ResourcesPress Release

Physicians Prescribe Policy Changes to End Sexual Violence Against Darfuri Women and Girls

For Immediate Release

Washington, DC — A panel of physicians from Sudan and the US proposed policy changes — including involvement of Darfuri women in strategies to secure their safety — to address gaps in US foreign policy and to end widespread sexual violence against women and girls in Sudan and Chad. The doctors also pressed for provision of appropriate health care for survivors of gender-based violence, as well as an end to impunity for crimes such as rape.

"Women in Chad live a horrendous nightmare, stripped of human dignity and rights," said Sondra Crosby, MD, of Boston, who interviewed Darfuri women survivors of sexual violence in a refugee camp in Chad. "The atmosphere of profound suffering was unbearable to me. No human being should have to endure these conditions."

Dr. Crosby is a member of the medical team that led the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) investigation into the impact of sexual violence in Darfur. She and two other PHR team members – Julie VanRooyen, MD, and Lin Piwowarczyk MD, also of Boston, briefed Congressional staff and members of the advocacy community in the Rayburn House Office Building.

"Our legal mandate is the care and protection of displaced and refugee women in Sudan and Chad, many of whom have endured unimaginable sexual violence," said Dr. Piwowarczyk. "Our moral mandate is to work toward a just solution to end impunity and to make a path home for them."

Physicians for Human Rights is an independent medical organization which has documented, from 2004 to 2009, the Sudan government's mass killing and rape, pillage, forced displacement and destruction of all means of survival for hundreds of thousands of Darfuri civilians. PHR’s most recent report, Nowhere To Turn: Failure to Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women, documented the scope and long-term impact of rape and other sexual violence experienced by women who fled attacks on their villages in Darfur and are now refugees in neighboring Chad. Published in June 2009, this scientific study conducted in partnership with Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), corroborates women's accounts of rape and other crimes against humanity that they have experienced in Darfur, as well as rape and deprivations of basic needs in refugee camps in Chad.

Nowhere to Turn amplifies the voices of 88 women refugees in Chad's Farchana camp, some of them breaking their silence for the first time. The women spoke to a team of four female researchers including three physicians about how they face fear and discrimination resulting from their experiences of sexual assaults in Darfur and in Chad.

Wednesday’s briefing follows the October 19, 2009 release of the new Obama administration Sudan policy. The goal of the briefing was to highlight policy implications for addressing sexual violence in line with the new policy unveiled by Secretary of State Clinton. One immediate goal for US policy, which was not addressed in the new comprehensive approach, is ending the sexual violence occurring inside and outside camps in Chad and Darfur, and an end to impunity for the crime of rape, should be an urgent concern of the Obama administration and of Congress.

PHR has called for an immediate end to Sudan’s obstruction of humanitarian operations in Darfur, specifically the lack of access given to humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in South Darfur state, and the Bashir regime’s interference in humanitarian programs that provide treatment and care for survivors of sexual violence. In the absence of a trusted partner in Khartoum, PHR has called for immediate and constant monitoring of the Bashir regime’s compliance with US demands. A high-level Congressional Delegation to visit the region before December 19, 2009 is chief among these recommendations, to assess the government’s cooperation and the situation on the ground throughout Darfur at the two-month stage.

"Effective incentives can be a useful tool but the Administration and international community must develop strong multi-lateral sanctions ready to use in the eventuality that the Bashir regime once again shirks on its promises. Higher priority must also be given to the issue of accountability for genocide and atrocities, which the Obama administration acknowledges is necessary for reconciliation and lasting peace," said Susannah Sirkin, PHR’s Deputy Director, who has coordinated the organization’s work on Darfur.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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