UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A government militia in Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region has been guilty of killings and mass rapes of civilians over the past year and a half in two military campaigns, Human Rights Watch said in a new report published on Wednesday.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination. The mass killings of a decade ago have eased, but the insurgency continues and Khartoum has sharply escalated attacks on rebel groups over the past year.
HRW pointed the finger at Arab fighters from a government militia that Western officials and activists say includes many former members of the feared “Janjaweed” brigades called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
“The RSF has killed, raped and tortured civilians in scores of villages in an organized, deliberate, and systematic way,” said Daniel Bekele, HRW’s Africa director. He said the government should disband the RSF and prosecute guilty commanders and officials.
The findings were based on interviews with 212 victims and witnesses. The atrocities began in February 2014 and were part of two government military operations against rebels called Decisive Summer and Decisive Summer II.
A United Nations-African Union joint peacekeeping mission known as UNAMID has long faced accusations of failing to do enough to protect civilians against a government that has been accused of having a policy of genocide in Darfur, a remote and barren region of Western Sudan.
Bekele said both the U.N. and AU have been “sitting on their hands” while the RSF has been on a rampage. He called on UNAMID to do more to protect civilians.
Speaking to reporters after the report’s launch, HRW’s Philippe Bolopion said the U.N. human rights office should investigate RSF since UNAMID has proven incapable of doing so.
A U.N. peacekeeping official said the HRW report documented the “devastating effect” of the Decisive Summer operations. He said UNAMID continues to protect displaced people though it faces access restrictions across Darfur.
HRW cited the example of January 2015 attacks on Golo, a town in Jebel Marra. Some 21 people from Golo and nearby villages interviewed said they witnessed killings, rapes, beatings and looting. HRW said scores of women at Golo’s hospital were raped.
Late last year Khartoum ordered UNAMID out of Sudan after it began investigating an alleged mass rape by Sudanese soldiers in Darfur. The government denies any wrongdoing by either its army or the RSF.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Andrew Hay and Richard Chang