For Immediate Release
(Washington, DC) – Forty human rights and advocacy groups have sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for restoration of sexual and gender-based violence programming as a priority issue for U.S. policy on Sudan. Treatment and care of rape survivors was largely eliminated when Sudan expelled 13 international NGOs and closed three Sudanese relief organizations operating in Darfur in March 2009. Initiated by Physicians for Human Rights, the letter includes Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, Enough, Genocide Intervention Network, Save Darfur, Refugees International and the International Refugee Rights Initiative as leading signatories.
The expulsion of 16 relief organizations took place after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges on March 4, 2009. Many of the expelled groups were doing work related to the protection and treatment of rape survivors, including emergency assistance for injuries, documentation of injuries, access to HIV/AIDS prophylactic treatment, and pregnancy testing, as well as psychological and social support. These programs were severed after the expulsion, and have yet to be restored.
Secretary Clinton introduced the Obama administration’s Sudan policy review on October 19, 2009, in which she identified the humanitarian situation in Darfur as U.S. Strategic Objective #1 of the administration’s Sudan policy. The review did not directly address care of victims of sexual and gender-based violence, despite the scale of sexual violence during the conflict, and the continued danger of attacks both within and around UNHCR camps in Darfur and eastern Chad.
In the public letter to Secretary Clinton, the groups state, “the U.S. is the primary donor to the humanitarian operations in Darfur, and the recent engagement of the al-Bashir regime by the Obama administration now presents the opportunity to ensure that SGV services are provided to survivors in Darfur, and across the Sudan-Chad border in Eastern Chad.”
The ongoing danger of rape and sexual violence facing women and girls in Darfur and Eastern Chad necessitates both protection and treatment services for the displaced Darfuri populations. Peacekeeping forces have yet to implement firewood patrols in many areas of South Darfur state, West Darfur state, and in Eastern Chad, leaving Darfuri populations at risk. A recent report by Cambridge-based Physicians for Human Rights, Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women, found that as many rapes were reported at the Farchana refugee camp in Eastern Chad, as were reported from attacks in Darfur.
PHR’s Deputy Director, Susannah Sirkin, noted, “It is appalling that six years after women fled these atrocities, they continue to suffer silently and in constant fear of ongoing sexual assault.”
Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, added, “In Darfur’s pervasive climate of impunity, women and girls have little or no hope of redress for these crimes."
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.