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11/14/04 - PLIGHT OF WOMEN IN DARFUR - 2004-11-15

In Darfur, the brutal attacks on African Sudanese civilians by Sudanese-government-supported Arab militias have especially affected women. In response to rebel attacks on government installations, the government-backed militias, called the Janjaweed, have attacked and destroyed hundreds of villages. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the attacks or died later from disease or malnutrition. Rape has been used as a weapon of terror.

The security situation in Darfur remains perilous. With about one-and-a-half million African Sudanese living in camps throughout Darfur, women risk being raped by roaming militias when they leave the camps to collect firewood to cook food for themselves and their families. Doctors Without Borders, one of several humanitarian groups working in Darfur, reports that it treated more than one-hundred-twenty cases of rape during August and September.

This week, the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, sent its goodwill ambassador, American actress Mia Farrow, to Darfur. In the southern Darfur town of Nyala, Ms. Farrow discussed the plight of women in the camps:

"Leaving the camp is so dangerous and the rapes are so consistent. . . . And so they were faced with this terrible decision every day -- they said the men can't go, the men will be killed, they'll be arrested immediately. So, the women have to choose from among themselves who will go out. Awful choices. And choices no one should have to make."

The U.S. is leading international efforts to accelerate the expansion of African Union forces being deployed to monitor a cease-fire between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels. Recently, the parties agreed to humanitarian and security protocols aimed at strengthening the cease-fire and facilitating the efforts of the African Union. After the horrors of the past year, it is essential that women, and all people in Darfur, regain the security necessary for them to begin to rebuild their lives.