Today marks one year after Tabit in North Darfur witnessed a mass rape of more than 200 girls and women. At least 49 women have been raped in the vicinity of the village over the past year, according to Radio Dabanga reports.
By Nouska du Saar, Radio Dabanga
An incident between a Sudanese soldier and a woman in Tabit, on a Thursday night in October 2014, led to a mass rape in the village over a 36-hour period. The soldier went missing and in what later became known as a retaliation act, military forces from the nearby garrison entered Tabit the following day. They suspected the local population for being responsible for his disappearance. Men and women were forced out of their houses and separated. While a number of soldiers held the men outside of town and threatened them, others sexually abused more than 200 girls and women, until they left the village early next morning.
Radio Dabanga received the first reports on the incidents in Tabit, in the northern outskirts of East Jebel Marra, on Sunday 2 November. Initially the local military commander apologised for the rape. Later, authorities in the area threatened civilians to not speak out about the alleged crime, and the Sudanese government responded with a fierce denial. Tabit was blocked off for visitors and a verification team of African Union-United Nations peacekeepers in Darfur (Unamid) for a week.
Speaking to this station, a woman reported that she treated at least 50 abused women in Tabit in the following week. “[…] but there is nothing to treat them with. We can only throw warm water on them.” She added that there is “enough evidence to show, there are many abused girls and they should be medically examined”. Meanwhile, a number of families left the village and moved to Zamzam camp for displaced people, 45 km northeast of Tabit and near El Fasher.
After UN-chief Ban Ki-moon requested full access to Tabit to investigate the mass rape allegations, Sudan closed the human rights office of the Unamid peacekeeping mission on 24 November 2014. Days later, the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced publicly that it wanted Unamid to start preparations to leave the country. Two high-ranking officials of the UN in Sudan were expelled in December.
The situation in Tabit is like “living in an open prison”, a witness told Human Rights Watch (HRW) researchers months later. The organisation published a detailed report on the mass rape in February, revealing that “221 women and girls” were raped and that Sudanese army officers had ordered the soldiers to abuse them.
“There is no evidence that anyone has been charged with any crimes.”
The government of Sudan and the Special Prosecutor for Crimes in Darfur, Esameldin Abdelgader, continue to deny that the mass rape has taken place in Tabit.
49 women raped in Tabit
Since November last year, Radio Dabanga has received 94 reports of sexual violence from the whole region of Darfur, in which 181 girls and women became the victims of rape. 49 of them were raped in and around Tabit, mostly by militiamen. The station received the most reports of rape (32) from the East Jebel Marra area, in comparison to all cases reported from the five Darfur states.
Relatives of victims and sources on the ground told Radio Dabanga over the past year that most victims were raped while tending their farm (47) or collecting firewood and straw (45).
Only 12 cases of rape were filed by the police in Darfur this year, according to the Minister of Interior Affairs, Esmat Abdelrahman, in a report to the national Parliament on Tuesday. He said that the number of rapes cases declined, from 31 cases in 2014 to 12 cases in 2015 until now. He mentioned five cases in West Darfur, four in South Darfur, two cases in North Darfur, and one in East Darfur.
Challenges to report
Sources have informed Radio Dabanga that local police in Darfur often refuse to file reported rape cases, and that in general, many incidents go unreported. Any victim of sexual violence has to report the incident to the police by filling out a Form 8. Obtaining this form used to be obligatory for victims before being allowed treatment in a hospital, until this law was revised in 2005.
They added that some doctors fear reprisals by the police and still refuse to treat rape victims without a Form 8. A 12-year-old rape victim in Zalingei, Central Darfur, had to wait a full day on November 30 last year before she was treated in the hospital, because of the police's slow issuance of the form (read the article here).
Additionally, not many victims file a lawsuit against their rapists. The prosecutor must present a declaration of the perpetrator or four male witnesses who admit that the act took place without the victim's consent, according to reports on Sudanese human rights by the Equal Rights Trust and IRIS Center. Impunity in Sudan often ensures that police and soldiers go free from an accusation of rape.
'No one charged with crimes'
“The Sudanese government has done everything possible to cover up its crimes,” Deputy UN Director for HRW, Akshaya Kumar, said this week, commemorating the mass rape in Tabit. “There is no evidence that anyone has been charged with any crimes. The survivors have not received medical or psycho-social services, let alone justice.”
UK urges UN to ensure follow-up on mass rapes in Darfur (30 June 2015)
'They raped us all night. I'm still sick' (11 February 2015)
Sudan army filmed Unamid mass rape investigations in Tabit (12 November 2014)
Denial of Darfur rape case shocks Tabit victims (11 November 2014)