October 6, 2010 / 7:09 PM / 9 years ago

Doctor, gang-raped in Sudan's Darfur, wins rights award

LONDON (Reuters) - Halima Bashir, a doctor who says she was gang-raped by Sudanese soldiers after speaking out about atrocities in Darfur, won the Anna Politkovskaya award for women human rights defenders on Wednesday.

The prize, in memory of the campaigning Russian journalist murdered four years ago in Moscow, is awarded annually by Reach All Women in War, a human rights group.

“What has happened to me and to many Darfuri women is something we cannot forget ... The only thing that might let us sometimes forget about it ... is when we see justice,” Bashir, 30, who now lives in Britain, told Reuters in a telephone interview shortly before the award ceremony.

There would be justice when criminals were punished, “when peace comes really to our homeland and when all refugees and all the people who are displaced all over the world go back home and live in peace,” she said.

The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have died in a humanitarian crisis sparked by a counter-insurgency campaign in Sudan’s arid western region of Darfur.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. He denies the charges.

Halima Bashir was working as a doctor at a remote village clinic in Darfur in 2004 when she witnessed a militia attack on a school, where she said girls as young as eight were beaten and raped while Sudanese soldiers stood guard.

She told United Nations’ workers about the attack by the Janjaweed militia. The military came after her. She was cut with knives, burned with cigarettes and gang-raped repeatedly.

They let her live, taunting her with the words: “Now you can go and tell the world about rape.” She wrote about her experiences in her memoir, “Tears of the Desert.”

She says the situation in Darfur “is going from bad to worse” while the rest of the world “has turned its face away.”

Bashir, who has testified against Sudan’s president before the ICC, said she hoped one day to see him brought before the Hague-based court.

Halima Bashir has drawn attention to the insecure situation of more than two million Darfuri refugees who have taken shelter in camps where there are regular clashes and killings.

Darfur’s joint U.N./African Union (UNAMID) peacekeeping force should have more troops and equipment, she said.

Editing by Janet Lawrence

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