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No safe place from rape

By Christian Mukosa
Posted on Wednesday, 30 September 2009 15:07

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Nine years after a UN resolution was passed to protect women and girls from rape and violence in conflict situations, Darfuri refugees living in camps in eastern Chad are being failed by those whose responsibility it is to protect them, says Amnesty International’s Christian Mukosa.

Women and girls who escaped the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region to eastern Chad continue to experience high levels of rape in the refugee camps that house more than 260,000 Darfuris, most of them women and children.

Women and girls who escaped the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region to eastern Chad continue to experience high levels of rape in the refugee camps that house more than 260,000 Darfuris, most of them women and children.

During a recent mission to eastern Chad, Amnesty International met with many women and girls who described attacks occurring both in and outside the refugee camps.

We heard from one woman who had gone outside the camp to collect firewood with 12 other women. While out, she was attacked by two men who accused her, and all Sudanese women, of taking their wood. The men used the hatchet the woman had taken out to chop wood on her, hitting her on the neck. Eventually she was found by others from the camp.

Although most attacks take place outside the camp, there is scant security inside where women and girls are vulnerable and exposed to attack.

Amnesty International has received reliable reports and testimonies that some humanitarian workers have committed acts of rape and other forms of violence against women and girls. In all such cases the accused were dismissed from employment and complaints were lodged with Chadian local administrative authorities and DIS officers. No further action was generally taken by law enforcement officers in order to bring the suspects to justice.

One woman called Mariam (not her real name) explained how she was raped in Gaga Refugee Camp by a man working with an international organisation.

The 22-year-old mother of two was accompanying the man, who was her co-worker, to visit an elderly woman in the camp. On their way, they passed by Mariam’s hut and the man asked if they could stop for a drink of water. They did. When Mariam brought the water to him, he raped her. A neighbour interrupted the attack and the man fled the hut and ran from the camp. He has since been dismissed from the NGO for which he worked, but he is rumoured to still be at large in Abéché.

Culture of impunity

Tragically there exists a grave culture of impunity toward rape and other attacks of violence against women and girls in Chad, as the law remains unclear and ineffective. Chad’s Penal code prohibits rape but does not provide a clear definition of the offence. A lack of training and absence of political will mean there is a great disparity between law and its practice in Chad, especially when dealing with rape and other violence against women.

This level of impunity that persists across the region is woeful, particularly given the series of international legislations aimed at strengthening protection for women and girls in conflicts.

October 2009 will mark nine years since the first formal and legal document from the UN Security Council, which sought to ensure that women’s rights were integral to any conflict and post-conflict resolution. As a result, a higher degree of protection and security must be implemented for women and girls who are seeking refuge under the shelter of a UN peacekeeping force.

It is disgraceful to see that nine years after this important document was agreed, there is very little evidence of this in conflict situation.

Just last year, the UN Security Council passed a further resolution that sought to reaffirm rape as a war crime, crime against humanity and capable of being a constitutive element of genocide.

The UN SC resolution 1820 indicated that any failure to prevent investigations and prosecute rape in conflict could result in deepening, prolonging and re-igniting that conflict. Despite this resolution, there is no evidence to suggest its provisions are being applied on the ground in eastern Chad.

Responsibility to protect

It is disheartening that the UN’s peacekeeping force in Central African Republic and in Chad (MINURCAT) and a new Chadian police force called the Détachement Intégré de Securité or DIS have so far failed to provide refugees and internally displaced people with adequate protection. Out of an intended contingent of 5,200 troops, MINURCAT has so far only deployed 2,350 troops. This is wholly inadequate and leaves refugees and the internally displaced vulnerable to attacks.

The UN Security Council and the international community at large have a responsibility to ensure that greater attention is placed on protecting women and girls from violence and ensuring that gender-specific issues are adequately managed by well-trained UN personnel and other security staff – including Chad’s DIS police force.

There is need to put in place an independent and confidential reporting mechanism for any attacks to ensure that they are all recorded. It is also important to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the cause and circumstances of sexual and other forms of violence against refugee women within and outside the refugee camps in eastern Chad.

MINURCAT must fully deploy without further delays and DIS units must be provided with all necessary resources to enable them to properly protect camps for refugees and the internally displaced. In addition, those responsible for committing rape and other forms of sexual assaults must be brought to justice. There must be no impunity for such heinous crimes.

Christian K. Mukosa is Amnesty International’s Chad Researcher

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