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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 December 2006, 01:17 GMT
Women demand end to Darfur rapes
Darfur refugee woman
Thousands have died, hundreds of thousands are displaced
International stateswomen have made a joint call for an end to rape and sexual violence in Sudan's conflict-torn region of Darfur.

Peacekeepers must be sent to protect women there, the group said in a letter published by newspapers worldwide.

Signatories include former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the Irish former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.

The call comes as protests on the issue are planned in 40 countries.

The letter says rape is being used "on a daily basis" as a weapon of war in Darfur.

The main signatories were joined by other prominent women including:

  • veteran Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi
  • Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela
  • Edith Cresson, former French prime minister
  • Glenys Kinnock, a UK member of the European Parliament
  • Carol Bellamy, former head of the UN children's fund.

'Constant fear'

Published on the eve of the Global Day for Darfur, the letter says that "women and young girls live in constant fear of attack".

African Union soldiers patrol the village of Kerkera, northern Darfur
African peacekeepers struggle to protect vulnerable civilians

Sudan's government is accused of being "unwilling or unable to protect its own civilians".

The international community is called upon to "deliver on its responsibility to protect these civilians".

Events to mark Darfur Day are due to take place in more than 40 countries and will include women-led protests outside Sudanese embassies.

The BBC's Jonah Fisher, in Khartoum, says the three-year war in Darfur has been characterised by rape and violence against women, mostly by the pro-government Arab Janjaweed militia.

The protests around the world will have no direct impact on the Sudanese government, he adds.

The government views the three-year crisis in Darfur as a Western invention, insisting that just 9,000 people have died.

It also denies reports of widespread rape, pointing out that the people of Darfur are Muslim and, therefore, incapable of rape.

In reality, though, at least 200,000 people have died in Darfur's and an estimated two million people, mostly black Africans whose villages have been attacked by the Janjaweed, have fled their homes.

Khartoum denies accusations it is backing the militias to put down an uprising by Darfur's rebel groups in 2003.

A force of 7,000 African Union peacekeepers has struggled to protect civilians in the absence of a strong, UN contingent.

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