Sudanese forces systematically raped more than 200 girls, Human Rights Watch says

A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops, on a government organized media tour, in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan. (AP Photo/Abd Raouf)

Sudanese soldiers raped more than 200 women and girls in Darfur last October, says Human Rights Watch. A systematic attack on the town of Tabit saw members of the armed forces commit a series of atrocities, including the rape of at least 221 women and girls in a 36-hour period.

The New York-based rights group called the attacks a “new low” for the region. It called on the United Nations and the African Union to do more to protect people living in Darfur against such atrocities. It also put more pressure on the government Sudan for being responsible for the attacks.

“The Sudanese government should stop the denials and immediately give peacekeepers and international investigators access to Tabit,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

In three separate attacks between Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, soldiers reportedly went from house-to-house to search and steal. Men, for the most part, were forced out of the town as the soldiers continued with their searches and attacked the remaining women and girls. Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 130 people, including 27 victims, for the report.

In one instance, soldiers attacked three young women as they were preparing for a wedding ceremony. One of the victims told Human Rights Watch that 10 soldiers entered their compound and raped the girls multiple times.

“[The soldiers] said that they were looking for a missing soldier. … They searched the compound. … [T]hen they came towards us. They grabbed me and they grabbed my friend. The other soldiers took the other girls in a different direction,” said the girl.

“They raped both of us on the street. … Three of them raped me and three of them raped my friend. … They raped us all night.”

Tabit Village Maps -HRW

Other accounts were similar, soldiers pretending to search for a missing fellow soldier gained entry to homes and raped the women. In many of the accounts, multiple soldiers were involved in the assault and rape of the women. Some were stopped as they walked along the road. One of the girls said that she saw two of her rapists walking around the market in Tabit the day after she was attacked.

The documented cases are harrowing and show the deliberate nature of the attacks. For one mother, she was raped by a group of soldiers after they broke into her home. They then proceeded to rape each of her three daughters, two of which were younger than eleven years old. Her story shows just how organized the attacks were.

“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. One helped beat and the other raped. Then they would go to the next girl. Two were holding the girl and one would rape,” she said.

The soldiers carried out other attacks, such as beating men and “widespread looting.” More than 100 men were detained by the soldiers at one point. They were taken outside of town, beaten and intimated. Witnesses to the attacks say that some of the soldiers were a part of the Sudanese Armed Forces stationed at a base near town. Other soldiers reportedly came from the capital city of Khartoum and North Darfur.

Human Rights Watch says the reason for the attacks are unclear. The stories of a missing soldier may have been a guise to enter homes. The group interviewed one defected soldier. He said the attacks were retaliatory for the community’s support of rebels. Regardless of the reason, the evidence shows the attacks were ruthless and excessive. Worse yet, there is little reason to believe that the Sudanese government will do anything to punish the perpetrators or prevent future attacks.

The United Nations should also conduct its own investigation into the attacks, says Human Rights Watch. And it should work with the African Union to further uncover what happened and help hold the soldiers to account. They would also like to see the International Criminal Court investigate the incident. It may link to the pending crimes against humanity charges against five people in Sudan, including its President Omar al-Bashir.

“Sudan has done everything possible to cover up the horrific crimes committed by its soldiers in Tabit, but the survivors have fearlessly chosen to speak out,” Bekele said. “The U.N. Security Council and the [African Union] should demand that Sudan stop these attacks, urgently act to protect Tabit’s residents, and conduct a credible investigation.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.