KHARTOUM Women who fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region are being regularly raped in refugee camps in neighboring Chad, despite the presence of U.N.-trained forces, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
The rights group published a report saying Chadian police supported by the United Nations were doing little to protect women and girls from sexual attacks and other violence by villagers, soldiers, family and in some cases aid workers.
A spokesman for the U.N.'s MINURCAT mission in Chad told Reuters there had been some reports of women being attacked, mostly outside camps, but he defended the police and said the security situation was improving in the area.
"These women fled Darfur, hoping that the international community and Chadian authorities would offer them some measure of safety and protection," said the deputy director of Amnesty's Africa program Tawanda Hondora.
"That protection has proved to be elusive and they remain under attack."
Amnesty said more than 142,000 women and girls had fled Darfur's six-year conflict to take refuge in 12 camps inside Chad's border.
The group's researchers criticized Chad's DIS (Detachement Integre de Securite) police, a force trained by the United Nations to protect refugees in and around the camps.
"The DIS spends a lot of time protecting themselves. Even the U.N. soldiers have to protect them. No one seems to have much time to protect us," said one woman quoted in the report.
MINURCAT spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux told Reuters the DIS police had received special training in dealing with rape cases.
"Given what they have, they do a very good job," he said.
"I think it (the report) is a little hasty and based in a fairly small sample and a short visit. I would invite the researchers to come back and have some better statistics to get a better picture ... The situation is certainly better that it was than a year ago."
The Amnesty publication, entitled "No place for us here: Violence against refugee women in eastern Chad," said it had found evidence of girls facing harassment in camp schools.
It said it had not been able to collect detailed statistics on attacks, during the researchers' visit to Chad from late April to mid May this year, as many women chose not to report assaults to avoid the public shame.
Women were at risk inside camps, not just when they went outside to collect firewood, the report said.
"They face the risk of rape and other violence at the hands of family members, other refugees, and staff of humanitarian organizations, whose task it is to provide them with assistance and support," said Amnesty's Hondora.
Amnesty called on Chadian authorities to start enforcing existing laws against rape and to work out a program with international groups to raise awareness about attacks on women.
Rights groups have reported the widespread rape of women during the conflict in Sudan's remote western Darfur region.
The fighting there surged in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government, accusing it of neglecting the region. Sudan denies regular sexual attacks have taken place in Darfur, which borders Chad.
(Reporting by Andrew Heavens; editing by Michael Roddy)