by KEVIN KNODELL
The government of Sudan has announced that police are investigating a United Nations peacekeeper for allegedly raping a Sudanese woman.
On Feb. 13, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yousif Al Kordofani told AFP that authorities suspected “one of the officers from the UNAMID forces in Darfur.”
He said that if police find evidence, they intend to arrest the officer and try him in a Sudanese court. However, Al Kordofani wouldn’t provide information about the peacekeeper’s nationality or when or where the alleged rape took place.
One of the report’s recommendations is that the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur station troops in the town and conduct regular protection patrols.
The timing of Sudan’s allegation is … interesting.
The Sudanese army allowed peacekeepers into Tabit to investigate the mass rapes on only one occasion. On Nov. 4, a small team of soldiers and civilians interviewed residents, all of whom denied the incident or said they knew nothing of it.
The peacekeepers didn’t buy it. A leaked internal memo revealed that investigators suspected local authorities intimidated locals into silence. Sudanese troops listened in on most of the interviews and even recorded some of them.
An official U.N. press release stated the investigators found no evidence of rape—and made no mention of Sudanese interference. Peacekeepers made repeated attempts to return to the town. Each time, the Sudanese authorities refused to let them pass.
Peacekeepers kept pressing, and in December the Sudanese foreign ministry responded with counter-accusations of peacekeepers raping Darfuris.
Sudan regularly fights off investigators and peacekeepers with violence, intimidation and lies.
Fear and coercion
The Sudanese army has increased its troop presence in the town of Tabit, establishing new checkpoints on the surrounding roads.
Some residents say the army won’t let women leave the town—or allow anyone in. One Darfuri told HRW that the residents of Tabit are “living in an open prison.”
According to the report, the overwhelming majority of the town’s rape survivors were in their mid- or early teens. The army also beat and detained hundreds of men from the village.
But the horror stories from Tabit are hardly unique. Since the war in Darfur began in 2003, combatants—both government and rebel alike—have raped on a wide scale.
In Darfur, rape is a weapon of war. It both traumatizes and demoralizes communities, tearing apart families and damaging community cohesion. The threat of rape is used to spread fear and control populations.
It’s hard to get exact numbers on just how many women and girls have been raped in Darfur—but most experts estimate well into the thousands. The death toll is slightly easier to track—it’s currently more than 400,000.
But Sudan’s official line is that things in Darfur have gotten much better. Khartoum insists tribes are reconciling, and that the Sudanese army—and allied tribal militias—are restoring security.
If you ask them, Darfur has never been safer. Reports of violence and rape, they say, are spread by trouble-making foreigners, reporters and peacekeepers.
UNAMID peacekeepers tasked with protecting civilians have thus far struggled to enforce their mandate. They’re allowed to use force to prevent violence against civilians and aid workers—which includes rape.
Some commentators—including Darfuris—have accused the mostly African force of being ineffective, corrupt and cowardly.
But that’s hardly fair. The peacekeepers in Darfur have throughout the majority of their mission been understaffed, poorly equipped and at times underfed—despite it being the most expensive peacekeeping mission in history.
The peacekeepers lack aircraft and heavy weapons in case they must fight back against a truly heavily armed force, such as the Sudanese army.
Sudanese forces and government-backed militias have demonstrated they won’t hesitate to kill peacekeepers who step too far out of line. That’s a strong disincentive for them to intervene in the violence.
On Nov. 30, Sudanese Pres. Omar Al Bashir said peacekeepers should leave, as they can’t protect themselves and have become a security burden. But this wouldn’t be the case if Darfur is becoming safer—which Khartoum also insists is the case.
Lately, Sudanese officials have been telling reporters they are currently in discussions with A.U. and U.N. officials to craft an exit plan for the mission. Neither organization has confirmed this claim.
Bad to worse
Even though UNAMID has been far from what the international community promised, removing the peacekeeping force will be bad news for Darfuri civilians.
Though peacekeepers lack the firepower or mobility to truly provide security for the region, they do provide valuable services.
They escort convoys of needed supplies to far-flung refugee camps around the desert, warding off bandits that would pounce in a heartbeat. They provide a measure of security to a few refugee camps, patrolling perimeters and keeping watch.
If peacekeepers left, vulnerable communities and refugee camps would go from inadequate protection to no protection. Roving militias and soldiers would have free reign to kill, loot and rape without anyone to hold them back.