THE BLOG
12/03/2014 02:31 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2015

In Darfur: The Rape of Halima

The twelve-year-old girl from Hamidiya camp in West Darfur would have been only a year old as genocidal violence swept across all of Darfur in early 2003. As the violence accelerated through 2004 and beyond, it became increasingly clear that twelve-year-old girls, indeed all girls and women, were being targeted by the Arab militia forces of the Khartoum regime--the Janjaweed--as a deliberate tactic in a genocidal counter-insurgency campaign. Rape was a weapon of war; and the targets were the non-Arab or African girls and women from a civilian population perceived by Khartoum's National Congress Party/National Islamic Front regime as supporting the rebellion that had exploded out of years of neglect, marginalization, lack of a functioning judiciary and effective police force, and Khartoum's asymmetric arming of Arab groups (continuous since the late 1980s).

On Sunday, November 30, 2014, this twelve-year-old girl from Hamidiya camp was, as reported by the remarkable news organization Radio Dabanga, raped by "two militiamen":

The girl was collecting straw at Wadi Azum, at about one and a half km from the camp, when she was intercepted by two gunmen on horses. "These Janjaweed raped her alternately," a relative of the victim told Radio Dabanga. (December 1, 2014)

The girl was found sometime later in bad condition and in need of immediate medical attention. But while her relatives "brought her immediately to a hospital, they refused to treat her without a copy of a filed complaint and Form 8." Form 8* is an intrusive, gratuitous burden, and designed to do nothing more than deter rape victims from seeking medical assistance without the knowledge of police or security officials. Given the extraordinary stigma attaching to rape in Darfur's conservative Muslim culture, few victims seek this critical document. And when they do, it may be denied--and in the worst case, the rape victim charged with adultery. In this case Form 8 was secured--after a long delay--and medical treatment began...24 hours after the sexual assault on a young girl with potentially life-threatening injuries.

For rapes are in Darfur particularly brutal; they are meant to send a clear, vicious signal of terror. And yet for girls and women, the task of gathering straw, firewood, and water remains critical: men or boys attempting the same tasks will be killed. Leaving the camps for displaced persons has become an immensely dangerous undertaking, and yet life in the camps demands these trips. Humanitarian provisions are not nearly adequate in many locations--either of food, water, or primary medical care.

There is, and has been for more than ten years, an avalanche of sexual violence in Darfur. Even before the recent rape of some 200 girls and women in Tabit town by Khartoum's regular forces, the numbers were staggering. During more than a decade of conflict in Darfur, the evidence at hand--anecdotal and systematic--makes clear that tens of thousands of women and girls have been raped.

But all this information begins to blur the reality experienced by one terrified twelve-year-old girl as she was serially raped by Arab militiamen near what may well have been her home for the entire life she can remember. She may also have been genitally circumcised by this point in her life, and sexual penetration of her vagina, by two men with no interest in anything but hurting and humiliating her--was almost certainly excruciating, at least for the time that she was conscious. Even at twelve this girl will know that the fact of her rape will become common knowledge and have serious consequences for her marital prospects, her self-respect, and her attitude toward life. Many Darfuri women who have been raped confess to suicidal thoughts.

Perhaps all that can be said of this girl is that her family was spared the agony of being forced to witness the brutalizing of their daughter, their sister, their niece, their cousin, their friend. Such unintended mercy is not always the case; on the contrary, it is more typical that rapes (certainly earlier in the conflict) occurred in the presence of witnesses, to make the effect of sexual assault more conspicuous--more "memorable." Here is a terse but representative account of sexual violence at its most extreme; it occurred near the Tawilla area of North Darfur, and was overseen by Musa Hilal, the most notorious of the Janjaweed commanders:

In an attack on 27 February [2004] in the Tawilah area of northern Darfur, 30 villages were burned to the ground, over 200 people killed and over 200 girls and women raped--some by up to 14 assailants and in front of their fathers who were later killed. A further 150 women and 200 children were abducted. (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 22 March 2004)

I am the father of two daughters and simply cannot imagine a more soul-destroying sight than one's own child raped, and raped in the most brutal, physically and psychically destructive fashion possible. That the fate of so many fathers was to endure this agony and then be slaughtered is beyond moral comprehension, and in this is all too emblematic of Darfur. Also morally incomprehensible is the world's willingness to allow such savagery to continue. Ignorance, disingenuousness, mendacity, cowardice, expediency--all are part of the explanation for international acquiescence, somehow supposed to be have been made slightly more acceptable by virtue of the presence of a badly failing UN/African Union "hybrid" force. The force was by virtue of its design and Khartoum's unrelenting hostility a disaster from the beginning; the regime has made nonsense of the mission's mandate of civilian protection and supposed "freedom of movement" by all force personnel.

We are likely never to know the name of this twelve-year-old girl raped near Hamidiya camp in what was formerly West Darfur. But that anonymity should not matter, even as it is in itself part of an appalling reality: so many hundreds of thousands of victims killed, raped, wounded, and dying from the effects of violence--so many victims never given the dignity of even being registered in this ghastly chronicle by name or fate. So I will call this young victim "Halima," and declare that the rape of Halima is an intolerable outrage, and that a world that pretends otherwise, by any of the various means continually on display, has lost any claim on moral authority. And I will insist that she be named: Halima, Halima, Halima....

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Form 8 as described by Radio Dabanga:

In Sudan, medical evidence of an assault is admitted solely via the so-called Form 8. It can be issued only by police stations, or approved hospitals and clinics. Critics state that Form 8 is "glaringly inadequate," as sufficient medical evidence is often very difficult to obtain.

It might also be said that sometimes the medical evidence is too embarrassing to officials claims that there is no problem with rape in Darfur, claims implicitly validated by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who typically gives short shrift to sexual violence in his reports on Darfur and UNAMID--ER

[Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for the past fifteen years. He is author of Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 - 2012 (September 2012)]