Top UN rights official urges probes of sexual violence, disappearances in Darfur

Louise Arbour

6 April 2007 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today called for investigations into widespread sexual violence during attacks by Sudanese Government forces and allied militia in Darfur as well as the disappearance of over a dozen men allegedly at the hands of rebels there.

In a new report, the High Commissioner's Office describes attacks in December 2006 in eastern Jebel Marra, Darfur. At least 15 cases of sexual assault, including rape, had occurred, according to the report. At least two pregnant women were targeted in the violence.

“Soldiers came in cars heading towards the hills. Three were in green military uniform and the fourth was in civilian clothes. All four of them were armed and all of them raped me,” said one 13-year old victim, according to the report.

While some women were raped in the villages, others were abducted, taken away, raped, and later released.

“Based on testimony gathered, it appears that rape during the December 2006 attacks was used as a weapon of war to cause humiliation and instill fear into the local population. The attacks were indiscriminately aimed at a population of the same ethnicity as some rebel groups and also resulted in civilian death and displacement,” the Office of the High Commissioner, Louise Arbour, said in a statement on the reports.

Along with other recommendations, the High Commissioner is calling on Government authorities to investigate the attacks. “The investigation should aim to collect evidence to identify and prosecute those who planned, orchestrated, and/or conducted the attacks,” Ms. Arbour said. “The results of the investigation should be made public, legal action should be taken against those found to be responsible and the victims of the attacks should be compensated.”

A second report concerns the enforced disappearance of at least 19 Massalit men arrested by soldiers serving Mr. Minnawi's rebel group (SLA-Minnawi) in Gereida in South Darfur on 29 September 2006. The High Commissioner is calling on the head of the group, Special Presidential Assistant Minni Arkoy Minnawi, who is also Chairman of the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority, to immediately disclose the fate and whereabouts of these men.

Several of the men have reportedly been found dead after having been beaten at an SLA-Minnawi base where leaders were present.

“If the detainees are alive their physical integrity must be assured and they should be brought before a judicial authority,” said Ms. Arbour, adding that the Human Rights Unit of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) should be provided access to all the detainees.

“If the captured persons are dead, there must be an independent, transparent, and timely inquiry to identify those responsible and hold them accountable for crimes that may have been committed,” she said.

The High Commissioner pointed out that the systematic use of rape to punish and humiliate local communities is a war crime. It violates Common Article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, to which the Sudan is a High Contracting Party, and is punishable by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Government has a duty to hold perpetrators of rape accountable and provide protection from such a crime.

In February, the ICC's chief prosecutor named a Sudanese Government minister and a militia commander as the first suspects he wants tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo has concluded there are reasonable grounds to try Ahmad Muhammad Harun, former Sudanese Minister of State for the Interior, and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb, for having “jointly committed crimes against the civilian population in Darfur.”

More than 2 million people have been forced to flee their homes in Darfur since Government forces and allied Janjaweed militias began fighting rebel forces in 2003, and at least 200,000 people have been killed.

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