Soldiers from the Sudanese army systematically raped more than 200 women and girls in an attack in the besieged region of Darfur last year, the monitoring group Human Rights Watch reported Wednesday.
Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations and the African Union to act quickly to protect civilians from further attacks. Daniel Bekele, the group’s Africa director, described it as a “new low in the catalog of atrocities in Darfur.”
The rapes took place over 36 hours on Oct. 30 and 31, the rights group said. It described three distinct military operations in which soldiers, moving house to house, stole property, beat people and raped the women and girls in their homes.
Human Rights Watch said that it had spoken to more than 50 people who live or used to live in Tabit, where the attack is said to have taken place, in addition to local human rights monitors, government officials and U.N. and African Union staff.
Two army defectors told Human Rights Watch that they were ordered to rape women, the group said, and a woman in her 40s described assaults on her and her three daughters, two of whom were under 11 years old.
“They raped my three daughters and me,” Human Rights Watch quoted the woman as saying. “Some of them were holding the girl down while another one was raping her. They did it one by one.”
Tabit is mostly populated by ethnic Fur. Outside groups have estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed since 2003, when the government of Sudan cracked down on an armed rebellion.
Human Rights Watch encouraged the U.N. and African Union to press Sudan to allow peacekeepers free access to Tabit and to set up their own investigative teams with expertise in sexual violence.
In an interview with Time magazine last week, Ali Ahmed Karti, the Sudanese foreign minister, denied reports of a mass rape by the armed forces in Tabit.
“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,” he said. “Not only the police is there, but the army is there, and it will protect you against anyone who will infringe your security.”