"No Place For Us Here": How To Solve Issues Of Sexual Violence In "Safe" Zones?

Today, Amnesty International released its report "No Place For Us Here: Violence Against Refugee Women in Eastern Chad" (PDF), which describes in painful detail the sexual violence that women escaping from Darfur face both outside and inside United Nations camps.

The opening quotes of the report are heart wrenching:

It is not yet safe to be a woman here. It won't be safe until there is justice and until violence against women is taken seriously.

- - Chadian journalist interviewed in Abéché, Eastern Chad

I remember one woman asking me if there was anywhere she could go and feel safe. I didn't know what to answer because I don't think there is an answer.

- - Aid worker, interviewed in Abéché

The report goes on to detail many of the internal issues within the camp, the lack of safety when women leave the camp to look for necessities like firewood or straw, and how often bandits and other local criminals prey on women refugees.

And that's just the dangers outside of the camps.

Inside UN territory, the nightmare for many women continues:

Mariam, a 22-year-old mother of two was raped in Gaga Refugee Camp by a man working with an international organization operational in the camp. She has been a refugee in Chad for more than six years, since the beginning of the conflict in Darfur. For the last three years she has worked as a social worker for an international NGO in the camp. In that capacity, she worked in the camp with a Chadian man. It is this man who attacked her.

On 17 April 2009, Mariam and her Chadian co-worker went to visit a sick elderly woman in the camp. On their way, they passed close to Mariam's hut and the man asked if they could stop for a drink of water. They did. When Mariam brought the water to him, he grabbed her from the back. She shouted, but he then grabbed her by the throat, muffling her cries and making it hard for her to breathe. He then raped her. It was the middle of the day, and her husband and neighbours were not present. But then a neighbour came back to his hut while Mariam was still being raped. She saw him and shouted out. The man looked, saw what was happening and yelled at Mariam's aggressor, who then ran out of the hut and fled from the camp. He is reported to have fled to Abéché. Mariam went to the clinic inside Gaga camp. She informed her organization and her husband about what had occurred. The international NGO fired the man, who is rumoured to still be at large in Abéché.

It is not clear by the end of August 2009 if further legal action was taken against him. Mariam's husband filed a complaint with the security branch of the National Commission for Reception and Settlement of Refugees, Commission Nationale d'Accueil et de Réinsertion des Réfugiés,(CNAR). The complaint was reportedly forwarded to local Chadian authorities but neither Mariam nor her husband has been informed of any further investigation or proceedings at the end of May 2009. Mariam continued to work with the same organization. She told Amnesty International, however, that she felt increasingly distressed about what happened to her, and feels that others do not care much and are doing little to provide her with assistance or support.

In addition to sexual violence, there is also physical violence:

In June 2008, the president (representative) of the refugee committee at Farchana Camp ordered a number of refugees to beat a group of five girls who he accused of misbehaving. The girls were severely beaten and later received medical treatment in the camp clinic. A complaint was filed with local officials against the representative of the refugee committee. He was later charged with assault and convicted.

Girls have also reported being sexually propositioned by school teachers in the camps, as well as being forced into marriages by local custom or as "reparations" for rape.

The report provides recommendations for each player as to how the camps could improve, and provides a lengthy list for MINURCAT (the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad). Amnesty International suggests:

  • Ensure MINURCAT includes gender advisors who can monitor the situation of women and girls, assist women's representatives in advocating for services to improve their safety, ensure that all MINURCAT staff are working to improve the protection of the human rights of women and girls and ensure improved training of MINURCAT and DIS staff involved in investigating crimes of sexual violence against women and girls.
  • Ensure that any person reporting sexual violence has prompt access to medical care.
  • Work with the Chadian government to set up an effective DIS vetting process and ensure
    that those reasonably suspected of crimes under Chadian and international human rights law
    are excluded from the DIS pending a prompt, effective, independent and impartial
    investigation and prosecution process.
  • Ensure appropriate training of DIS officers with respect to the establishment of a
    database to record crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence, and the conduct of
    investigations of alleged human rights violations.
  • Ensure that effective forensic investigation techniques, which respect World Health
    Organization guidelines for medico-legal care of victims of sexual violence, are available for
    use in investigations of sexual assault.
  • Ensure that the security of refugees both inside and outside refugee camps in eastern
    Chad is effectively guaranteed by both MINURCAT military forces and the DIS, by means of regular patrols around all 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad and the provision of escorts for women and girls at their request when they venture outside refugee camps.
  • Work with the UNHCR, other UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations operational in and around refugee camps, and refugee women and girls themselves, to develop comprehensive strategies to address the causes and circumstances of sexual violence, including factors that compel women and girls to travel outside refugee camps.
  • Insist that Chadian authorities bring to justice suspected perpetrators of rape and other violence against refugee women and girls and ensure that survivors have adequate support, protection and full reparations.
  • Monitor reports of rape and other violence against refugee women and girls which are lodged with the Chadian authorities and follow-up with authorities ihttp://publish.jezebel.com/ged/newn order to ensure that all possible action is taken to investigate these crimes.

However, as if proving that the hardest part of fighting a rape culture (in any part of the globe) are entrenched attitudes, the spokesperson of MINURCAT, Michel Bonnardeaux responded to Reuters by explaining that things aren't as bad as they seem:

"Given what they have, they do a very good job," he said.

"I think it (the report) is a little hasty and based in a fairly small sample and a short visit. I would invite the researchers to come back and have some better statistics to get a better picture ... The situation is certainly better that it was than a year ago."

Is that so? Now, admittedly, I haven't come across a whole lot of news about conditions in the camps. However, one image that has stuck with me for the last year is this picture from Hungry Planet: What the World Eats which shows the amount of food this refugee family in a camp in Chad survives on for one week:

"No Place For Us Here": How To Solve Issues Of Sexual Violence In "Safe" Zones?

Now, I suppose we could say they have food, which is important. But at the same time, that small amount doesn't really seem like enough. I feel the same way about the remarks in regard to efforts regarding sexual violence. The camp is better than what so many people fled from, but it is still a difficult existence. And we need to start taking these issues seriously, instead of just pointing to the worst case scenario as a defense.

Luckily, someone with sway and power is taking this issue very seriously - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In addition to making women's rights a cornerstone of her platform, she has set her sights on eliminating rape as a tool of war:

Secretary Clinton, who has committed to making women's issues a "centerpiece" of her work as the Obama administration's chief diplomat, will chair a session of the UN Security Council on women, peace, and security. At the session Wednesday, she'll promote a US-sponsored resolution that seeks to expand and strengthen a measure approved last year, which condemns the use of rape in conflict and characterizes it as a threat to peace and security.
Clinton was moved to seek additional action against the growing use of rape as a result of her visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August. She met with some of the estimated 200,000 victims of sexual violence in the country's war-torn eastern region.

"Meeting with survivors of rape, which is now used increasingly as a tool of war, was shattering," Clinton told a New York audience in the run-up to last week's UN General Assembly meeting. Addressing a separate gathering of female heads of state and foreign ministers, she said, "There are people who say, 'Well, women's issues is an important issue, but it doesn't rank up there with the Middle East or Iran's nuclear threat or Afghanistan and Pakistan.' I couldn't disagree more."

The U.N. is also scheduled to create a coordinator position to help end systemic rape and violence against women in times of war. For the millions of women around the globe impacted by this issue, it isn't a moment too soon.

"No Place For Us Here: Violence Against Refugee Women In Eastern Chad" [Amnesty International]
Mandate [MINURCAT]
Darfur Refugees Raped In Chad Camps: Amnesty [Reuters]
Hungry Planet: What The World Eats
Clinton To Chair Security Council Session On Sexual Violence [Christian Science Monitor]
U.N. To Adopt Post For Women Caught In War [UPI]

Earlier: Hillary Clinton Tackles Economics, Terrorism, Microlending In NY Times Profile