Sudanese army troops raped at least 221 women and girls in a Darfur village in a series of organized, house-to-house attacks last year, Human Rights Watch says in a report today. The organization's Africa director called it "a new low in the catalog of atrocities in Darfur." Reports of a mass rape in Tabit in late October quickly surfaced. A joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission at first said it found no evidence, but the UN special rep on sexual violence in conflict said a heavy Sudanese military presence during its visit likely affected its findings. The Security Council demanded that Sudan allow a full investigation. Instead, President Omar al-Bashir ordered the UN mission's human rights office to close and has refused to allow the peacekeeping mission to visit the village again. Sudan's government says its investigation found not "a single case of rape."
But the new report, based on more than 130 telephone interviews with survivors, witnesses, and army defectors, says girls as young as 10 were raped by Sudanese forces, and that some women and girls were assaulted multiple times and in front of their families. HRW "documented 27 separate incidents of rape and obtained credible information about an additional 194 cases." Witnesses and survivors said army forces ordered dozens of men to the outskirts of the village while soldiers entered homes and accused residents of helping rebel groups, then raped the women and girls. The report found no rebel presence in the village. HRW says military personnel involved in the rapes are responsible for war crimes; it is demanding that Sudan allow immediate access to the village, that the UN Security Council and the peacekeeping force take "concrete steps" to protect civilians in Darfur, and that the International Criminal Court investigate. (Read more Darfur stories.)