been a prominent feature of the "ethnic cleansing" campaign carried out by government forces and its Janjaweed militias, both during and following the displacement of civilians from Darfur. As recently as last month, Human Rights Watch has documented scores of cases of rape of women and girls while traveling along rural roads in Darfur.
The response of Sudanese authorities has exacerbated an already appalling situation. Human Rights Watch documented how authorities in Bindisi, West Darfur, harassed and detained pregnant girls and women, many of whom who had become pregnant as a result of rape. The authorities threatened them with charges of fornication if they did not pay a fine. In some refugee camps in Chad, police and male residents have coerced women and girls to provide "sexual services" in exchange for "protection," Human Rights Watch said.
Donors and humanitarian agencies must give much greater emphasis-and more resources-to preventing sexual and gender-based violence. They also must take urgent steps to respond to its medical, psychological, social and economic consequences. The high levels of sexual violence and displacement in Darfur create a risk of increased transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
Despite the existence of clear standards for responding to sexual and gender-based violence, including in the context of conflict, Human Rights Watch's research suggests that humanitarian agencies are not implementing these guidelines on a systematic basis in Darfur and Chad.
"The U.N. and humanitarian agencies should address the specific needs of women and girls who continue to suffer the consequences of sexual violence," said Takirambudde.
As of February, only one in six of the agencies that were providing health services in the refugee camps in Chad had a protocol for rape that included the provision of emergency contraception, comprehensive treatment of sexually transmissible disease and post-exposure prophylaxis of HIV/AIDS.
Sexual violence is a fundamental violation of human rights and has a profound impact on physical, mental, social and economic well-being of women and girls, both immediately and in the long term. Acts of sexual violence committed as part of widespread or systematic attacks against a civilian population in Darfur can be classified as crimes against humanity and prosecuted as such.
The Human Rights Watch briefing paper entitled Sexual Violence and its Consequences among Displaced Persons in Darfur and Chad is available online at: http://hrw.org/backgrounder/africa/darfur0505/