“I returned to Geneina, Zalinge, Gosile and Doram villages in March 2018. I had been told the situation had changed, but nothing has changed. Women continue to be raped. What are we going to do if we go back to Darfur? Going back is impossible for now. I don’t even dream of going back.,”
These words sum up the feelings of thousands of victims of the Darfur war that begun in 2003 and continues even with the ouster of former leader, Omar al-Bashir in April this year. These atrocities are laid at the feet of the Janjaweed militia, now transformed into Rapid Support Forces (RSF),
Led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as “Hemeti,” a former influential Janjaweed leader, and currently a member of the Sovereign Council—the transitional government established in August this year—the RSF has committed serious crimes, including sexual violence.
In a new report Will There Be Justice for Darfur, the International Federation for Human Rights, the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, and the Sudan Human Rights Monitor profiles persisting impunity in Darfur in the face of political change.
The Darfur conflict begun when Sudan Armed Forces supported by Janjaweed militias, started a serious crackdown against rebel groups that were opposed to the government, causing more than 300,000 deaths and three million forced displacements.
The Janjaweed militia under RSF continued to cause havoc as late as June 3, this year, when members attacked civilians participating in a peaceful sit-in protest outside the Ministry of Defence headquarters in Khartoum.
At least 128 people were killed and 500 injured. The RSF reportedly used live ammunition against demonstrators, threw weighted bodies into the Nile and attacked hospitals and medical personnel.
The attack also involved rape and other forms of sexual violence, with some doctors estimating that at least 70 people were raped, both women and men.
Some of these crimes are reflected in the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrants issued between 2007 and 2010 against Bashir and former Defence Minister, Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur from August 2003 to March 2004.
Also indicted was former Interior Minister Ahmad Muhammad Harun and Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, the then Janjaweed militia commander.
More than 10 years later, while the same perpetrators are using similar military strategies through sexual violence against enemy groups, impunity for these atrocious crimes persists.
“The transitional government of Sudan must demonstrate that the ongoing transition will not obscure past crimes and will take into account the demands of all populations in the different regions of the country, including Darfur, for long-lasting peace and justice,” said Arnold Tsunga, director of the Africa regional programme of the International Commission of Jurists.
There have been no convictions at the national level despite the establishment in 2005 of the Special Criminal Court on the Events in Darfur.
Such impunity is largely due to a lack of political will on the part of the authorities, which until recently protected the highest-ranking officials responsible for the crimes committed.
The lack of independence of the Judiciary; and the current legal framework, which includes a system of immunities that ensures that members of the defence and security forces cannot be held accountable.
In addition, no decisions have been issued by regional or international courts or bodies to bring justice to the victims of Darfur, since trials before the ICC require the presence of the accused.
Most survivors have been internally displaced, and there are an estimated 2.6 million such persons in Sudan, while some have taken refuge in neighbouring countries such as Chad—which hosts 300,000 Sudanese refugees.
For 16 years, millions of people have thus been waiting for justice to be rendered and for reparations to be issued so that they can finally rebuild their lives.
This report presents the testimonies and perspectives of hundreds of women and men who arrived in eastern Chad between 2003 and 2013 as victims of the conflict and refugees in two of the largest camps in the Goz Beida region, Djabal and Goz Amer.
Most of the people interviewed were subjected to sexual violence, including rape. In the absence of adequate healthcare, they are still suffering the physical and psychological consequences of this violence.
“I have been thinking of going back to Darfur. When the situation is fixed, I will. Until then, I won’t. We get information that the situation remains insecure,” a woman interviewed in the Djabal refugee camp said.
The report says that the situation of women and girls in the camps is of particular concern. Many women are victims of forced polygamy and have to run their households alone in extreme poverty, given the lack of access to employment and increasing restrictions on humanitarian assistance services.
The prevalence of domestic violence has increased as a result of various factors such as the persistence of conflict-related trauma, itself linked to the lack of access to adequate psychological healthcare, conflicts related to polygamy and the lack of access to employment. Some women and girls have been victims of rape or witnesses to rape committed by men from the host communities.
Many girls are also victims of early marriages within their own communities and are therefore particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and early pregnancy.
The lack of remedies available to refugees and obstacles to accessing the national justice system are further reinforced by high illiteracy rates among Darfuri refugee women and girls.
Despite these difficulties, the vast majority of refugees interviewed prefer to remain on the other side of the border, under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
According to accounts provided by refugees and lawyers from South, West and North Darfur, former Janjaweed militiamen still occupy the lands of members of the Fur, Massalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups who have been chased from their homeland over the past 16 years.
The report observed a massive rejection of the voluntary return process implemented by UNHCR since April 2018, in accordance with the tripartite agreement signed in 2017 by UNHCR with the Chadian and Sudanese authorities.
While the Sudanese authorities have attempted to demonstrate that the security situation in Darfur has improved, the refugees interviewed conveyed a completely different perception and set various conditions for their return to Darfur.
In particular, they demand that those responsible for the crimes perpetrated against their ethnic groups be brought to justice, that their safety be ensured and that their lands be returned to them.
The report calls on the new government to punish those responsible for sexual crimes in Sudan and to guarantee access to justice for survivors of the Darfur conflict, through the immediate transfer to The Hague of persons subject to ICC arrest warrants, including Bashir.
The fight against impunity also requires the Sudanese authorities to allow independent and effective investigations into violence, including sexual violence, committed in Sudan since the beginning of the protest movement in December 2018, and in particular during the June 3 massacre in Khartoum.
“Until the overthrow of al-Bashir, prosecuting those responsible for the crimes committed in Darfur had gradually disappeared from the international community's priorities. The international community, in particular the African Union, has a critical role to play in supporting international justice as a means to provide effective remedies to Sudanese survivors,” said Liemia Eljaii Abubakr Mohamed, a Sudanese journalist.
The reports note that any commission of inquiry, whether national or international, must include women among its members as well as persons with expertise in investigating sexual violence, in order to document such cases effectively and impartially, and make concrete recommendations to bring to justice those responsible and ensure reparation for the crimes committed.
Although the international community mobilised at the time conflict erupted in Darfur, it subsequently remained silent for several years, allowing Bashir, who was by then subject to an ICC arrest warrant, to travel extensively, including to States Parties to the ICC Statute, which mobilised within the African Union to shield him from prosecution, or considered the Sudanese government as a potential partner, particularly in the fight against illegal immigration to Europe.
While the international community’s attitude has changed since the uprising and in view of the gross human rights violations perpetrated by the authorities, the report says it must increase pressure on the Sudanese authorities in order to facilitate access to justice and reparations for all victims, including victims of sexual violence.
“For their part, the surviving populations of Darfur continue to suffer the consequences of the conflict.
In the testimonies collected in eastern Chad, victims give the impression of having been forgotten and abandoned, struggling to survive in extremely precarious conditions. Their fate should remain a priority for international humanitarian aid,” said Ameir Suliman, legal director and co-founder of the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies.
In refugee and IDP camps, women and girls continue to be subjected to numerous instances of sexual and gender-based violence, from armed men, but also men from the host communities, and from their own communities.
While the UN has put in place a voluntary repatriation plan and former Sudanese leaders wanted the camps to be dismantled, Sudanese refugees fear having to return to their regions of origin. However, these calls have remained largely unheeded, due to the continuing insecurity in Darfur, particularly in Jebel Marra.
From March to April 2018, the observers documented several deadly attacks on villages by militias, including by the RSF, while the UN panel of experts on Sudan expressed concern in January 2019 about the resurgence of sexual violence committed by armed groups in Darfur.