Free Speech, Humanitarian Aid and Rape in Darfur

Depiction of a rape in Darfur by a 13 year old childSudan’s state prosecutor, Mohamed Farid, has ordered that Paul Foreman, head of the Dutch branch of Médecins Sans Frontières’s team in Sudan, be arrested in conjunction with a report MSF published on rape as a weapon of war in Sudan. He was released on bail later today, but has been prohibited from leaving the country. If convicted of “publishing a false report”, Foreman could face three years in a Sudanese prison.

The report, titled “The Crushing Burder of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur”, was based on 500 cases of rape treated by MSF doctors over a 4 1/2 month period. The report details 300 of these cases, with detailed witness statements for several cases. The number of rapes MSF treated suggests that rape has been widespread as a weapon of war in the Darfur region. More than 80% of the victims interviewed for the report said that they had been raped by soldiers or militamen.

According to Farid, under Sudanese law, Foreman should have consulted with the Humanitarian Aid Commission before publishing this report. (It’s unclear whether any other relief groups working in Sudan have coordinated with the Aid Commission before publishing reports.)

Upset by the contents of the report, the Sudanese government has demanded the medical records of the women treated for rape – MSF has refused, citing medical confidentiality. (Given evidence that the Sudanese government has colluded with Janjiwid forces, it would be utterly absurd for MSF to reveal the identity of these women to the government.) Given MSF’s unwillingness to share these confidential records, the Sudanese government has concluded that MSF’s report was fabricated and has pressed charges against Foreman.

MSF has confirmed the arrest and expressed outrage about the Sudanese government’s intimidation. MSF has worked in Sudan for over twenty years and provides medical care throughout the country, not just in Darfur. Commentators speculate that the Sudanese government knows it can’t afford to throw MSF out of the country, but is lashing out at the program director due to anger over the report.

Joanne Mariner, in an October 2004 article, points out that rape is a war crime, as well as a human rights violation, though governments often try to explain rape as a “private crime”, committed by wayward soldiers. She notes that, as of October 2004, the Sudanese government had acknowledged only two incidents of rape in the Darfur conflict, and dismissed suggestions of widespread sexual violence as “fabrication”.

The image above is from Human Rights Watch’s “Darfur Drawn” series. Drawn by a 13-year old, it depicts the rape of a Darfuri woman by a Sudanese soldier.

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4 Responses to Free Speech, Humanitarian Aid and Rape in Darfur

  1. Ingrid says:

    Hello Ethan, BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut says the charges are part of a drive by Sudan to end western criticism.

    P.S. I saw this latest post of yours in my newsfeed and clicked into it to leave a comment not realising it was your old site. The comment worked so I thought you had changed your new template back to the old style. Now I realise you are still running both blogs. I’ll try to remember to stick with this new site.

  2. Ethan says:

    Sorry Ingrid – it’s confusing. I hope to have the migration completed by the end of June. Then again, I’d hoped to have it done by the end of April as well…

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