March 07, 2005

Amsterdam, 7 March 2005 - Women and girls in war-ravaged Darfur are continuing to suffer a high incidence of rape and sexual violence, according to a report issued today by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Stories of rape survivors told to MSF are a horrific illustration of the daily reality of the ongoing violence that has displaced almost two million people in Darfur.

Between October 2004 and mid-February 2005, MSF doctors in numerous locations in South and West Darfur treated almost 500 women and girls who were raped. MSF believes that these numbers reflect only a fraction of the total number of victims because many women are reluctant to report the crime or seek treatment. Almost a third (28%) of the rape survivors who sought treatment from MSF reported that they were raped more than once, either by single or multiple assailants. In more than half the cases, the rape was accompanied by additional physical abuse. Women told MSF that they were beaten with sticks, whips or axes before, during or after the act of rape. Some of the raped women were visibly pregnant, as much as five to eight months, at the time of the assault.

The majority of survivors of rape and sexual violence tell MSF that the attacks occurred when women left the relative safety of villages and displaced camps to carry out activities indispensable of the survival of the families, such as searching for firewood or water.

81% of the 500 rape survivors treated by MSF reported being assaulted by militia or military who used their weapons to force the assault. In Darfur, as in other conflicts, rape has been a regular and deliberate tool of war. It is used to destabilize and threaten a part of the civilian population, often a particular group.

Rather than receiving appropriate medical and psychosocial care, women and child survivors of rape and sexual violence in Darfur often face rejection and stigma. In some cases, victims of rape have even been imprisoned while the perpetrators of the crime go unpunished, adding to an appalling pattern of neglect and abuse.

"Despite its devastating consequences, rape in Darfur and in other conflicts has not received the attention that the scale of the crime or the gravity of its impact call for," said Kenny Gluck, director of operations for MSF in Amsterdam. "This has to change. It is time to end this vicious crime, which is a clear breach of international humanitarian law. Perpetrators should be prosecuted not tolerated."

MSF urges local government and other health care providers in Darfur, as elsewhere, to ensure full and appropriate treatment for victims of sexual violence and to help end the stigma and rejection faced by victims of rape.