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In Sudan, Rape's Lasting Hurt

Young Darfur victims of militia fighters are blamed for bringing shame to their families. They have little hope of marriage or schooling.

September 15, 2004|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

KALMA CAMP, Sudan — She has been in the world for 18 days and already her life is tainted. Curled naked under a blanket close to her mother, Nashwa is too young to know shame, the emotion that will be like a shadow to her.

The men in her community in South Darfur province say it would have been better for Fatima Adam, 15, to have died than to have had Nashwa, conceived out of rape, the child of an enemy fighter.

The shame will stain Fatima, her family and the child forever, ruining Fatima's chances of marriage, education and a decent life. Arab militia fighters attacked her village, Tulus, about 10 months ago, killing 26 people and raping 10 girls ranging in age from 14 to 17.

A July report by Amnesty International documented 500 cases of rape in the Darfur region of western Sudan, and added that because of the taboo on discussing rape, that number is probably only a fraction of the total. A UNICEF report said 41 girls and teachers were gang-raped in the village of Tawila alone in February while others were abducted as sex slaves. There were reports the women were branded like cattle.

The trauma of the mass rapes has been deepened by the traditional view that the victims are somehow to blame for what happened and the cultural imperative that a bride be a virgin.

"A girl who's a virgin is like the standard, brand new. It's like a car. With a girl who is raped, it is like she is secondhand," said Mohammed Ibrahim Mohammed, a community leader from Karande village. "If she does marry, it can only be to an old man."

"They can't find a husband, never," said Abdulkarim Adam Eeka, a leader from Tabadiya village. "It's our tradition."

As Fatima Adam ran terrified through the grass during the attack on Tulus last year, two Arab militia fighters chased her down on horseback, leaped to the ground and threw her down to rape her. A third attacker caught up on foot.

"One said, 'This is because you are the Tora Bora,' " Fatima said, the term used by Arab militias to describe the black rebels of Darfur who rose up against the Sudanese government early last year. "I just heard they were insulting me. They shamed me, but I didn't know the meaning of their words."

After the rebellion, Arab militias attacked hundreds of villages across Darfur, raping, pillaging, killing, burning structures and forcing more than 1.2 million blacks from the Fur, Massalit and Zaghawa tribes off their land -- assaults described as genocide by the U.S. Congress. Human rights groups and Western diplomats believe the militia fighters have had support from the Sudanese government, a claim denied by officials in Khartoum, the capital. The U.N. estimates that 30,000 to 50,000 people have died.

And the brutality is far from over. The team leader at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, David Del Conte, said recently that in the last several months, at least 250 women had been raped in the area southwest of Kass, a southern Darfur city.

A typical militia strategy is to set up camps around a village in the weeks before the main attack, not allowing villagers to fetch water or firewood. Men who venture out are killed, so fathers have to make the terrible decision to send the girls and women to the well outside the village, knowing they face rape but not death.

Hadiya Abaker Osman, a 20-year-old newlywed, was raped with a group of 10 girls and women in an attack on her village, Donki Deras, in June.

"Two people used me. They said, 'Your fathers tried to take over the government so we came to rape you.' I said, 'My father is a poor man and he is weak. How can he take over the government?' And they hit me on the face."

When she told her father she had been raped, he wanted to know why she didn't resist.

"My father said, 'We will complain only to God.' And that's all he said."

A week later, Osman's husband was killed in the main attack on the village.

"They shot him down from a camel," she said. "I saw them kill him." She had been married just three months.

Adam Isa, 35, covered his eyes and wept when he recalled the rape of his niece, Hadiya, 16, in their village of Kailek in February, one of two girls snatched in view of the villagers during an attack. He had adopted the girl after her father died seven years ago.

When she returned to their home after the attack and told him she had been raped, he had no reply for her but tears. His heart still churns with anger, shame and the painful knowledge that even though he knows the names of the men who did it, he is sure they will never be prosecuted.

"She brought shame on our family," he said. "I still feel the shame. I can't forget it. I'm angry at the people who did it. But I'm weak. I have no strength to take vengeance. I'll leave that to God."

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