Tag Archives: rape Darfur

Rapes and Razor Blades: Raping Children to Death in War Zones

Sexual abuse of young children happens all around the world. But children living in war-torn countries are at much higher risk. Those in countries recovering from conflict, such as Liberia, may also face greater dangers. The UN has recorded 15,000 cases of rape and sexual violence against children in conflict zones over the past 15 years. This, it warns, is probably a fraction of the true number. Around 72m children live in war zones in which fighters sexually attack children, according to research by Ragnhild Nordås of the University of Michigan and co-authors. That is almost ten times the number in 1990. In 2021, Liberia recorded 1,275 sexual assaults or rapes of people of all ages, according to official figures. Fully 10% of the victims were younger than six and 36% were younger than 13.

At a sexual-violence clinic in Monrovia, the capital, a nurse recounts how an eight-month-old baby was raped by her step father. A soft toy to comfort children perches on the examination table next to a large doll which young victims, often unable to speak, can point at to show what happened to them… In 2020,  another three-year-old was lured away from a water pump by a 15-year-old who used a razor blade to cut open her genital area to penetrate her. That attack caused large protests in Monrovia, which prompted President George Weah to declare rape a “national emergency”.

Why so many men rape young children in war and its aftermath is not well understood. Some experts think that war warps not just morality but also common sense. Between 2013 and 2016 in Kavumu, a village in eastern Congo, at least 11 men kidnapped and raped about 40 girls under the age of ten. Some were as young as 18 months. After each rape the men would take some blood from the victim’s hymen, believing this would protect them from bullets in battle. In 2017 a court convicted the 11 men of murder and rape.

Many of their victims were treated at Panzi Hospital, which was founded by Denis Mukwege, who was jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2018 for his efforts to end sexual violence in war. The number of babies and infants treated for rape at the hospital dipped in the year after the trial, says Sylvain Mwambali, a doctor who works there. But it soon shot up again, to a higher level than in the three years before the convictions. In the past three years the hospital has treated 103 raped children aged five or younger, or about one every ten days. In 2020 Dr Mwambali treated a baby just a few months old whose vagina and intestines were mutilated by rape. “I could not sleep for weeks,” she says. “How can someone carry on, creating a wound like that? She would have been suffering, crying, they destroyed her vulva, up until the anus, yet they continued.”

Sometimes rebels may rape children to terrorise and control the population. Other men may copy them, perhaps because it makes them feel powerful. A breakdown in law and order may allow rapists to escape any punishment. “There is a social deterioration,” says Dr Mwambali. “People can rape your mother in front of you…there are rapes in churches.” In Liberia, warped beliefs of a different kind are a common explanation for why men rape young children. Some traditional healers tell people, “If you have intercourse with a young girl, you will become rich,” says Margaret Taylor of Women Empowerment Network, an NGO. “The younger the person is, the more riches they get.”

Excerpt from: The Sexual Abuse of Children: Child rape is far too common in some war-torn African countries, Economist, Feb. 5, 2022

The Thirst for Rape that Won’t Go Away

Ethiopia’s government says it is conducting a policing operation against the ousted rulers of Tigray, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. Yet as phone connections to the region are restored, having been cut off since the fighting started on November 4th, 2020 credible reports of atrocities and war crimes are emerging. Many involve troops from neighbouring Eritrea, who are fighting alongside Ethiopian forces.

Perhaps the worst incident took place in Axum, one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities. According to Amnesty International, a rights group, Eritrean soldiers killed hundreds of civilians over two days in late November 2020 in retaliation for an attack on their camp. The soldiers picked out unarmed young men and killed them on the spot. They then plundered the city. “All we could see on the streets were bodies and people crying,” one survivor told Amnesty…

Months of restrictions on journalists and NGOs make it hard to know exactly what has been happening. The state-funded Ethiopian Human Rights Commission says it is investigating the Axum massacre and that its preliminary findings indicate that Eritrean soldiers killed a number of civilians in the city. It says it is also investigating reports of shelling in several parts of Tigray. Ethiopian officials including the president, Sahle-Work Zewde, have admitted that women in Tigray have been raped in large numbers. “We cannot pretend that we do not see or hear,” she said on February 19th, 2021. But she failed to identify the perpetrators, even though the victims said their rapists were soldiers in Eritrean and Ethiopian uniforms.

One survivor recounted a harrowing 10-day ordeal during which she said she and five other women were gang-raped by Eritrean soldiers. She said the troops joked and took photos as they injected her with a drug, tied her to a rock, stripped, stabbed and raped repeatedly her. Doctors who’ve treated Tigrayan women have said one woman’s vagina was stuffed with nails, stones and plastic.

Excepts from Murder in the mountains: Soldiers have killed hundreds of civilians in Tigray, Economist, Feb. 27, 2021

When the State is the Gang

In South Sudan “There is a confirmed pattern of how combatants attack villages, plunder homes, take women as sexual slaves and then set homes alight often with people in them,” commented Commission Chairperson Yasmin Sooka.  “Rapes, gang rapes, sexual mutilation, abductions and sexual slavery, as well as killings, have become commonplace in South Sudan. There is no doubt that these crimes are persistent because impunity is so entrenched that every kind of norm is broken,” she added.

UNICEF reports that 25 per cent of those targeted by sexual violence are children, including the rapes of girls as young as 7. Elderly and pregnant women have also been raped. The Commission also received reports of male victims of sexual violence. Sexual and gender-based violence against men and boys is even more underreported than that against women and girls as there is a greater level of stigma. There are even reports of raping and killing of the young and the elderly.

The Commission has also looked at the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). From January 2018 to 2019, seven such cases involving 18 alleged UNMISS perpetrators were registered in the UN Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Database. 

The oil producing areas of the country have become increasingly militarized by Government forces, including by the National Security Services, which have expanded their involvement in the oil sector. The state-owned Nilepet oil company’s operations have been characterized by a total lack of transparency and independent oversight, allegedly diverting oil revenues into the coffers of elites in the government. Furthermore, oil revenues, and income from other natural resources such as illegal teak logging, have continued to fund the war, enabling its continuation and the resulting human rights violations. 

Outraged by renewed fighting and continuing human rights violations in South Sudan, UN Human Rights Experts urge all parties to stop conflict, end impunity and respect provisions of the revitalized peace agreement, UN Human Rights Council, Press Release, Feb. 20, 2019

UN Peacekeepers as Lackeys of Governments

Peace-keeping mission of United Nations is need the consent of the host governments to operate; the UN cannot invade. But too often agencies and blue helmets (as in the headgear worn by peacekeepers) are lackeys of autocrats, forming “abusive” relationships with those in power, according to Richard Gowan of Columbia University. This undermines the UN’s claim to moral authority.

The operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a case in point. The UN has deployed peacekeepers there since 1999, and MONUSCO, the French acronym by which the mission is known, now has about 16,000 troops, and costs more than $1bn a year.  Since 2016, the UN has failed to prevent violence that has forced over 1m people to flee their homes. Troops get away with defining their operating boundaries conservatively. Perversely, they are rewarded for not using their kit, as they are reimbursed for equipment returned in good condition. Meanwhile MONUSCO cannot easily get rid of underperforming civilian staff, partly because of pressure from trade unions but also because of the complex way in which UN headquarters imposes its choice of recruits on the mission.

Another $1bn-per-year mission, UNMISS, has done almost nothing to prevent the descent into civil war and famine since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011. The 12,500 peacekeepers have a mandate to protect civilians, but have failed to do so. In August 2016 aid workers were raped, beaten and robbed by South Sudanese government troops just minutes away from the main UN compound in Juba, the capital. Despite desperate phone and text messages from the victims, the 2,000 or so troops never stirred. “[The blue helmets] are supposed to protect civilians,” admits a UN official in South Sudan. “But they don’t. Something is upside down. It’s not working.”  One reason for the failure is that the mission asks permission from the government before it sends out troops…But since it is often the government carrying out the massacres, permission is often refused or delayed…

Excerpt from The UN in Conflict Areas: Looking the Other Way, Economist, Oct. 28, 2017

Crimes under the Rug: UN in Sudan

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has proved more controversial than most…UNAMID was imposed on a reluctant Sudanese government in 2007, after the worst of the fighting between Darfuri rebels and government forces was over. The conflict has claimed some 300,000 lives and led to charges of genocide against Sudan’s president.  Matters have come to a head over reports of an attack by Sudanese soldiers in the village of Tabit on October 31st and November 1st. The troops are reported to have gone on a rampage, apparently in revenge for the disappearance of one of their own. They allegedly raped some 200 women. UNAMID eventually negotiated permission from the Sudanese authorities to investigate Tabit on November 9th. Thereafter it declared that it found no evidence of such crimes and that villagers “coexist peacefully” with the army.

This sunny conclusion was greeted with astonishment by many Darfuris, for social media were by now carrying eyewitness accounts of the violence. It also prompted a leak of UNAMID’s internal report, which is gravely at odds with the official statement. This report explained how uniformed and plain-clothes Sudanese military officials had infested Tabit while the UN team was there, ensuring that “an environment of fear and silence prevailed”. People were warned not to talk.

UNAMID’s apparent doublespeak over Tabit will have come as no surprise to the mission’s former spokeswoman, Aicha Elbasri. She resigned last year in protest against UNAMID’s ignoble history of such discrepancies, which, in her view, amounts to an organised “cover-up” of the violence in Darfur. The UN’s conduct over Tabit, she says, has been entirely consistent with her own experience of the “huge gap between the reports that we got from the field and the reports that go to the public.”

The cause of such a cover-up, argues the Moroccan-born Ms Elbasri, is the hybrid nature of the mission. The African element of UNAMID, controlled by the African Union (AU), “is completely against justice” for ordinary people and is mainly concerned with defending one of its own, President Omar al-Bashir. For the same reason the AU has been a fierce critic of the International Criminal Court, which has indicted Mr al-Bashir for war crimes.

As if to confirm Ms Elbasri’s conspiracy, Mr Bashir is redoubling his efforts to get rid of the mission now that UNAMID’s tendency to self-censorship has been sabotaged. A supine UNAMID was one thing, it seems; a mission containing a few people who might do their jobs properly quite another. He has already closed the mission’s human rights office.

The UN will have to decide whether to infuriate Mr al-Bashir further by renewing the mission’s mandate beyond next June. It is still dealing with claims of a cover-up, which the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has called “very troubling”. That might be an apt description of UNAMID’s entire, sorry history.

Sudan and the UN: Mission in trouble, Economist, Dec. 6, 2014, at 62