The Need for Accountability for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Crimes Committed in Tabit and Across Sudan

In commemoration of the seventh anniversary of the horrifying Tabit rape incident, Darfur Women Action Group (DWAG) would like to express its grave concern over the continuing surge of violence, including the use of rape as a weapon of war that has devastated the lives of people in Darfur and demand that the crimes of rape must not let go unpunished. In 2014, Sudanese security forces carried out the attack against civilians in Tabit over a 36-hour period from October 30 until November 1, 2014. On the evening of October 31, 2014, at approximately 8 pm local time, uniformed and armed military personnel entered Tabit and went house-to-house, falsely accusing residents of harboring or killing a missing soldier, searched the premises, beat men and either chased them out of the compound or detained them, and then raped 221 women and girls in their homes, with most of them being elementary and high school girls.

Following the attack in Tabit, the Sudanese government prevented UN investigators from entering the town to prevent victims and witnesses from sharing information about the crimes. Even after the army commander admitted to the crimes, the Sudanese government formally denounced reports of the rape as “fabricated.” Government officials, military commanders, and traditional leaders also used harsh measures to prevent information about the incident from becoming public, including widespread threats and intimidation, arbitrary arrests, denials, disinformation, and an ineffective criminal investigation designed to give the appearance of a response.

Even after seven years, no justice has been served to the 221 women and girls that were raped in the Tabit incident. We are extremely worried that despite Sudan’s democratic transition efforts, the interim government did not take any steps to ensure justice to the 221 victims. And now, with the military takeover, justice for the women will be less likely to be prioritized. However, we must continue to demand justice for the 221 victims and accountability in Sudan to ensure that perpetrators of the Tabit rape incident and other crimes are held accountable.

The Sudanese military’s attacks on Tabit and its aftermath resulted in numerous serious abuses against the town’s residents, including rape and other sexual violence, torture, arbitrary detentions, and pillage. Soldiers claiming that they were responding to the killing or abduction of a Sudanese soldier raise additional concerns of unlawful reprisal and collective punishment. Therefore, military personnel who participated in, aided, abetted, or ordered rape are responsible for war crimes. In addition, commanding officers who knew or should have known of the mass rape – and took no action to prevent it or punish those responsible – are also criminally liable.

Moreover, women and girls in Darfur to this date still face the constant threat of rape and gender-based violence, with women and girls still living in internally displaced camps for two decades are increasingly vulnerable. For instance, internally displaced women and girls in East Darfur are commonly subject to rape and sexual violence in places where women fetch firewood. The lack of security in the region and civilian protection mechanisms continue contributing to the high prevalence of SGBV among internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur. IDPs have also been increasingly vulnerable to SGBV after the withdrawal of UNAMID, as its peacekeepers guarded women when they collected firewood and patrolled to protect women in North and South Darfur.

With the recent resurgence of violence in North Darfur, women and girls face the constant threat of sexual violence at the hands of gunmen in military uniforms riding camels and motorcycles. From July-September alone, 17 cases of rape at the Zamzam camp were reported, however, more cases have likely occurred and have been unreported due to social stigmatization. Failing to hold the perpetrators accountable for such heinous crimes sends the wrong message to individuals perpetrating them throughout Darfur, Sudan, and other parts of the world.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), through its investigations, has confirmed that rape has been used as a tool for genocide in Darfur and has subsequently issued multiple arrest warrants against al-Bashir and four others. With the exception of the surrender, Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, known as ‘Ali Kushayb,’ all indictees continue to enjoy impunity, as the Interim Government of Sudan failed to bring them to the Hague to face trial. Therefore, we would like to remind the international community that impunity for such crimes must not be an option.

DWAG is particularly worried over the safety of women and girls after the military takeover, as the military and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have a record of serious human rights violations, including violence against women and SGBV. DWAG, therefore, implores the international community to take the following measures to ensure accountability for SGBV crimes and the protection of women and girls:

SGBV is tremendously devastating not only for victims and families but for society at large. It is never too late for the international community to recognize the crimes committed in Tabit and ensure that women and girls are protected from the use of rape as a weapon of war during the military takeover. We must continue demanding justice for the 221 women and ensure that accountability for these heinous crimes is strengthened in order to protect women and girls. DWAG believes that Sudan will never be transformed without justice and accountability for crimes committed in Darfur, and crimes against women and girls must be prerequisites for any solution to the crisis in Sudan. Without justice and accountability, peace and stability cannot be achieved in Sudan.