Over the past six years, more than 142 000 women and girls have fled insecurity and widespread human rights violations in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, seeking safety and protection in neighbouring eastern Chad. However, even inside the camps, rape and attacks continue on a daily basis.
The burden of gathering firewood for cooking, finding straw to feed donkeys and goats, or fetching water falls overwhelmingly on women’s shoulders. The area in which refugee camps are situated is largely desert, and the search for such resources requires travelling further and further. With increasing frequency, women and girls have to ride their donkeys or even walk more than ten kilometers outside refugee camps, with a high risk of being raped or attacked. Inside the camps, they often face the same sexual harassment, including schoolgirls at the hands of their Sudanese teachers. This has led some girls to drop out of school. Forced marriage is also a common practice inside the camps, as part of tradition.
Among 88 women interviewed in the Farchana camp, the humanitarian organization Physicians for Human Rights documented 32 instances of both confirmed and highly probable cases of rape. Fifteen of those instances occurred in Chad.
Individuals who commit rape and other violence against women and girls in eastern Chad enjoy near total impunity. It takes considerable courage for a woman or girl to come forward and make a complaint about rape. Yet when rape survivors or their families do report incidents to Chadian officials, sometimes specifically identifying the suspected perpetrators, cases are rarely pursued or taken seriously by local authorities or refugee representatives in the camps.
The generalized use of traditional dispute resolution mechanisms to find “negociated” solutions to instances of rape contributes to impunity and further violence against women. The perpetrator is often required to pay compensation, or diyya, to the family of a rape victim, through financial payment, or even through marriage of the victim with her assailant. The young woman is totally excluded from the negociation process led by a mediator, either a local official or an NGO member who works in the camp. If the victim is pregnant, marriage is usually the preferred solution.
In previous years, Sudanese Janjaweed fighters were often identified as being responsible for most cases of violence against refugees outside the camps. More recently women and humanitarian workers describe the assailants as being bandits, including Chadian villagers living around the camps, and even members of the Chadian National Army.
It remains impossible to know precisely how many women were the victims of rape or other forms of sexual violence either inside or outside the camps. Most of the traumatized victims prefer to remain silent for fear of being rejected, including by their own families.