- Human Rights Watch says fighters responsible for rape, torture
- Group's report cites over 200 witnesses, including defectors
Sudanese special forces went on two killing sprees in the country’s western Darfur region over the past year and raped civilians in dozens of villages, according to Human Rights Watch.
Members of the Rapid Support Forces also displaced entire communities and destroyed food stores, wells and other infrastructure vital for survival in Darfur’s harsh environment, the New York-based rights group said Wednesday in a report, citing testimonies from almost 200 witnesses and victims of the attacks and military defectors. Sudan’s security services, which control the forces, said the accusations were false.
The RSF were deployed to Darfur last year and received ground and air support from Sudan’s army, Human Rights Watch said. The killing, rape and torture of civilians were done in "an organized, deliberate, and systematic way,” Daniel Bekele, the rights group’s Africa director, said in a statement.
Insurgents took up arms in Darfur in 2003, accusing President Umar al-Bashir’s government of neglecting the region. The authorities sent in troops and organized militias to assault rebel villages. The conflict has led to the deaths of as many as 300,000 people, mainly due to illness and starvation, with about 2.5 million people currently displaced, according to United Nations estimates.
Al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 and 2010 on charges of war crimes and genocide for his alleged role in atrocities in Darfur. Fighting between rebels and government forces in the region, as well as intercommunal violence spurred by a struggle for resources, has flared since the start of 2014. The UN says about 211,000 people fled their homes in the first seven months of the year.
In one case, the RSF allegedly killed people, looted and raped "scores" of women in the local hospital in a raid on Golo, a town in northern Darfur, in January, the rights group said, citing interviews with 20 witnesses.
Mohamed Tabeidy, head of media at Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service, said the allegations were "based on claims, probably made by rebels themselves."
The RSF are "highly trained, carrying out their military tasks in compliance with the armed forces’ plans and the law," he said by phone from Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. The group has committed "very few violations" in Darfur or other regions of Sudan, while offenders have faced military trials and, in some cases, been dismissed, he said.