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(Nairobi) – Sudanese military forces and militia have used rape as a weapon of war in Darfur and other conflicts, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016. Patterns of rape across Darfur in 2014 and 2015 show that various Sudanese units have deliberately committed rape and other sexual violence against large numbers of women in many attacks at various locations and times. No one is known to have been held accountable.

World Report 2016. Cover: Asylum seekers and migrants descend from a fishing vessel used to transport them from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos, October 11, 2015. © 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

“Sudan’s forces have frequently raped and terrorized civilians with impunity,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The pattern, scale, and frequency of rape suggests that Sudan’s security forces have adopted this sickeningly cruel practice as a weapon of war.”

In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

Sexual violence emerged as a major trend in Sudan in the last 18 months. In Darfur, the Rapid Support Forces, a military unit under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), used sexual violence in Jebel Mara and other areas throughout 2015.

In January, government attacks in the town of Golo, in Jebel Marra, included killing, beating, and raping scores of women in Golo’s hospital. The soldiers “raped some women and they made the men carry stones from place to place as punishment,” said Mariam (pseudonym), 42. “I saw seven raped with my own eyes.” Many of the women were gang raped, often in front of community members, who were forced to watch, and some who resisted were killed.

The African Union/United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) has come under pressure from Sudan to reduce its troop levels. Sudan shut down the mission’s liaison office in the capital, Khartoum, in late 2014, expelled UN staff, and denied the renewal of visas for other staff.

The need for UNAMID to increase its investigations and public reporting on abuses is greater than ever, Human Rights Watch said. Even when Sudan blocks access, as it frequently does, the mission staff should gather information about alleged abuses.

Human Rights Watch documented that in October 2014, government forces carried out mass rapes of more than 200 women and girls in the town of Tabit, North Darfur. The government blocked the AU/UN peacekeeping mission from independently investigating the crimes and has prevented aid groups and others from gaining access to the town. Media reports indicate government forces have continued to use sexual violence against residents in Tabit and elsewhere, while the government has denied the mass rapes and has not held anyone responsible to account.

The prevalence of sexual violence reflects wider discrimination against women and girls across Sudan. The security forces have targeted women in crackdowns on protesters and for political arrests. And under the public order laws, women and girls can be prosecuted for “crimes” such as wearing trousers or exposing their hair and flogged, in violation of African and international prohibitions on torture and other ill-treatment. The crime of adultery, punishable by flogging, fines, and death by stoning, is also used discriminatorily against women. Women human rights defenders have also been targeted for harassment, arrest, and abuse by the authorities.

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