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PHR Expertise in Documenting Mass Rape

Dafur Survival Campaign

PHR has longstanding experience in forensic investigations and advocacy to end rape in armed conflict. For more than 20 years, PHR has conducted pioneering research and advocacy on this issue, including in its landmark studies in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan/Chad.

Additionally, PHR’s forensic trainings around the world – based on the Istanbul Protocol (UN standard for documentation of torture that PHR initiated and co-authored) – have resulted in improved practices in many countries supporting accountability for torture and/or sexual violence. PHR offers courses for global participants in crime scene investigation, evidence documentation, forensic laboratory services, and medical examiner’s office operations.

Through all these initiatives, PHR has developed a refined understanding of the trauma experienced by sexual violence survivors in conflict and their complex needs, including their right to comprehensive justice.

Darfur and Chad

Mass rapes in Darfur effectively terrorize the people, break their will, and destroy the fabric of society. In addition to causing horrific mental and physical trauma, rape has serious social and economic consequences in Darfurian society. Victims are often ineligible for marriage, and are ostracized by the community and even their own families.

From 2004 to 2006, PHR coordinated a successful training series in Khartoum and Nyala, Darfur in Sudan on documenting torture, sexual violence against women, and other forms of abuse. The ICC cited PHR’s documentation of war crimes in Darfur in its 2009–2010 proceedings.

Learn more about our work in Darfur and Chad.

PHR Studies

PHR's groundbreaking study, War-Related Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone: A Population-based Assessment, is one of the first to scientifically document the extent of sexual violence as a result of war.

Sierra Leone's decade-long conflict has been one of the deadliest in recent history and has been marked by an extraordinary level of brutal human rights abuses, including abductions, beatings, sexual assault of women and men, being "captured" for less than 24 hours, torture, forced labor, gunshot wounds, serious injuries, and amputations. An alarming 94% of 991 households of internally displaced persons randomly surveyed by PHR and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) reported among its members at least one of these serious abuses during the past ten years of conflict.

The psychological toll of rape includes anxiety, depression, nightmares, social phobias, physical complaints, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In Rape as a War Crime in Kashmir (pdf), PHR documented how Indian security forces and militant forces in Kashmir used rape to punish, intimidate, coerce, humiliate, and degrade their female victims.

Rape's consequences are also social: PHR's report Darfur: Assault on Survival, examined how rape victims in a conservative Muslim society suffer stigma and shame. Husbands disown wives; unmarried victims are condemned as "spoiled."

In addition to rape, women in conflict often face other forms of gender-based violence. In The Taliban's War on Women - A Health and Human Rights Crisis in Afghanistan, PHR helped bring the plight of that country's women to the world's attention. PHR documented how the regime's restrictions on women's access to medical care, education, and employment created a dire health and human rights crisis.

In a subsequent report, Women's Health and Human Rights in Afghanistan: A Population-Based Assessment (2001), PHR revealed attitudes on women's rights to education and work opportunities, freedom of expression, participation in government and legal protection for their human rights.

At the request of Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), PHR submitted a statement for the record as part of the "Rape as a Weapon of War: Accountability for Sexual Violence in Conflict" hearing held on April 1st, 2008 by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee: Statement for the Record: Rape as a Weapon of War.

A similar report was prepared for the US Agency for International Development/OTI, published through the Program on Humanitarian Crises and Human Rights, of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, with help from PHR: The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in Darfur, Sudan.