Soldiers From Sudan Raped Hundreds in Darfur, Human Rights Group Finds


http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/12/world/africa/soldiers-from-sudan-raped-hundreds-in-darfur-human-rights-group-finds.html?rref=world/africa&module=Ribbon&version=origin&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Africa&pgtype=article

Sudanese soldiers raped more than 200 women and girls in Darfur last fall, Human Rights Watch concluded in a report issued Wednesday, confirming allegations that the large United Nations peacekeeping mission in the area could not.

The report was the result of interviews conducted by telephone with rape survivors, witnesses, former soldiers and others, Human Rights Watch researchers said. Those interviews yielded “firsthand accounts” of 27 rapes and “credible information” on 194 others.

The youngest survivor was 7 years old.

The group called for an inquiry by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights into what it described as “organized, systematic and widespread” assaults that might be tantamount to crimes against humanity.

The assaults took place on Oct. 30 and 31 in the town of Tabit, on the northern reaches of the Darfur region of Sudan. It is among the latest horrors facing civilians in a rapidly escalating conflict — and also one of the most stark illustrations of the inability of peacekeepers to protect them.

In November, just after the rape allegations emerged, the peacekeeping mission, run jointly with the African Union, said in a news release that its investigators had found no evidence to support the allegations although, in an internal report, mission staff members complained of witness intimidation.

The mission has since sought to conduct another inquiry but, according to United Nations officials, has been stymied by Sudanese government officials.

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, told reporters Wednesday that while he welcomed the Human Rights Watch report, the United Nations’ own methodology required access on the ground. “For us, safe, unhindered access to the town is critical,” he said.

Mr. Ban was scheduled to meet with Ibrahim Ghandour, a senior Sudanese government adviser, later in the day. Sudan has repeatedly denied that the rapes took place.

Darfur generated a flurry of attention among American celebrities and politicians some 10 years ago when rebels took up arms against the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Khartoum, only to face a brutal crackdown.

Despite the attention, world powers have been able to do little about the escalating violence, either by dispatching peacekeepers or pressing for accountability.

The International Criminal Court has indicted Mr. Bashir on charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity, but he has not been taken into custody.

The peacekeeping mission, once the world’s largest, with 20,000 troops, has shrunk by 4,000 in recent months and, under intense pressure from Khartoum, is likely to get smaller in the coming months. Western diplomats have said they favor contracting the size of the mission and strengthening its ability to protect civilians.

Sanctions imposed by the Security Council have been routinely violated, according to United Nations monitors, and weapons have continued to pour into Darfur, mostly to government forces.

The Council is expected to adopt a resolution later this week that would stiffen the sanctions regime. Russia, a veto-wielding member of the Council, is a loyal ally of Mr. Bashir. Neither Russia nor China sent its envoys to a private briefing that Human Rights Watch held Monday for Council diplomats.

The group called on the Security Council to urge Sudan to allow United Nations peacekeepers to set up a base in Tabit and impose travel bans and asset freezes on those who obstruct access to peacekeepers and other United Nations officials.

“Denial of access should not be an excuse” not to carry out an independent inquiry, said Philippe Bolopion, the United Nations advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

Even by the standards of Darfur, which has witnessed more than a decade of atrocities, the Tabit episode was particularly brutal, according to the report, with soldiers going from house to house, looking for rebel gunmen, looting property, beating men and raping women and girls.

The report quoted one woman who said that she and three friends were in her home preparing perfumes for a wedding when about 10 soldiers entered the compound, dragged the women outside and raped each of them multiple times.

The woman was quoted as saying, “I cannot sit down for a long time like I could before.”

Another woman was quoted as saying: “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.”

Renewed fighting chased 400,000 people from their homes last year alone, more than any other year in the past decade.

Sudan’s mission to the United Nations did not return a call requesting comment on the report.

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