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For Immediate Release

Medical Study Supports Women Refugees' Reports of Sexual Violence in Darfur and Chad

Cambridge, Mass - 05/31/2009

(Cambridge, MA) Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has published a report documenting the scope and long-term impact of rape and other sexual violence experienced by women who fled attacks on their villages in Darfur and are now refugees in neighboring Chad.

This scientific study, conducted in partnership with Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), corroborates women's accounts of rape and other crimes against humanity that they have experienced in Darfur, as well as rape and deprivations of basic needs in refugee camps in Chad.

"Many Darfuri women refugees live in a nightmare of memories of past trauma compounded by the constant threat of sexual violence around the camps now," stated PHR's Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin, who contributed to the report. "Women who report being raped are stigmatized, and remain trapped in places of perpetual insecurity. There's no one to stop the rapes, no one to turn to for justice for past or ongoing crimes, and little psycho-social support to address their prolonged and unimaginable traumas."

Nowhere To Turn: Failure To Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women amplifies the voices of 88 women refugees in Chad's Farchana camp, some of them breaking their silence for the first time. The women spoke to a team of four female researchers including three physicians about how they face increased misery, fear and discrimination resulting from their experiences of sexual assaults in Darfur and in Chad. This is a rare scientific study, whose researchers overcame numerous obstacles to document the impact of sexual violesnce experienced by Darfuri women refugees.

Among the 88 women refugees interviewed, 32 reported instances of confirmed or highly probable rape. Of those 32 rape reports, 17 occurred in Darfur and a roughly equal number (15) occurred in Chad. And among the instances of rape reported in Chad, the vast majority (10 of 11 confirmed reports) occurred when women left the camps to gather firewood.

Virtually half of the 88 women interviewed (46) feared ongoing sexual violence around the refugee camp.

"The atmosphere of intimidation was palpable as we listened to women describing their profound suffering and fear, and their yearning to return safely and with dignity to their former lives," stated Dr. Sondra Crosby, a PHR consultant and expert in refugee trauma.

Last November, Physicians for Human Rights conducted 21 physical and psychological evaluations of Darfuri women refugees based on the Istanbul Protocol (IP) – the internationally accepted standards for medical assessment and documentation of the long-lasting impact of violence. All of the individuals whom PHR evaluated using the IP standards showed symptoms of major depressive disorder (19 of 21 women) and/or symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (16 of 21).

Physicians for Human Rights called for urgent and important measures to address the needs of Darfuri women survivors. Their recommendations include:

  • vigorous prosecution of rape as a war crime, including support for the International Criminal Court warrants against Sudanese perpetrators;
  • increased protection of refugees in Chad by Chadian police and international peacekeepers, including effective firewood patrols;
  • legal reforms in Chad to end impunity for sexual violence; and
  • provision of effective psychosocial support to survivors.

The report also includes a copy of a declaration called "The Farchana Manifesto" written by women in the camp in response to gender discrimination and violence. Printed in its original hand-written Arabic version, and translated into French and English, the manifesto lists women's demands for participation in camp decision-making, an end to stigmatization and for dignity and equality. Copies of the study and the manifesto are available online at DarfuriWomen.org.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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