Darfur Women Describe Gang-Rape Horror
Monday, May 28, 2007; 2:24 AM
KALMA, Sudan -- The seven women pooled money to rent a donkey and cart, then ventured out of the refugee camp to gather firewood, hoping to sell it for cash to feed their families. Instead, they say, in a wooded area just a few hours walk away, they were gang-raped, beaten and robbed.
Naked and devastated, they fled back to Kalma.
"All the time it lasted, I kept thinking: They're killing my baby, they're killing my baby," wailed Aisha, who was seven months pregnant at the time.
The women have no doubt who attacked them. They say the men's camels and their uniforms marked them as janjaweed _ the Arab militiamen accused of terrorizing the mostly black African villagers of Sudan's Darfur region.
Their story, told to an Associated Press reporter and confirmed by other women and aid workers in the camp, provides a glimpse into the hell that Darfur has become as the Arab-dominated government battles a rebellion stoked by a history of discrimination and neglect.
Now in its fourth year, the conflict has become the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and rape is its regular byproduct, U.N. and other human rights activists say.
Sudan's government denies arming and unleashing the janjaweed, and bristles at the charges of rape, saying its conservative Islamic society would never tolerate it.
It has agreed to let in 3,000 U.N. peacekeepers, but not the 22,000 mandated by the U.N. Security Council. It claims the force would be a spearhead for anti-Arab powers bent on plundering Sudan's oil.
Meanwhile, more than 200,000 civilians have died and 2.5 million are homeless out of Darfur's population of 6 million, the U.N. says, and a February report by the International Criminal Court alleges "mass rape of civilians who were known not to be participants in any armed conflict."
Kalma is a microcosm of the misery _ a sprawling camp of mud huts and scrap-plastic tents where 100,000 people have taken refuge. It is so full of guns that overwhelmed African Union peacekeepers long ago fled, unable to protect it. It is so crowded that the government has tried to limit newcomers _ forbidding the building of new latrines, so a stench pervades the air.
Anyone venturing outside must reckon with the janjaweed, as Aisha and her friends found out.
In Sudan, as in many Islamic countries, society views a sexual assault as a dishonor upon the woman's entire family. "Victims can face terrible ostracism," says Maha Muna, the U.N. coordinator on this issue in Sudan.