الجمعة، 14 نوفمبر، 2014

Tabit and the Issues of Reporting Sexual Violence in Darfur


      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.
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poster credit: Ahmed Isam
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edited versions appeared in the Guardian Africa Network and openDemocracy


Darfur radio station exposes the use of rape as weapon of war

Earlier this month a small radio station, Radio Dabanga, were the first to report that more than 200 women and girls had been raped in the village of Tabit in Darfur, after a commander from the Sudanese armed forces stormed the area. The reports, although unverified, caused an international outcry, making headlines across the world.
The report was significant. During the past few years – particularly after the ICC arrest warrant issued for the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir – Darfur has been almost a no-go zone where journalists, politicians and independent civil society organisations are denied access by the authorities.
But Radio Dabanga’s network of local reporters have allowed it to remain the only outspoken media outlet that documents and reports rape cases regularly. It now has the reputation of being the “Rape Radio” among Sudanese activists.
“Radio Dabanga has been broadcasting on shortwave since 2008, to inform the people in Darfur about the social and political events around them,” said Hildebrand Bijleveld, the director Radio Dabanga and Free Press Unlimited.
Started by Darfurians as a way to report on current affairs – from “the peace process, rule of law, sports and social events” – the station soon ran into problems in Sudan’s capital.
“We were originally broadcasting from Khartoum but due to government interference broadcasting is now being facilitated by Free Press Unlimited in the Netherlands,” said Bijleveld.
The station is now part of the Radio Darfur Network, a coalition of Sudanese journalists and international media supported by international donors, humanitarian community organisations and local NGOs. 

Conflicting reports

On 2 November Radio Dabanga quoted a source claiming that “more than 200 women and girls” had been “collectively raped” reportedly by “Sudanese soldiers belonging to a military garrison south of El Fasher” in North Darfur.
In response, the joint African Nations and UN mission to Darfur, Unamid, tried to investigate but was denied access to Tabit village by government forces on 5 November. Four days later, and a total of 10 days after the claims were made, the mission reported that they had been allowed entry, but that no evidence of rape was found.
“None of those interviewed confirmed that any incident of rape took place in Tabit on the day of that media report,” Unamid representatives concluded. 
Radio Dabanga followed this report with a news piece titled “Denial of Darfur rape case by Unamid shocks Tabit victims” – which heavily referenced a despatch by five representatives of a committee for refugees in Darfur.
“We just returned from Tabit on Friday with a delegation, after two days of investigation,” they told the station. “There we met 60 women and girls, we looked into their eyes while they told us they were raped by soldiers from 8pm [on Friday 31 October] until 5am.”
Radio Dabanga later reported further inconsistencies between information it had gathered and Unamid’s report, whose visit to the village was presided over by a heavy government and military presence.
Under these conditions, Unamid reported that there had been no new arrivals at the camp for internally displaced people, called ZamZam, following the alleged Tabit atrocity. But when the station sent its own reporters, they claimed that they met many women “who left Tabit. These women were not even approached by Unamid,” Bijleveld says.

Information lifeline

These incidents have outraged people in Sudan, with many voicing their anger onsocial media.
But the discussion has since shifted from anger about the prevalence of sexual violence in Darfur to a debate about the credibility of Radio Dabanga versus Unamid. As the only two organisations passing information out of the region, this disagreement matters. 
According to Aisha Elbasiri, a former Unamid spokesperson who resigned from her post in 2013, the UN organisation has under-reported on crucial incidents.
She says that she asked the UN peacekeeping authorities to investigate possible violations by Unamid of the public information policy “which calls for open, transparent and honest information-sharing with the media.”
“What I have received so far is a deafening silence.”
In contrast, at a celebration for Radio Dabanga’s fifth birthday Elbasiri praised the station during a keynote speech, saying that it “has become the information lifeline to the forgotten victims of Darfur.”
“This year alone, between April and September Unamid was denied access to the so-called ‘areas of operations’ on 75 occasions. But the huge network of Dabanga’s reporters enjoy access to these areas.
“They have been providing continuing, comprehensive and uncensored information. The kind of information that has saved the lives of many people in Darfur.”
_____________

Tabit and sexual violence in Darfur


In nine months, our neighborhood will be full of new born Arab infants... They came to drink Maresa and ended up using us all. They had guns; we could not say anything to stop them.
Bitterly but sarcastically, Mariam told a women’s rights activist about what had happened to her while they were chatting over tea in Nyala. That was two years ago.
Sexual violence and rape have now become a reality of women's lives and part of their everyday encounters in Darfur.
Over the past few years, and after the ICC arrest warrant for Omar Albashir and other government officials, Darfur has practically been closed off to journalists, politicians and independent civil society organizations.
Last year Sara, a 16 year-old girl from Zamzam IDP camp was hospitalized for ten days after being gang raped by two young men. One of them was an officer with the National Reserve Forces (Abu Taira). 
She proceeded with her case and reported it to the police. However, the officer was never charged. The other rapist was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years, yet after a very quick appeal, was found not guilty and released. 
Sara was grieving; she wanted and needed for her story to be heard and travelled long distances in order to meet with the activist who recorded her case, as the displacement camp remains inaccessible to journalists and activists from Khartoum. 
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 with an extremely low profile - remains the only outspoken media outlet that regularly documents and reports rape cases. This has given it the reputation of being “The Rape Radio” among Sudanese activists.
Radio Dabanga has been broadcasting in shortwave since 2008 to inform the people in Darfur of social, political as well as other events around them. It was initially broadcasting from Khartoum but, due to government interference, it is now broadcast from the Netherlands by Free Press Unlimited.
On 5 November 2014 Darfur was in the international headlines, including theBBC, as UNAMID had issued a statement after being denied access to Tabit village to investigate rape allegations. Radio Dabanga was the first to broadcast that military forces had invaded Tabit and raped 200 women. However, four days later the UNAMID mission reported that they had been allowed access and that no evidence of rape was found.
Hildebrand Bijleveld, the Director of Radio Dabanga and Free Press Unlimited chronicled these events in Tabit as follows:
On 31 October 2014, we were informed that a young lady from Tabit, engaged to a soldier, got pregnant. Her family went to the military barracks to complain and told the soldier that they would 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 the same day.

On November 2 we got information from another source that the military forces had raped a large number of women in Tabit. Alarm bells were ringing. We got hold of two rape survivors who reported their cases, but they were still in the village. So, for their own safety, another person from the village testified on their behalf.

Early morning on Monday one of the victims disappeared. We had four recorded testimonies but were only able to release one, because we had to make sure that the survivors were safe.

On November 4, a UNAMID convoy moved from Shigil Tobai, located to the South of Tabit, to investigate the incident. To our surprise and according to UNAMID’s statement, they were stopped by a military road blockade. (Even though they had come from the south and should have already passed Tabit before reaching the blockade).
People reported that they had already spoken to UNAMID. This is why I think UNAMID was purposefully seeking military verification over the investigation of rape. UNAMID also mentioned that no one had arrived from Tabit to the Zamzam IDP camp even though we had sent our reporters to Zamzam to meet with some of the women who had fled Tabit. Those women were not even approached by UNAMID.

On November 7, a popular committee was formed to document the rape cases. They had to work through the night, going from door to door. They were able to document 57 rape cases of which 8 were minors.

On November 8, the military forces came to Tabit and threatened people who talked. The following day, UNAMID sent a delegation accompanied by the police and military to investigate rape incidents. The people were scared.

UNAMID claimed they talked to 8-9 students; however there aren’t any secondary schools or universities in Tabit.

UNAMID’s public statement offended the people; even the UN Security Council dismissed it.
All they said is that there was no evidence.
 Mr. Bijleveld on Radio Dabanga’s reputation as “The Rape Radio”:
Radio Dabanga was started by Darfurians with the mission of reporting current affairs. We cover all issues of the peace process, rule of law, sports and social events. Our team works with some of the best Sudanese journalists. Its 100% independent and committed to the highest professional standards.

Journalists are on the front lines when violations happen. Our commitment is to report and inform the people... We are not a lobbying or advocacy organization. 
Regarding the high prevalence of sexual violence in Sudan and mainly in Darfur, Mr. Bijleveld commented: 
I have lived in Sudan for almost two decades, while rape is a miserable crime, society and authorities would never tolerate a rapist and he would be punished regardless of his affiliations. It was against the ethical and moral values of society. Now rape is being used as a tool to suppress and terrify the people and perpetrators are not being punished.
The recent incidents in Tabit outraged Sudanese social media users. After UNAMID’s statement, the discussion was shifted from anger at the prevalence of sexual violence in Darfur to Radio Dabanga and their stand versus UNAMID’s credibility. 
The latter has a reputation for covering up government violations and under-reporting incidents, as stated by Aisha Elbasiri, a former UNAMID spokesperson who resigned because her access to information was blocked. Having a discussion over whether or not Tabit 'happened' reflects a major misunderstanding of sexual violence. During the Tabit outrage, Radio Dabangareported the rape of two women in central Darfur and the abduction and rape of another in West Darfur. The two incidents went unnoticed. No demands for investigation or for the support of the survivors were made. Questioning the occurrence, or even the blatant denial, of such heinous crimes based on the argument that the military base near Tabit is small, composed of only one hundred soldiers, is invalid. Such an argument reflects the fact that rape and sexual violence are perceived as consensual sexual acts, not the violent crimes they are in reality.
The truth is that sexual violence is a weapon of war that has been normalized as part of everyday life in Darfur. No support is being provided to the survivors and no perpetrators are being brought to justice. The government of Sudan will continue to use its propaganda machine to deny the existence of these heinous crimes as the list of survivors and victims of sexual violence gets longer and longer.






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