The first sound Zahara Abdulkarim heard when she woke that last morning in her village was the drone of warplanes circling overhead. Then came gunshots and screams and the sickening crash of bombs ripping through her neighbors' mud-and-thatch huts, gouging craters into the dry earth. When Abdulkarim, 25, ran outside, she was confronted by two men in military uniform, one wielding a knife, the other a whip. They were members, she says, of the Arab militia known as the Janjaweed, which over the past 18 months has slaughtered tens of thousands of black Africans like Abdulkarim across the western Sudanese region of Darfur. Another man, rifle in hand, was standing over her husband's body while others set fire to her home. Two of the intruders, she says, grabbed her and forced her to the ground. With her husband's body a few yards away, the men took turns raping her.
They called her a dog and a donkey. "This year, there's no God except us," Abdulkarim says they told her. "We are your god now." When they were finished, one of the men drew his knife and slashed deep across Abdulkarim's left thigh, a few inches above her knee. The scar would mark her as a slave, they told her, or brand her like one of their camels. By nightfall, says Abdulkarim, more than 100 women in the town of Ablieh had been raped and dozens of people killed, including two of her sons, four of her in-laws and her husband. The only survivors in her compound were Abdulkarim and her son Mohammed, 6. "They also wanted to kill me, but when they saw I was pregnant, they released me and let me live," she says. That was eight months ago. Sheltering in a refugee camp in neighboring Chad, Abdulkarim, her baby Mustafa playing in her lap, says she will never go home.
Darfur is full of stories like Abdulkarim's. Aid workers and human-rights researchers say the violence that has convulsed western Sudan since February 2003, and the ensuing hunger and disease, has killed up to 50,000 people and forced some 1.4 million from their homes. Human-rights groups estimate that thousands more are displaced every week. Hundreds of women have been raped, including 41 in a single episode of gang rape last February in the town of Tawila. The vast majority of the atrocities have been carried out by members of the Janjaweed, an ethnically Arab militia of horse-mounted bandits who receive financial and military support from the Sudanese government, which commissioned them to put down an insurgency by the region's non-Arab Muslims.
The United Nations says the pogrom has created the worst humanitarian disaster in the world today. The World Health Organization this summer found that the death rate in Darfur was three times the emergency threshold, with hundreds dying of disease every day and tens of thousands likely to die by the end of the year. Testifying before Congress this month, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that the horrors committed in Darfur deserve the ultimate sanction. "We concluded--I concluded--that genocide has been committed in Darfur, and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility, and that genocide may still be occurring," Powell said.