Unamid urged to open base in Tabit after mass rape

The peacekeeping Unamid should open an operating base in the North Darfur town where a mass rape of more than 200 women occurred last year, HRW urges today.

The UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (Unamid) today was urged by the organisation Human Rights Watch to open an operating base in Tabit, and more actively patrol the area in order to protect civilians, after a mass rape was committed in the town.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded in its report 'Mass Rape in North Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabit' that Sudanese authorities have repeatedly denied Unamid and other investigators access to Tabit in the wake of the mass rape.

Unamid's presence in Darfur includes 16,000 peacekeepers.

“The deliberate attack on Tabit and the mass rape of the town’s women and girls is a new low in the catalog of atrocities in Darfur,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW.  “Sudan has done everything possible to cover up the horrific crimes committed by its soldiers in Tabit, but the survivors have fearlessly chosen to speak out,” Bekele said.
He urged the UN and AU to do more to protect civilians in Tabit: “The UN Security Council and the AU should demand that Sudan stop these attacks, urgently act to protect Tabit’s residents, and conduct a credible investigation.”

Last November the peacekeeping mission in Darfur visited Tabit briefly and afterwards announced that it found “no evidence to support the allegations” that over 200 women and girls were raped in the town. Human rights researchers say this is because Unamid's investigation team was accompanied by government minders, some of whom were even seen videotaping interviews with town residents during the team's visit.

Since then, Unamid’s numerous attempts to obtain permission to return to Tabit for follow-up investigations have been rejected by the government

Human Rights Watch says that the November press statement by the UN-AU peacekeeping mission, coupled with government denials, "contributed to the UN Security Council’s failure to ensure a strong international response to the incident, with Russia adopting the position that no crimes occurred.”

The human rights report on Tabit recommends that the Unamid force in Darfur "continue to demand access to Tabit in order to establish a permanent presence in the town, such as an operating base, and implement proactive patrols in and around the town to protect civilians."

According to the human rights organisation, the mass rape in Tabit "underscores the reality that the current Unamid force has been hamstrung in its performance and in the implementation of its core mandate.”

Meanwhile, the Sudanese government has expelled two top UN officials in Sudan and ordered Unamid to prepare an ‘exit strategy’. Displaced communities fear that after the peacekeepers' departure, more violence will occur, in a report by Dabanga Sudan.

HRW has also urged UN Security Council to impose travel bans and asset freezes on individuals responsible for the attacks on Tabit, and for the continued obstruction of Unamid peacekeepers and UN investigators.

Read more articles about the Tabit mass rape case by Dabanga Sudan here