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Human Rights Watch Documents Mass Rapes In Darfur

Sudanese army forces raped some 221 women and girls during a 36-hour period in Darfur last October, a new report from Human Rights Watch found.

"The deliberate attack on Tabit and the mass rape of the town's women and girls is a new low in the catalog of atrocities in Darfur," Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a press release. "The Sudanese government should stop the denials and immediately give peacekeepers and international investigators access to Tabit."

Human Rights Watch first heard of the mass rapes in a radio report. The organization spoke to residents of Tabit over the phone, because the Sudanese government limited physical access to the town.

Still, the stories that emerged are horrific. Here's a bit from Human Rights Watch:

"A woman in her 40s described the attack on her and her three daughters, two of whom were under the age of 11. 'Immediately after they entered the room they said: "You killed our man. We are going to show you true hell,"' she said. 'Then they started beating us. They raped my three daughters and me. Some of them were holding the girl down while another one was raping her. They did it one by one.'

"Another woman said that soldiers beat her severely and dragged her out of her house. When she returned, she found that they had raped three of her daughters, all under 15. The soldiers 'beat the young children and they raped my older daughters.... They put clothes in [my daughters'] mouths so that you could not hear the screaming,' she said."

As NBC News explains, Darfur — and Tabit specifically — has been the site of a bloody crackdown since 2003. In the ethnic strife, some estimates find that the Sudanese government, along with the Janjaweed militias, killed tens of thousands of mostly Fur people.

Time reports that earlier this month Sudan's foreign minister Ali Ahmed Karti denied the mass rapes happened.

The magazine reports:

"TIME asked him about reports that his government's armed forces are primarily targeting civilians and not combatants. Any claims of rape in Tabit, he claimed, are lies invented to keep people in refugee camps, where NGOs can make money. Tabit has been rebuilt, he said, with modern schools, health care and police centers.

"'Nobody can expect a village like Tabit which had been a home for some hundreds of the soldiers there, they have their homes there, they have their wives there, and they are living in a camp near that place, no one will expect those soldiers will come and rape by hundreds in that village,' Karti said. 'Not only the police is there, but the army is there, and it will protect you against anyone who will infringe your security.'"

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.