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Kenyans Protest Rape, Sexual Violence in Darfur


Hundreds of Kenyans marched in the streets of Nairobi, calling for the end of rapes and other abuses being committed against girls and women in Darfur. The march is one of several events planned worldwide through Sunday to call for an end to violence in the war-torn region of western Sudan. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Kenyan women, and a small number of men and Sudanese women donned red T-shirts with the inscription "Stop Rape in Darfur." They also carried banners denouncing rape in the volatile region, calling it a war crime.

The program manager of the African Women's Development and Communication Network, Therese Niyondiko, explains to VOA the purpose of the march, which ended at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"We are asking the African governments or international community, especially Kenya, to do whatever under their power to influence the government of Sudan to protect civilians in Darfur, and especially Darfurian women who are suffering from sexual violence and rape," she said.

Groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have extensively documented the problem of rape allegedly perpetrated mostly by Sudanese security forces and a militia called janjaweed, which is said to be supported by the Sudanese government.

The groups note with alarm that rapes and other sexual violence committed against tens of thousands of Darfurian women since the conflict flared up in 2003 is part of a plan of ethnic cleansing of the region by the government.

In one camp near the South Darfur town of Nyala, the International Rescue Committee recorded more than 200 sexual assaults among residents during five weeks in July and August of this year.

Doctors Without Borders estimates 82 percent of rapes occur when women and girls leave their camps to search for firewood.

Little is being done to help the traumatized girls and women. A Human Rights Watch report released last year notes that at the beginning of last year, only one in six agencies providing health care services in refugee camps in neighboring Chad made available comprehensive treatment of sexually-transmitted diseases, emergency contraception, and post-exposure HIV/AIDS drugs.

Human Rights Watch reports that Sudanese authorities often harass and detain girls and women made pregnant through rape, with some even being charged with fornication if they are unable to pay a fine.

Some of the women who attended the march are rape survivors themselves, and say they came to support Darfurian women who are in a similar situation.

Mercy, not her real name, was raped in 2001 when she was 14-years-old. She says the counseling and other treatment she received was vital to her recovery, and says she is upset that women in Darfur who have experienced what she has do not have anywhere to go to get help.

She recalls what happened after her rape, a situation many women in Darfur go through.

"It was so bad. It was hell, and I was thinking of committing suicide," she said. "Nobody wanted to talk to us. Even the security people were against me. At one point, I was beaten, I [was] almost stabbed to death."

The conflict in Darfur erupted three years ago when rebel groups in the area rose up against the government, saying that the area was being economically and politically marginalized.

Experts estimate that between 300,000 and 400,000 people have been killed and another 2.5 million driven from their homes by the conflict, which the United States has called a genocide.