LONDON (TrustLaw) - Alarming levels of sexual violence are being reported by women and girls who have fled conflict in Sudan's South Kordofan area, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said on Thursday.
Fighting has raged for months between the Sudanese army and SPLM-North rebels who want to topple the Khartoum government in South Kordofan and Blue Nile – two states which border newly independent South Sudan.
Citing refugee accounts, IRC said significant numbers of women and girls were raped while fleeing South Kordofan's Nuba Mountains and crossing into South Sudan.
"Violence against us was happening all the time. Raping was happening frequently," one refugee told IRC staff.
Some referred to the perpetrators as simply "men with guns" and "military", IRC, a non-governmental organisation, said.
"Women and girls described attacks in front of family members, by multiple perpetrators and for prolonged periods of time," Bob Kitchen, the director of IRC's emergency preparedness and response team, said in statement.
Fighting in recent months has forced about 417,000 people to flee their homes, more than 80,000 of them to South Sudan, according to the United Nations.
IRC said some 20,000 had settled in South Sudan's Yida refugee camp where many women and girls continue to suffer rape. Sexual assaults were reported to have taken place while they collected firewood or sought somewhere to go to the toilet.
Women refugees also spoke of worsening violence at the hands of their husbands.
"It is so common ... Everyone is being beaten," one refugee told IRC staff.
IRC workers attributed the increase in domestic violence to the frustration and anger many refugees felt over losing control over their lives. With little say as to where they live, what they eat, when they get their food, many men were taking their sense of powerlessness out on their wives and partners.
IRC also highlighted the need for sexually assaulted women to receive specialised medical care and psychological first aid.
Last month, the U.N. Security Council called on Sudan and rebels in areas bordering South Sudan to grant immediate access for U.N. aid workers to the troubled region, expressing "deep and growing alarm" at rising hunger levels.
South Kordofan and Blue Nile are home to tens of thousands of fighters who battled Khartoum as part of the southern army during a civil war that ended in 2005. Khartoum accuses Juba – the capital of South Sudan – of continuing to back the insurgents, which South Sudan denies.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)