Sudanese militias accused of using rape as a weapon

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The Independent Online

Women in Sudan are being systematically raped by Arab militiamen who use sexual abuse to torture and humiliate their victims. The government says that such attacks are inevitable during war.

Women in Sudan are being systematically raped by Arab militiamen who use sexual abuse to torture and humiliate their victims. The government says that such attacks are inevitable during war.

The human rights group Amnesty International said yesterday that it had interviewed hundreds of women raped in their villages or abducted and used as sex slaves.

The militia, known as the Janjaweed, rape, loot, torture and kill families as part of their strategy to ethnically cleanse vast areas of Darfur in western Sudan. Girls as young as eight have been taken as sex slaves, and had arms and legs broken to stop them escaping.

"The rapes are not mistakes made by undisciplined militias," said Pollyanna Truscott, the Darfur crisis co-ordinator for Amnesty International. "It is a systematic policy designed to humiliate a group of people and tear apart their social fabric."

One refugee from western Darfur told them: "I was sleeping when the attack on Disa started. I was taken away by the attackers: they were all in uniform. They took dozens of other girls and made us walk for three hours. During the day we were beaten and they were telling us, 'You, the black women, we will exterminate you; you have no god'. At night we were raped several times."

Amnesty International said Sudanese armed forces have also helped in these attacks. Yesterday, a court in Darfur's capital Nyala sentenced 10 Arab militiamen to amputation and six years in jail in the first conviction of Janjaweed fighters for looting and killing. Other Janjaweed militiamen accused of burning Holouf village north of Nyala in the remote region are also to be tried.

The Sudanese government dismissed the rapes as an inevitable part of war, and denied ethnic cleansing. Officials said the Amnesty report was an attempt to defame the government and drive a wedge between ethnic groups. But Kenneth Roth, speaking for Human Rights Watch at the UN headquarters in New York, said: "The rapes are often accompanied by dehumanising epithets, stressing the ethnic nature of the joint government-Janjaweed campaign. The rapists use the terms 'slaves' and 'black slaves' to refer to the women, who are mostly from the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups."

The rape victims often face being rejected by their communities. One women, five months pregnant when she was abducted from Silaya, near Kulbus, said: "Five to six men would rape us, one after the other for hours during six days, every night. My husband could not forgive me; he disowned me."

There is also a Sudanese belief that women cannot get pregnant if they do not agree to sex. One woman in the Goz Amer refugee camp in Chad, said: "If [rape victims] become pregnant, they must escape; they cannot stay in their family or in their community. It is not normal for her to be pregnant from being raped."

Amnesty International fears the rapes are prompting families to get their daughters married very young, to give them the protection of a husband. The report warned: "Early marriages in the context of refugee camps may be arranged hastily and may place girls at risk of abusive spouses."

The conflict between the Arab militias, backed by the Sudanese government, and the African rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement has so far killed at least 30,000 people, forcing more than one million to flee western Sudan. Peace talks between the two sides broke down on Saturday.

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