Darfur: UN accuses Sudanese military, allied militias of possible war crimes
The Sudanese military and allied armed groups abducted women and girls and kept many as sex slaves for a month after an attack on villages in Darfur near the end of last year, the United Nations human rights office reported today, saying the abuses may constitute war crimes before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and naming individuals who could be held responsible.
The Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Louise Arbour called on the Sudanese Government to set up an independent investigation into the events that followed the attack on Deribat and eight other villages in the East Jebel Marra region of South Darfur state in late December 2006.
In a report released today, issued with the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) as a follow-up to an April report on the same events, OHCHR recommended, among others, that anyone suspected of being responsible for the abductions, rapes or sex slavery “should be brought to justice in trials that meet international standards of fairness.”
Any member of the Sudanese armed forces suspected of committing or ordering the abuses should be suspended immediately pending an inquiry, the report stated, adding that the Government should also ensure full reparations – including compensation – for the victims and their families.
Khartoum “must protect women and children from sexual and gender-based violence,” according to a statement accompanying the report, which was based partly on testimony given by victims and eyewitnesses during a field trip by UNMIS human rights officers.
It said the Government was responsible for the actions of its armed forces and for other informal allied groups or militias that were involved, particularly the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) and the Sudan Liberation Army/Abu Gasim faction.
More than 200,000 people have been killed and over 2 million others forced to flee their homes since 2003 because of fighting between rebel groups, Government forces and allied militias. Last month the Security Council approved the creation of a hybrid UN-African Union force (to be known as UNAMID) to quell the violence.
The OHCHR report noted that after UN officials presented their initial conclusions to local authorities in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, no investigations were carried out, although authorities indicated they have sent the allegations to the Sudanese military.
Witnesses testified that several hundred armed men on horseback and camelback attacked Deribat on the morning of 26 December, joined by an aircraft and at least three vehicles. The attackers then rounded up many women and children from the town and took them to a nearby stream, where they camped and began to systematically rape the women and girls, often in front of the other captives.
One witness told UN investigators that the women were badly beaten if they did not comply. The abducted women and children were held for about a month, and some of the women became pregnant or experienced serious physical injuries as a result of the rapes in addition to the widespread psychological trauma suffered by victims. No formal medical treatment and little food were provided, and the women were forced to cook and serve food for their abductors.
UNMIS human rights officials said the pattern of attacks in the Jebel Marra region suggested that the victims in Deribat were targeted because the local Fur community was perceived as being sympathizers of rebel groups that have not signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) with the Government.
The officials said information gathered indicated “that the following persons may share criminal responsibility” for leading or authorizing the attack on Deribat and the subsequent rapes and abductions: Ali Mohammed Hussein, a former sergeant in the Sudanese armed forces and now a PDF commander; Yousif Ali Yousif, a PDF commander in the Malam area; and Hamid Mohammed Hamdan, a militia commander with the allied Mahamid tribe.
The report stressed that the information obtained in the testimony indicated a series of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and possibly war crimes as well.
“If rape, sexual slavery or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against civilians… [they] can constitute a crime against humanity, and potentially fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”
In February, the ICC’s chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo named a Sudanese Government minister and a militia commander as the first suspects he wants tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.