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Rights Group Accuses Sudanese Forces of Mass Rape in Darfur

A government convoy passes a woman on a donkey in Tabit in North Darfur on Nov. 20, 2014. Human Rights Watch says Sudanese forces raped scores of women in the village last year. (AP/Abd Raouf)

A government convoy passes a woman on a donkey in Tabit in North Darfur on Nov. 20, 2014. Human Rights Watch says Sudanese forces raped scores of women in the village last year. (AP/Abd Raouf)

Sudanese armed forces raped more than 200 women and girls in the north Darfur town of Tabit last year, in what could be considered crimes against humanity, said Human Rights Watch in a report released Wednesday.

The 48-page report claims Sudanese armed forces went house to house, looted property, arrested men, beat residents, and raped women and girls in a 36-hour spree of violence that began on Oct. 30 last year.

The mass rapes could be considered crimes against humanity, which would mean their perpetrators could be tried in international courts, if they are found to be part of a widespread or systematic attack on the civilian population, Human Rights Watch said.

'We are going to show you hell'

The report makes for harrowing reading. A woman in her 40s describes how she and her three daughters, two of whom were under the age of 11, were beaten and gang raped by soldiers. She said the men who burst into their home said to the women and girls, "We are going to show you true hell.”

“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,” she said.

Another woman said that soldiers beat her and dragged her out of her house. When she returned, she found that they had raped three of her daughters, all under 15. The soldiers “beat the young children and they raped my older daughters.… They put clothes in [my daughters’] mouths so that you could not hear the screaming,” she said.

The rights group documented 27 incidents of rape, and said its investigators obtained credible information about an additional 194 cases. Two army defectors told Human Rights Watch that their superior officers had ordered them to “rape women” in Tabit.

Since the allegations began to surface in November, the government of Sudan has denied that its forces were involved or that the attacks even happened.

U.N. investigators were initially denied access to the town. When they finally were allowed in, they were shadowed by Sudanese soldiers. The U.N. report released last year said the investigators had been unable to find conclusive evidence that mass rape had been committed.

Human Rights Watch investigators interviewed more than 50 current and former residents of Tabit by phone. They also questioned local human rights monitors, government officials and staff of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Human Rights Watch says they were able to cross-reference and verify many of the allegations.

Sudan government denial

Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal continued to deny the accusations. He described Tabit as a haven that attracts people.

"Nothing, nothing, nothing (happened) there," he told South Sudan in Focus. "And I tell you that after the allegations... more than 2,000 people came to Tabit and they have been sheltered there because there is some sort of development, there’s good water services and health services and schools.”

Human Rights Watch has called on the U.N. Security Council to pressure the government of Sudan to allow on-the-ground investigations into the allegations.

“The deliberate attack on Tabit and the mass rape of the town’s women and girls is a new low in the catalog of atrocities in Darfur,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Sudanese government should stop the denials and immediately give peacekeepers and international investigators access to Tabit.”

Not isolated incident

The attacks on Tabit were not isolated incidents, Human Rights Watch said. The government of Sudan has set up a force, called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), that led a spate of attacks on villages in 2014.

Last month, the U.N. Panel of Experts on Sudan reported that over 3,000 villages were burned in Darfur in 2014, predominantly in government-led attacks. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that almost half-a-million people were displaced by attacks in Sudan in 2014, and 70,000 in the first three weeks of 2015.

Sexual violence, often perpetrated by the RSF, has been a prominent feature of those attacks, Human Rights Watch said.