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Women and children endure a systematic program of sexual assault, torture and murder in Darfur. The central government of Sudan, working largely through nomadic Arab militias, humiliates women, tears apart families and shreds the social fabric of communities through rape.

There is no honor in victimizing the weak.

The Sudanese government's war against the Darfurian opposition is doing just that—horribly victimizing the women and children of Darfur. In addition to the Sudanese military, the government uses nomadic Janjawid militias as instruments of torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and children. Whatever the government's rhetoric about mounting a counterinsurgency again rebels, the systematic brutality toward women and children is not merely evil, but cowardly.

There is a grim effectiveness in violating the basic human rights of women and girls.

How does rape and sexual assault function as a means of war? Amnesty International seeks to answer this question through the stories they gather from eye-witnesses and victims.

Rape as a Form of Humiliation

Rape is not merely a brutal form of violence. Because rape violates deeply held social values, it breaks apart the ties of community that gives a group strength. So, for the government and the Janjawid, it is not enough to simply rape a woman. The rape and sexual torture needs to make a statement. The barbarity that needs to be put on display. Humiliate the woman or girl in public view and you succeed in humiliating the entire community. The 2004 Amnesty International report, Rape as a Weapon of War, captures this in an excerpt from the testimony of an eye witness:

“In July 203, th Arabs raped M, [age] 14, on market square and threatened to shoot on the witnesses if they tried to intervene.” (From the testimony of a 28 year old Hathaway woman from Habiliment region.)

Public rape communicates domination over the women who suffer this cruelty, but just as important, it communicates the impotence of the community to do anything about it.

Rape and Murder of Pregnant Women

The violence of the Janjawid extends beyond women and children to the most vulnerable of all: unborn children.

But why? According to one witness:

“I was with another woman, Aliza, aged 18, who had her stomach slit on the night we were abducted. She was pregnant and was killed as they said: 'it is the child of an enemy.'” (A woman of Irena ethnicity from the village of Gabrila.)

Torture and Killings in the Context of Sexual Violence

What of the women who try to resist? Torture and murder are constant threats.

“My sister, M., aged 43, was captured by the military and the Janjawid. The tried to sleep with her. She resisted, I was present and could hear her: 'I will not do something like this even if you kill me' and they immediately killed her.” (A Hathaway man from Micki.)

Torture, beyond the brutality of the sexual assault, goes hand in hand with rape. One of the most common forms being pulling out fingernails during interrogations.

Rape, Abductions and Sexual Slavery

Rape is not always a single event. Amnesty International records instances of women and girls being abducted during attacks and forced to stay with the Janjawid in military camps or hideouts. These women and girls become sex slaves. Accounts tell of girls having to endure gang rapes several times a day.

It is common for the Janjawid to break the legs of these women to prevent their escape.

Sexual Violence against Girls

If the unborn are targets for murder and violence, then young girls cannot hope to be safe. One women describes girls “taken away [by the Janjawid] on camels and the Hakeem (the Arab women who follow the Janjawid men) saw this and cheered their men.”

Rape in the Context of Attacks

The women in Darfur are vulnerable, not merely because they are not as strong as men or control the firepower of the military. They are particularly vulnerable because it is their job to care for the family. When attacks come on a village, the men, out in the countryside tending animals, are often able to run into the bush or hills. The women are the ones who run back into the village to rescue the children and elderly.

“When the Janjawid came, they put fire on our huts and they beat the children and the women. I have seven children and six are here with me now, I put one on my back and on[e] in front and the others were holding my hands and we ran. Also my grandmother was with me. On the way there were many Janjawid and they were beating people and we saw them raping women and young girls.” (A 40-year-old woman from Jarrod.)

Rape During Flight

Even when they are accompanied by men, women and girls who flee the villages are at risk. Accompanied by children, they cannot move as quickly and so become easy targets for their pursuers. According to the testimony of one man fleeing with his family:

“In February 2004, I abandoned my house because of the conflict. I met six Arabs in the bush. I wanted to take my spear to defend my family, they threatened me with a weapon and I had to stop. The six men raped my daughter, who is 25 years old, in front of me, my wife and the young children.”

Rapes in IDP Settlements

Refugees (referred to as internally displaced persons or IDP) are not safe even when they make it to a IDP camp. Often, these camps are set up on the edges of villages or towns. The Janjawid patrol the outskirts of the camp to prevent refugees from escaping. In places like Gabrila, there are also military barracks outside the camp. So, the IDP camps become little more than “virtual prisons.”

The women who do leave the camp—as they must to scavenge for firewood or water—are at particular risk of rape.

Amnesty International reports that refugees that make it across the border into IDP camps in Chad may face less risk. But some women elect to stay in the IDP camps in Sudan. Their reason? Because of the strong taboos surrounding rape, the women feel cut off from their family. So, even when their family manages to flee to a place less fraught with risk, these women feel that they must stay behind, facing alone even more rape and degradation.

Data and Methods:


Amnesty International delegates visited Chad in November 2003 in order to interview Sundanese refugees from Darfur. They obtained over 100 testimonies from refugees in three locations along the eastern Chadian border. Amnesty International also obtained the names of more than 1,000 people killed in Darfur and the names of more than 250 women and girls raped in Darfur.

For safety reasons, the real names of all interviewees were changed for the report.

Funding Sources:

Direct funding sources are not provided.

Full Text Availability:
Full text of this report is available at

Amnesty International. 2004. Sudan, Darfur: Rape as a Weapon of War: Sexual Violence and Its Consequences. London: AFR 54/076/04.

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