The United Nations says sexual violence against women and girls in Sudan's troubled Darfur region has soared in recent months, along with an overall deterioration of security.
A coalition of U.N. agencies says the alarming increase in violent attacks against women and children in Darfur has risen ever since the signing of a peace accord between the Khartoum government and one rebel group earlier this year.
Gordon Weiss, a spokesman for the U.N. Children's Fund, says it is clear the security situation is getting much worse for the civilian population in Darfur.
"If you put this in context, which is a general deterioration of the security situation since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement some months ago, and there has been a great deterioration in the security situation, and there has been a consequent upsurge in violence across the board," he said. "And, as part of that, we received an increase in reports of sexual violence."
He says the attacks often occur, as they have throughout the three-year-long war, when women leave camps for internally displaced persons to collect water and firewood for cooking or selling. He also says patrols by African Union forces in and around the camps, some of which are home to tens-of-thousands of people, have been greatly reduced.
A.U. forces have come under attack and have been stretched far beyond their capacity to protect civilians.
Weiss and other U.N. officials say it is impossible to know exactly which armed groups are behind the rapes and sexual assaults. He says that is because since the accord was signed, rebel and proxy government forces split, and began fighting one another.
"We have now the rebel group, who did sign the agreement, fighting with two of the groups who did not. We have splintered groups within those groups," he said. "And, the situation in general has become a lot more conflicted, a lot more unpredictable and a lot more difficult for humanitarian agencies to operate in," continued Weiss. "Our access has really been reduced since the signing of the agreement. And provisions in the agreement, which specifically prescribed security measures for the camps have never been put in place."
U.N. agencies say women and children in Darfur who are victimized often do not have a reliable legal system to turn to when they report being raped.
"Given the complexity of the situation, and the violence of the situation, I think, all these systems simply are not sufficient to deal with the magnitude of the problem," noted Pamela Delargy, the chief of humanitarian response at the U.N. Population Fund. "And, despite the good will of many local authorities in Sudan, the overall judicial and legal system is not very functional in Darfur right now. "
The U.N. agencies say the African Union must resume regular patrols in and outside the camps. They are calling for the warring parties to sign on to the peace deal, and to ensure that humanitarian groups providing support to victimized women and children are allowed to do so in a secure environment.