Dear Secretary General Annan,
Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Congo, East Timor, Afghanistan, Peru, Burma, Columbia -- the litany of countries where women’s bodies have become the battlefield continues to grow. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 Tutsi women survived rape during the genocide in Rwanda. Between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s Not until after conflicts end does the world learn of the scale of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls. Exactly what is it that we learn?
Looking at the situation in Darfur one could surmise that the United Nations has learned nothing. As early as 2003 reports of massive rapes in Darfur were surfacing. In 2004 Amnesty International reported that in a single camp in West Darfur 16 rapes a day were being reported. Mr., Annan the Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations was given to you in January 2005. That report characterized the rape in Darfur as “widespread and systematic” and the commission “considered that action must be urgently taken.” Mr. Annan, can you explain to the women and girls of Darfur how the UN defines urgent?
As the UN meets to talk about the situation in Darfur and to listen to the Government of Sudan brazenly deny sexual violence is occurring, women and girls are being raped every day. Hundreds of humanitarian aid workers are currently in Darfur. There has been on average one report a month written about sexual violence since July 2004. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Refugees International and Physicians for Human Rights have all documented sexual violence, arrest and harassment of survivors and denial of health services to survivors.
The United Nations has acknowledged that Human Rights Observers are documenting new cases of rape on a weekly basis. More than $530 million in foreign aid or about $89 per person has been given to address the Darfur crisis. And still rape continues because the political will to stop it is not there. . The UN’s lack of political will means that:
Armed militia waits just outside of the camp knowing that women and girls must leave the camp to collect firewood. All the women can do is go out in groups of 5, 15, 30 and hope this will protect them from being raped. It doesn’t.
A 12-year-old girl runs as fast as she can to escape what has become so commonplace for women and girls in Darfur. She will never be able to run fast enough.
A 50-year-old woman is pinned down by 4 attackers and raped until she loses consciousness.
Health workers go on high alert whenever a survivor of sexual violence enters their health clinic. The police can arrive at any time to drag her away to be examined by a government doctor who will deny any evidence of rape.
A girl cries inconsolably because her best friend bled to death after an unsafe abortion. She was pregnant as a result of rape.
A rape survivor, bloody and battered sits in her hut, afraid to go to the health clinic because she might be arrested for adultery.
The purpose of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security. Mr. Annan where is the peace and security for the women and girls of Darfur? There can be no security, no peace, no justice as long as women and girls continue to be raped. Reports of children as young as five being raped have been documented. Mr. Annan where is the outraged voice of UNICEF, the UN Agency that is supposed to be the voice of protection for children around the word. Do the girls of Darfur not count? Why has the UN fallen so silent about sexual violence in Darfur?
Mr. Annan, your vision of advancing a larger freedom will never be realized if UN agencies stand by as women and girls are horribly abused. That larger freedom will not be realized if the UN does not put forward the political will to address a complicated and ugly issue that is killing the women and girls of Darfur.
Darfur is the culmination of the UN’s failure to respond quickly and decisively to sexual violence against women and girls. Make no mistake about it, Mr. Annan, silence is collusion. It is the ultimate manifestation that women are worth so little the United Nations, regardless of all their rhetoric to the contrary, turns a blind eye to the widespread and systematic use of rape in Darfur.