Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation
Author: Joseph D’Urso
LONDON, Sept 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sudanese government forces have carried out systematic attacks on towns and villages in the western region of Darfur in the past year and a half, raping, torturing and killing civilians, a rights group said on Wednesday.
The violence may constitute « crimes against humanity », according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the New York-based rights group which carried out the research.
The government in Khartoum strongly denied the HRW report.
The atrocities were carried out by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which the government created in 2013 to fight rebel factions, HRW said, adding that one notably violent attack took place in January 2015 in the town of Golo.
Golo is in the mountainous Jebel Marra region, where the U.N. humanitarian affairs office has said 130,000 people have been displaced this year.
HRW said many women were gang raped in the Golo attack, often in front of community members who were forced to watch, and some who resisted were killed. Golo rape survivors have had no access to medical or psychosocial services, it said.
« Some [of the women] were raped in the hospital … I saw seven raped with my own eyes, » said Mariam, 42, one of 21 people interviewed in Golo.
NO REBEL PRESENCE
« This report is absolutely not correct, Darfur is now secure, » said Ahmed Balala, a government spokesman. « This report is part of a political campaign against the government of Sudan. »
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination.
The mass killings of a decade ago have eased, but the insurgency continues, and Khartoum has been escalating attacks against populations considered sympathetic to the rebels.
But HRW said nearly all the abuses of the past 18 months were committed by government forces in villages and towns that had no rebel presence at the time.
The rapes and torture took place « in scores of villages in an organized, deliberate, and systematic way, » Daniel Bekele, HRW Africa director, said in a statement.
Defectors from the army were also interviewed as part of the research. Four said commanding officers had ordered their units to carry out atrocities against civilians.
« The commander told us that these are rebels or rebel supporters, and the woman are their harem. ‘You go there and you rape them and kill them,' » said one.
Bekele of HRW blamed international organisations for failing to protect civilians.
« The (United Nations) Security Council and the African Union have been sitting on their hands while Sudanese government forces have carried out two campaigns targeting Darfur’s civilians, » Bekele said.
« The Sudanese government should immediately disarm and disband the Rapid Support Forces and investigate and prosecute commanders and officials responsible for these terrible crimes. »
(Reporting By Joseph D’Urso, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)