Tabit Rape of 200 Darfuri Women: A Scar on the Conscience of our Humanity.
By: Abdullahi Osman El-Tom
November 11, 2014: Last month, the world awoke to the brutal and inhumane auctioning of women in Iraq by notorious ISIS. The incident received the unprecedented attention of the international community and forced the western world to take action about this new global threat. In a sharp contrast to this, is the plight of 200 Darfuriwomen, raped at gunpoint on October 31st ,2014. This news was met with a muted response in international circles, forcing many of us to reflect on the double standards of our current world. YasirArman, the Secretary General of the SRF, bemoaned the lack of parity in the response to ISIS women and their sisters in Darfur. Both groups were equally dehumanized and deserved equal sympathy, if not outright protection, from the international community. It is hard not to recall the statement of the French anthropologist, Prunier, castigating the pathetic response of the western world to the Rwandan genocide, stating that “Rwanda was too black and too poor” to deserve attention. Perhaps no other pronouncement is more applicable to the Darfur people and the women of Tabit than this.
It was around 8pm when a contingent of the government army and Border Guards invaded the sleepy town of Tabit, 35 miles south of Alfashir. The first few minutes of the assault consisted of violent measures to subdue men, young and old, healthy and sick, and drive them out of the village. Killing, beating and infliction of grave injuries were used to round up the men and isolate them from their female family members.
200 women were subjected to horrific rapes that lasted until 4am the following day. As a Tabit elder survivor narrates, 8 of the women were primary school girls, presumably below 15 years old, 72 are described as minors and 105 were unmarried. A 13 year-old rape victim explained her ordeal over the phone saying:
“I begged the soldier to spare me, telling him I was an orphan. He slapped me saying: ‘but you are still a woman and a black one. Up your mother’s vagina.’ Then he proceeded to beat me and tear off my clothes...”.
The rest of the story, which I could not finish reading is too traumatic to tell, but by now, the reader has got the message.
With its characteristic pathetic response, UNAMID claims its force was prevented entry into Tabit for investigation. Never mind, UNAMID has 50 Human Rights persons employed as personnel, most of whom are based at Alfashir who are less than an hour drive from Tabit. To be honest, nobody in Darfur counts on any investigations done by UNAMID anyway. As the history of the Darfur conflict displayed, UNAMID has systematically conspired to protect the Khartoum government against international condemnation. This is exactly what AichaAlbasri verified following her resignation from UNAMID.
As usual, the Khartoum government denied the Tabit incident and declared it as a nasty accusation orchestrated by its enemies. Khartoum’s comical Official Military Spokesperson, AlsawarmiKhaled, commonly nicknamed as “the Official Liar” states:
“Tabit enjoys security and tranquility…. Reports about mass rape by SAF are baseless and without justification… this accusation is illogical and does not resemble the moral values of the Sudanese people, military or otherwise”.
Surprisingly, the words of Alswarami were contradicted by a SAF garrison at Tabit. Four days after the incident, the Commander of Tabit, Lieutenant Hamid Ismael, made a surprise visit to Tabit. Surrounded by a small number of body- guards, he told the bewildered local victims that the assault was a mistake. The army had a missing soldier and Tabit people were wrongly accused of harming him. The missing soldier was later found at Taweela, many miles from Tabit. The Commander offered to take the injured to Alfashir hospital for treatment, but his offer was flatly rejected by the relatives of the injured and rape victims. They demanded punishment of the wrong-doers and not just a few medical bandages in a hospital under his care.
The Khartoum government likes us to consider mass-rape, the Tabit incident included, as actions of undisciplined soldiers and/or their Janjwaeed allies. Thus, the Governor of South Darfur, Major General Adam Jar Al Nabi, responded to the Tabit crime saying:
“In order to curb the violations and abuses of the Border Guards and Central Reserve Forces, the national government has instructed rehabilitation programmes and training for them, in accordance with military rules”
The General clearly absolves his government from any crime committed in Tabit and settles for simple training of his soldiers. Noting could be more sinister. Mass-rape is an important component of genocide and ethnic cleansing, the very crimes that have led to indictment of Albashir and his fellow genocidaires. Continuation of mass-rape in Darfur, is clear evidence that Khartoum has not moved an inch away from its policy of clearing Darfur of its indigenous ethnic stock. In 2011, the eminent scholar on Darfur, Eric Reeves warned:
“The psychological, physical and social destruction of rape as a weapon of war can scarcely be overstated. As deployed in Darfur, it is meant to destroy family structures within the non-Arab or African populations that have been overwhelmingly been the target of campaigns of rape”.
While the Janjaweed have achieved notoriety in rape crimes, the SAF is also complicit in these crimes and its members have often committed them themselves. An early report by the reputable MSF indicates this:
“81% of the rape perpetuated by Janjaweed militia forces occur with government military personnel present. Although there are Sudanese laws against rape, punishable by imprisonment or even death, there are no accounts of attackers being charged or punished”.
There are indeed no accounts of punishment of rapists who are members of the regular forces. Far from it, Albashir himself has helped in institutionalizing mass-rape as a weapon, which was to be deployed by both the SAF and its allies. Here are words of HasanTurabi, quoting someone else:
"He [Bashir] told us, [if] this Gharbawia [Darfuri woman], when a Ja’ali [man from the Ja’al tribe of Bashir] man humps her, is this an honour or rape?”
No wonder, neither the commander of the Tabit force, nor the Governor of the South, who are quoted above, talk about punishment, for this is out of the question altogether. Their intervention is restricted to training and ferrying the injured to the hospital.
Thus, let us put an end to limiting the blame of rape crimes to the SAF personnel, or for that matter, the Janjaweed. These forces commit rape as part of their mandated duty to their employer, the government. Hence, the focus of the international law should turn to Albashir in the case of Tabit as well as the other mass-rape crimes in the country.
Minutes after sending the above words to some websites, I rush to call it back to include fresh Tabit news from UNAMID. In his denial statement quoted above, the Khartoum Military Spokesperson also mentioned that UNAMID was prevented access to Tabit because of a technical fault in their application.
On the 10th of November, UNAMID was able to fix its application and was given full access to the area. The result is stunning and a vindication of claims of AichaAlbasri, the ex-employer of UNAMID. In her report, she indicated UNAMID was in the pocket of the Khartoum government and had been falsifying its reports on Darfur to embellish the image of the GOS. Well, UNAMID’s report on Tabit is perplexing and here is a taste of it:
“None of those interviewed confirmed that any incident of rape took place in Tabit on the day of that media report. The team neither found any evidence nor received any information regarding the media allegations during the period in question”.
So, according to the latest and thorough investigation of UNAMID, everything is hunky dory in Tabit. The people are living in perfect harmony with the SAF garrison and all the rape allegations are simply false. Such a verdict comes with no surprise to those who know how UNAMID carries out its investigations. A day before investigation visit was allowed, a force led SAF commander Major Saad visitedTabit and made sure the local people would behave during investigation. According to a local interviewed by Radio Dabanqa, Major Saad threatened the locals with death and torture in case of “lack of cooperation”. As if that was not enough, when UNAMID’s team arrived to investigate, they appeared with a large force of soldiers, security and police personnel. The force that outnumbered UNAMID personnel by 3:1 was presumably there to guarantee safety of the esteemed UNAMID investigators and make sure they would get the “right information”.
The world has entrusted UNAMID with protection of Darfur people, including Tabit women. Foolish at it may be, the authorities that gave UNAMID such a mandate in a golden plate include the UNSC, EU, AU and other globally reputable powerhouses. They have also mandated UNAMID to offer its periodic expert reports on atrocities committed by GoS and others in Darfur. Well, UNAMID has done just that regarding the Tabit mass-rape. Everything is in order in Tabit! I rest my case, for according to UNAMID reporters, the women of Tabit and I have nothing to complain about!
Abdullahi Osman El-Tom is Head of Strategic Planning of JEM. He can be reached at Abdullahi.firstname.lastname@example.org