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HRW accuses Sudanese soldiers of mass rape in Darfur

© Ashraf Shazly, AFP | Sudanese soldiers at the entrance to the town of Tabit, North Darfur

Text by Sophie PILGRIM , UN correspondent in New York

Latest update : 2015-02-11

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday released evidence of the alleged mass rape by Sudanese soldiers of more than 200 women and girls in Darfur in October 2014, an atrocity that the Sudanese government continues to deny.

Their findings detail a three-day offensive on the town of Tabit in North Darfur in which at least 221 women and girls -- including some 80 children -- were raped and beaten.

One of the victims, a woman in her 40s, described the attack on her and her three daughters, two of whom were aged under 12. “Immediately after [the soldiers] entered the room they said: ‘We are going to show you true hell,’” she said. “Then they started beating us. They raped my three daughters and me. Some of them were holding the girl down while another one was raping her. They did it one by one.”

Another woman, in her early twenties, said she and three of her family members were raped by 15 soldiers. “The 15 soldiers raped us, all four of us,” she told researchers. “They beat us and they did whatever they wanted.”

HRW carried out the gruelling investigation over two months, seeking out victims who investigators said had “scattered” following the attack, gaining their trust and requiring them to recount events, sometimes over a two-hour conversation, amid a “continuing climate of fear in Tabit”. Most of the 130 people interviewed, all of whom are protected by anonymity, said they were afraid of reprisals -- “beatings, imprisonment and even execution” -- by the Sudanese authorities for talking to HRW.

That fear also saw most of the victims fail to seek medical help following the attack because they “feared arrest and further physical abuse by government officials”.

Male residents, who were forcibly removed from the town during the attack, were “detained, beaten and in some cases tortured for allegedly speaking out about what took place,” author of the HRW report Jonathan Loeb told reporters at the UN in New York on Wednesday, where the organisation presented its findings.

The Sudanese government, which immediately denied the assault, went to “drastic measures to blockade the town and silence the population,” Loeb said.

Mass rape "cannot be committed by any Sudanese institutions, military or otherwise," army spokesperson Colonel al-Sawarmy Khaled Saad told reporters on November 9. “Mass rape is something completely new to us as Sudanese."

UN impotent

Tabit, a town of some 7,000 people, has witnessed much suffering during the ongoing Darfur conflict, in which largely non-Arab rebels have been pitted against government forces, alongside its notorious Arab militias, since 2003. The town fell under rebel control numerous times during the conflict before being recaptured by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in 2011.

While international peacekeepers have been stationed in the region since 2004, the joint UN-African Union force currently in place (UNAMID) has been criticised for failing to report on, or intervene in, acts of mass violence.

In the days following the mass rape in Tabit, UNAMID failed to find evidence of the assault, upholding the army’s vehement claims that no rapes had taken place. However, it later emerged that UNAMID investigators had been escorted by government officials during their research work in the town, after initially being denied entry. “The investigation was completely compromised. UNAMID investigators were followed everywhere they went by military,” Loeb said.

The failure to investigate the mass rape revealed the extent of UNAMID’s impotence in its mission in the region, senior HRW researcher Jehanne Henry, who also worked on the report, told FRANCE 24.

“Tabit encapsulates how debilitating Sudan’s denials are to UNAMID,” she said, but stressed that a UNAMID withdrawal (a prospect currently under consideration by the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations) would further endanger the lives and rights of locals.

“If they’re going to reconfigure things, we’re urging that it stay and fulfill its functions, not pack up and leave. We’re asking for the AU and the UN to put pressure on Sudan to make this mission work,” she said.

China and Russia hinder efforts

Loeb said that the residents of Tabit continue to suffer long after the attack.

“Since the incident there’s been a constant military presence in the town. Some of the victims report seeing the perpetrators of the crimes against them walking around the village. The women are still completely vulnerable,” he said.

The researchers say that the clout of the UN Security Council is needed to allow UNAMID to prevent further attacks and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. “These women deserve to be protected, and that’s what the Council set out to do when it created the [UNAMID] mission,” said HRW’s Philippe Bolopion. “They should be demanding access in a much more forceful way for UNAMID to deploy temporarily in the town.”

But two permanent members of the Council, Russia and China, are strong allies of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and have been fiercely reluctant to intervene in the Sudanese conflict.

“We asked the Russian mission at the UN to attend a presentation of our findings,” Bolopion said, “but they didn’t turn up”.

China, on the other hand, has attended only one HRW meeting that Bolopion has been present at in four years, he said.

Date created : 2015-02-11

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