A Sudanese government official has accused the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) of trying to tarnish Sudan’s image after the group accused the army of raping more than 200 women and girls last October in the Darfur town of Tabit.
A report released Wednesday called the rape a crime against humanity.
Information Minister Ahmed Bilal said the rights report was released as the government of President Omar al-Bashir is trying to improve relations with the West and launch a national dialogue on the future of the country.
Bilal said the report should not be believed because interviews with alleged victims were conducted by phone without seeing them, and added that Sudanese culture forbids the rape of women.
“There is now a serious talk with the American administration and there might be some sort of improvement in relations. There is [a] Sudan national dialogue going on. Then they (HRW) came out with such allegations. Should anybody believe somebody that talks on the phone with 60 girls? He didn’t see them. He didn’t recognize their identification and take this seriously as a document against the government of Sudan,” he said
Bilal said his government can make available as many as 5,000 women from Tabit to disprove the report.
“Who can believe this? A respectable organization can go in such a way just to deny what has been happening in Sudan,” he said.
Bilal extended an invitation to the group to visit Sudan and have access to all women in Tabit.
The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur, UNAMID, had said it was initially restricted from entering Tabit, but was allowed brief access on November 9.
But the U.N. envoy on sexual violence, Zainab Bengura, said later that the heavy military presence during the UN visit raised concerns about a wall of silence.
Bilal said UNAMID has consistently asked the Sudanese army to protect its troops whenever they are outside the city.
“They (the UN) went there. They made their investigation and found no proof. Now they are saying it was because of the presence of thousands of troops. I tell you that the UNAMID themselves, whenever they want to go outside the city, they need protection from the government. They asked the army to protect them and to accompany them,” Bilal said.
He said a report based on telephone interviews would hurt Human Rights Watch’s credibility.
“Our morals as Sudanese are against this (rape). Our traditions are against this. We had a war between us and the south for more than 15 years. Never, never [was it] reported that our soldiers committed rape,” Bilal said.
Bilal said Sudan is a peaceful country that is trying to improve relations with the United States and the West. But, he said the Tabit report shows Human Rights Watch is against Sudan’s efforts to bring about peace and understanding.
Human Rights Watch said it conducted a two-month investigation during which it documented 27 incidents of rape and obtained credible information on an additional 194 cases from the Tabit attacks.
The rights organization called on the UN human rights office to set up an independent team to investigate the mass rape.