UN, human rights group accuse Sudan’s paramilitary of sexual violence

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A leading rights group and UN experts accused Sudan’s powerful paramilitary on Thursday of sexual violence and attacks on women in the restive western Darfur region as the African country entered its fifth month of conflict.

Sudan plunged into chaos in mid-April, when months of simmering tensions between the military and its rival, the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, exploded into open fighting.

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Human Rights Watch said the paramilitary group apparently targeted women and girls in the western Darfur region of non-Arab ethnicity, as well as activists recording human rights abuses during the conflict.

The New York-based watchdog said it had documented 78 victims of rape between April 24 and June 26.

UN officials warned in June that the fighting in Darfur has taken an ethnic dimension, with the RSF and allied militias targeting African communities.

Darfur was the scene of genocidal war in the early 2000s, when state-backed Arab militias known as the Janjaweed were accused of widespread killings, rapes and other atrocities. The Janjaweed later evolved into the RSF.

Several victims, who had fled Darfur for neighboring Chad, told HRW they were targeted because they were from the African Massalit community or because they were activists reporting on the conflict. At least one victim said she was pregnant after being raped by a paramilitary member.

In the report, the rights group stated it spoke with nine women and one girl who said they had all been victims of rape, four by multiple men. HRW also spoke with four women who witnessed sexual assaults as well as five service providers, including medical workers, who assisted victims in the West Darfur capital of Geneina.

Rapes and sexual violence reported during the conflict so far by activists and rights groups - including HRW and Amnesty International - have been attributed to the RSF and their allied militias.

Earlier this month, Amnesty accused the paramilitary of abducting 24 women and girls - some as young as 12 - and holding them for days in conditions amounting to “sexual slavery” during which “they were raped by several RSF members.”

“The Rapid Support Forces and allied militias appear responsible for a staggering number of rapes and other war crimes during their attack on El Geneina,” Belkis Wille, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch, said in the report.

Several women who spoke to HRW also said they did not receive emergency post-rape care because it was not available or because they did not report the sexual assault they suffered to humanitarian staff in neighboring Chad.

HRW said the paramilitaries’ acts of sexual violence could amount to crimes against humanity. It called on the UN human rights council to launch an investigation and initiate “a way to preserve evidence of the abuses.”

Also Thursday, a group of 30 independent UN experts expressed alarm at reports “of widespread use of rape and other forms of sexual violence” by the Sudanese paramilitary.

“Sudanese women and girls in urban centers as well as in Darfur have been particularly vulnerable to violence,” they said in a brief statement. The group called on the RSF to “demonstrate its commitment to upholding humanitarian and human rights obligations.”

The RSF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, told the UN Security Council last week they were investigating alleged new war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

At least 4,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the conflict, the UN human rights office said. Activists and doctors on the ground say the death toll is likely far higher.

Rights groups and UN officials have criticized the military for bombing residential areas with artillery fire and airstrikes. Amnesty said both sides have committed extensive war crimes in the ongoing conflict.

According to the latest UN statistics, the conflict has displaced over 4.3 million people. More than 900,000 of the displaced have fled to neighboring countries.

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