NYALA, Darfur -- When Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March, he responded by expelling 13 international aid agencies from Darfur and disbanding three other domestic relief groups.
Many of the expelled agencies and disbanded groups worked together to provide comprehensive humanitarian services, including support for rape victims. And, in their absence, no one has been either willing or able to rebuild
Rape has been prevalent throughout the crisis in
A decentralized and largely informal network of GBV support services grew painstakingly over five years, and it included some of the world's most well-respected aid organizations. The U.N. relied on the network's agencies to share information so that referral pathways could be developed to meet GBV survivors' needs. As a result, women who braved the social stigma associated with reporting rape in Darfur's Muslim society could receive medical care--from life-saving emergency assistance for injuries sustained during brutal attacks (often involving multiple assailants) to HIV/AIDS prophylactic treatment to psychological support.
The agencies faced steady opposition. Staff reported being harassed by government officials and running into bureaucratic obstacles, like Khartoum's persistent delays in signing the technical agreements that are necessary for aid organizations to operate in Darfur. And President Al Bashir personally undermined their cause by insisting that allegations of mass rape were being fabricated for political purposes. In an interview with
In the wake of this year's expulsions,
Following the expulsions, the Obama administration's Special Envoy to
The international agencies in the now-defunct GBV-services network protected the privacy of women who reported rape. This was critical because, under provisions in Sudan's Criminal Code, women who have been raped risk prosecution for adultery if they cannot prove that they didn't consent to intercourse. (Judges can impose an evidentiary requirement that four male witnesses testify that a rape occurred--a nearly impossible legal standard for Darfuri women to reach.) If found guilty, women can be sentenced to public lashings, and even death by stoning.
The network ran health centers in IDP camps that would administer rape kits quietly and free of charge, which allowed women to seek treatment discreetly. But, now, they are forced to leave the camps and go to local hospitals if they want treatment. And, before they provide a woman with care, most local doctors require what is known as a "Form 8"--a police report documenting a rape. Although Khartoum said in 2004 that women no longer had to obtain a Form 8 to seek rape-related medical care, Refugees International, Physicians for Human Rights, and the United Nations have all reported that the message was never absorbed at the local level. So women who want to see a doctor must first go to the police--a step many are unwilling to take.
Moreover, I was told in
UNAMID is attempting to fill in some of the gaps in GBV services with "gender desk officers." These are female police already deployed in
The Sudanese government has said it would send new organizations to patch the holes in humanitarian assistance created by the recent agency expulsions. But, while
An environment in which women feel safe to report rape and receive fair treatment cannot be established overnight. But the current efforts to reinstall support for the thousands of women in Darfur who've suffered, are suffering, and will suffer from GBV are woefully inadequate and inexcusably slow. An initial report issued jointly by the U.N. and Khartoum that assessed the breaches in aid left after the agency expulsions in March didn't even consider the impact felt by women who've been raped. Without such rudimentary steps to renewal being taken, there is little hope that
Rebecca Hamilton is the author of the forthcoming book The Promise of Engagement. She is an Open Society Fellow and a Visiting Fellow at the National Security Archives.