In a period of nine months, our neighborhood will be full of newly born Arab infants. They came to drink Maresa and ended up using us all. They had guns; we would not say anything to stop them.
Bitterly but sarcastically, Mariam told a women rights activist about what happened to her while chatting over tea in Nyala, with no prior intention to document her case. That was two years ago, sexual violence and rape became the reality of women's lives and part of everyday encounter in Darfur.
During the past few years, and after the ICC arrest warrant of Omar Albashir and other government officials, Darfur has been almost a closed area where journalists, politicians and independent civil society organizations are denied to access.
Last year Sara; a 16 years old girl from Zamzam IDP camp, was severely injured. She was hospitalized for 10 days after being gang raped by 2 young men, one of them is an officer with National Reserve Forces (Abu Taira). She proceeded with her case to police; the officer was never brought to police or court. The other rapist was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. He appealed and in no time found not guilty. Sara was grieved; she needed her story to be heard. To meet with the activist that recorded her case, she needed to walk, ride over a donkey and use the bus. The displacement camp remain inaccessible to journalists and activists coming from Khartoum, not mentioning the lack of suitable environment to interview sexual and gender based violence survivors. Sometimes women in Darfur are not willing to share their experiences of rape with anyone. They feel indifferent as long as it is usually happening to many women and nobody would do anything for them or for the perpetrators.
Under the current oppressive and highly monitored situation in Darfur, Radio Dabanga, a very popular community radio with a huge network of local reporters working in extremely low profile, remains the only outspoken media outlet that document and report rape cases regularly. It got the reputation of being The Rape Radio among Sudanese activists.
On November 5th, 2014 Darfur was in the headlines of international media such as BBC after UNAMID issued a statement for being denied to access Tabit village to investigate rape allegations. The news about military forces invading Tabit and raping 200 women was first published by Radio Dabanga. Four days later the mission reported that they have been allowed to access the village and no single evidence of rape was found.
Radio Dabanga has been broadcasting in shortwaves since 2008, to inform the people in Darfur with the social, political and other events happening around them. It was broadcasting from Khartoum but due to government interference, its broadcasting is being facilitated by Free Press Unlimited from Netherlands.
Hildebrand Bijleveld, the Director Radio Dabanga and Free Press Unlimited told Sudanese dream. He narrated the current affairs in Tabit as follows:
On 31st Oct 2014, we were informed that a young lady from Tabit who was engaged with a soldier has got pregnant. Her bothered family went to the military barracks to complain and they told the soldier that they will have to deal with him if he came back for their daughter. In the afternoon, her brothers were arrested and the village was surrounded by military forces because a soldier went missing. It was 4-5 pm Sudan time on Friday and we could not verify the information, thus we did not publish that on Friday.
On Sunday 2nd November 2014 we got information from another source that the military forces raped large number ofwomen in Tabit. Alarm bells were ringing. We got hold on two rape survivors who reported their cases, but there were still in the village. For their own safety, another person from the village testifies it on their behalf.
Early morning on Monday one of the victims disappeared. We got four recorded testimonies but we were not able to release them except one who we were sure she is in a safe place. We did not release the other testimonies because it will jeopardize their safety.
On Tuesday 4th November, a UNAMID convoy moved from Shigil Tobai located to the South of Tabit to investigate this incident. To our surprise that UNAMID ended in a military road blockade according to their statement. Bearing in mind that they came from the south and they should have already passed Tabit before reaching the military check point. People reported they have already spoken to UNAMID in the road around Tabit. I think UNAMID was purposefully seeking the military verification over investigation of rape in Tabit. UNAMID also mentioned that there are no people arrived from Tabit in Zamzam IDP camp. We sent our reporters to Zamzam to meet women who fled Tabit. Those women were not even approached by UNAMID.
On Friday 7th November 2014, there were a popular committee that was formed and documented the rape cases, they worked in the dark at night and went from door to door, they were able to document 57 rape cases of whom 8 were minors and they left.
On Saturday 8th November, the military forces came to Tabit and threaten people not to talk, a day after on Sunday 9th November; UNAMID sent a delegation accompanied by police and military to investigate rape incidents. The people were scared. How could a woman speak of rape while she is confronted by armed men? I wonder if there was a counselor among the verification team, a person who knows how to build the trust with victims, and do proper documentation without intimidating or offending the survivors.
UNAMID claimed they talked to 8-9 students; however there is no secondary school or a university in Tabit. UNAMID public statement offended the people; even UN Security Council has dismissed it. They did not say Tabit did not happen, but they said there was no evidence.
On the reputation of Radio Dabanga being The Rape Radio Mr. Bijleveld responds
Radio Dabanga was started by the Darfurians, with the mission of reporting on all current affairs. We cover all issues of peace process, rule of law, sports and social events however there are small news that doesn’t get into the website. Our team involves the best Sudanese journalists. Its 100% independent and committed to the highest professional standards, we double check all the news before publishing them.
A duty of journalists is to be in the front-lines when massive violations like rape happen. Our commitment is to report them and inform the people even if they found it somehow boring or everyday news. It's not something we can ignore or walk away with. We are not a lobbying or advocacy organization but we committed to inform.
Regarding the high prevalence of sexual violence in Sudan and mainly in Darfur Mr. Bijleveld said:
I have lived in Sudan for almost two decades, while rape was a miserable crime. The society and authorities would never tolerate a rapist and he would be punished regardless being affiliated with the ruling party or a government authority. It was against the ethical and moral values of the society. Now it depressing me to see rape being a tool to suppress and terrify the people and the perpetrators ending not punished
The recent incidents in Tabit outraged the Sudanese users of social media. Though after UNAMID statement; the discussion was shifted from the anger, and prevalence of sexual violence in Darfur towards the credibility of Radio Dabanga versus UNAMID. The later has a reputation of covering up government violations and under reporting incidents as stated by Aisha Elbasiri, a former UNAMID spokesperson who resigned to speak the truth (news source Sudan Tribune). A discussion over whether Tabit happened or not and was it really that big reflects major misunderstanding of the whole issue of sexual violence.
During Tabit outrage; Radio Dabanga reported 4 women being raped in central Darfur and a woman abducted and raped in West Darfur. The two incidents went unnoticed. No demands were made to investigate this incident or provide support to the abused women. Sexual violence is assumed as a matter of numbers of abused women rather than the actual act of violence, its consequences and impacts on the survivor and the whole society.
Questioning the occurrence of the incident based on the argument that the military base near Tabit is a small one, composed of only one hundred soldiers and wondering how a man could rape more than a woman at once is invalid. Such an argument reflects the fact that activists perceive rape and sexual violence as a form of consensual sexual practice not a matter of aggression. In any way rape is not lovemaking where men fall asleep when they are done. It often includes using objects. Earlier this year; Fatima, A young lady living in the outskirts of Omdurman was raped with a knife when she showed resistance to gang rape attempt by nine men.
The discussion about whether Tabit happened or not is not changing the fact that sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war and is normalized as an aspect of everyday life in Darfur. Yet no profound support is being provided for the survivors, no perpetrators being brought to justice. The government of Sudan will not allow independent investigators, neither journalists nor support providers who can address the survivors in dignified manner. It will continue to use its propaganda machine to deny it.