Piecing Together Guatemala’s Past for Present-Day Justice

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General Jose Efrain Rios Montt declares a mililtary coup in Guatemala City, 1982

On May 10th, 2013, my car radio told me that former Guatemalan dictator General Jose Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of the genocide of up to 200,000 Guatemalan people (mostly indigenous Mayans) and sentenced to 80 years in prison.  Interesting… considering that I didn’t know there was a genocide in Guatemala, or a 20 year long civil war, or that the U.S. had a long standing involvement in the conflict.  Much like the indictment of Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir in 2009, Rios Montt’s conviction is historic.  Al-Bashir is the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC.  Rios Montt is now the first, living, President (and person) to be convicted of genocide by a domestic court.

Rios Montt’s case became more intriguing still, upon learning that the nail in his proverbial coffin came in the form of a 30 year old piece of 16mm film buried in a NJ warehouse.  It was a piece of footage that documentary film maker Pamela Yates ultimately decided not to use in her documentaries about the Guatemalan crisis “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator” (2011) or “When the Mountians Tremble”(1984).  Years after the footage was taken, human rights attorney Almudena Bernabeu knew she had to think outside the box to build a case against the former dictator.  She solicited Yates for any note-worthy footage that didn’t make the cut of the documentary.  While digging through old film, Yates found exactly what Bernabeu needed.

In this piece of footage, Ríos Montt clearly claims command responsibility, which is one of the most difficult burdens to prove in a court of law. (src)  Read more of this post

Political Passivity and Humanitarian Decay

Refugees wait for food supplies on border of Chad and Sudan.

Refugees wait for food and shelter in South Darfur

A few years ago, while reading a random review of a television series in the LA Times, I came across a statement that will resonate with me forever: “Tragedy lurks in the corner of every decision… tragedy doesn’t always just occur, sometimes it accumulates.”  With respect to the escalating violence and eroding conditions in Darfur, and the border regions of Blue Nile, Abyei, and Nuba mountains, the international community is responsible for the tragedy that lurks behind their collective indecision and inaction.   In the wake of Mohamed Suleiman’s recent letter to President Obama, any news of the continually deteriorating conditions for the people in these targeted areas is especially poignant.  For many of the victims that manage to escape the aerial bombings, burning of villages, and gunfire, life only gets worse in the IDP camps or other areas in which they seek refuge.

A Few Numbers..

There are approximately two million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Darfur.  Of these, 1.4 million live in refugee camps, and over three million need some type of humanitarian assistance.  The UN estimates that 300,000 people have fled Darfur in 2013 alone.  This is over twice the number of  IDPs than in the past two years.   Over a million people have been displaced or otherwise traumatized (having homes or means of survival destroyed, women being raped..)  in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile (border areas that became targets due to their supposed alliances with the Southern Provinces and the SPLM). Read more of this post

Darfuri Women’s Long Wait for Justice

South Darfuri women

Women in South Darfur

If you are anything like me, you first viewed the term “rape as a war weapon” with a bit of bewilderment.  A number of documentaries, books and articles would speak of ending this inhuman practice but not go so far as to really define it.  After all, I thought, if you asked a woman who had been both a victim of rape and a victim of  “rape as a war weapon” wouldn’t she probably say that she couldn’t tell the difference?  Rape is rape.  Shouldn’t we be aiming to end the commonality of sexual assaults in Darfur (and other African regions) in general and not waste time separating them into categories?  But the intended effect of rape as an instrument of war, or more accurately, an instrument of genocide, involves generational devastation to entire populations.  A 2004 study by Tara Gingerich, JD, MA and Jennifer Leaning, MD, SMH, finds the method aims to:

  1. Create a sense of fear in the civilian population in order to restrict freedom of movement and economic activity.
  2. Instill flight to facilitate the capture of land and the killing of male civilians.
  3. Demoralize the population and force exit from the land.
  4. Tear apart the community and pollute blood lines.

Despite many similar studies from both NGOs and government agencies attempting to form accurate statistics on the number of women raped in Darfur, there appears to be, almost literally, countless numbers.  It has been overwhelmingly expressed that:

We have no clear idea about the number of women and girls who have been raped in Darfur, in part because of the extraordinary reticence-for cultural and religious reasons-on the part of the women assaulted. (src)    Read more of this post

Battles Continue in Darfur…for Education

A proud teacher with his class in Central Darfur

It is difficult enough to imagine everyday survival for most children in Darfur, let alone their attempt to achieve an education.  Amid the stories of escalating violence, spreading disease and food shortages throughout the region, it is rather bittersweet to see so many stories involving this seemingly lofty pursuit.

In an interview with parents in Golo, Central Darfur, Radio Dabanga found that there are currently less than 20 elementary schools (mostly made of straw) in the region and only four secondary schools, each with a ratio of about 1000 students per school.  The ratio of teachers to students in the region was even more discouraging, being one teacher to every 225 students in the elementary schools and one to 714 in the the high schools.  Just to put this into perspective, the average ratio of teachers to students in the U.S. is one to 16, according to the NEA.

22,000 kids in Kalma refugee camp still waiting for a school

In the meantime, Kalma refugee camp in South Darfur (near Nyala) is still awaiting the two schools it was promised two years ago by the head of the Darfur Regional Authority, Dr. Tijani Sese.  The camp is the current residence of about 22,000 primary school aged children who have been displaced from their homes.  According to Abdullah Mohamed Suleiman, head of the education program at camp Kalma, qualified teachers are prepped and ready to begin work at the so far non-existent schools.    Read more of this post

As genocide continues, does reconciliation wait for peace?

Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.
- Desmond Tutu

Genocide in Darfur, a decade on, continues.

A recent New York Times article, New Strife in Darfur Leaves Many Seeking Refuge, tells us that by no means are things getting better with “fighting since the beginning of the year… displacing nearly 300,000 people, more than in the last two years combined….”

In a recent interview, former UN senior official, Mukesh Kapila, talks about its beginning in 2003. Here is part of his answer when asked about the moment he knew he had to go outside of UN channels:

I filed my reports to HQ in New York, I shared my information with the diplomatic community in Khartoum, I made representations to the Sudanese authorities. Nobody was interested in taking much notice. It was in the ‘unwelcome news’ category, and the excuse was we don’t want to antagonize Khartoum. We just need to get a good north-south peace agreement, the land will flow with milk and honey and the problems will end. But I knew John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (the rebel group in neighbouring South Sudan), was going to delay signing until Darfur was sorted out. He told me to travel the world and tell people that.

Then a representative in the office of the Sudanese president told me they were working on “the final solution in Darfur.” This was the government admitting they were embarking on a genocidal policy in Darfur. So I said OK, I need to discuss this with policy-makers. I got briefings in London and New York, where I saw satellite images confirming everything we suspected. I said, “You know more than I do — why are you not doing anything?” They said, “It’s not a good time. Get humanitarian aid in — concentrate on that.” I said, “Are you kidding? They are talking about final solutions, we need a political process here.”

It’s really an incredible piece, well worth reading in its entirety, Darfur after 10 years: ‘My job is not done’, says Mukesh Kapila.

As a genocide continues into the long-term, does the reconciliation effort have to wait for peace to begin? Or does it need to begin in order for peace to occur? Read more of this post

What does a small child have to do to survive in South Kordofan, Sudan?

Children in Kauda, South Kordofan, Sudan, shelter from a passing Antonov, 2012. Photograph: Peter Moszynski

Hi everyone,

What does a small child have to do to survive in South Kordofan, Sudan?  This photo says it all.  How can we possibly even begin to imagine what it is really like for them to be in this horrific situation?  The accompanying question is, why do we continue to do so little to help them?

An eerie silence suddenly descends upon Kauda’s market as people scan the skies for the source of the distant yet all-too-familiar throb of Soviet-manufactured plane engines.

“Antonov!” the cry goes out, and people scatter, diving into the nearest hole or scrambling for cover wherever they can. After a few minutes the engines fade and people get up, dust themselves off and attempt to get on with what passes for normality for the beleaguered inhabitants of Sudan‘s Nuba mountains.

“Women and children usually constitute the largest number of casualties from these bombing raids,” says Ahmed Kafi, local co-ordinator for one of the few international NGOs that still maintains a presence on the ground. “Most of the men and older children learned long ago to take cover when they hear an Antonov approaching, but the younger ones often run in panic and there is nothing in the world that can prevent a mother from chasing after her children.”

From “World again turns blind eye to people of Sudan’s Nuba mountains,” by Peter Moszynski

Then this morning’s news:  Two Antonovs dropped 28 bombs in the town of Kauda in South Kordofan.  Amazingly, no one was reported as having been killed.  A few days ago in the village of Eieri a family of five was not as lucky.  They were killed.

Here is one little helpful thing you can do.  Ask the UNSC, AU and US to Provide Civilian Protection in Sudan. To sign the petition, click here.

Thank you.

Barbara English
Executive Director, Living Ubuntu
http://livingubuntu.org
(949) 891-2005

Protests in Sudan: death, disappearance, and the dread of not knowing

Students demonstrate in Sudan


Students demonstrate outside the Ministry of Justice, over the deaths of four students from war-torn western region of Darfur in Gezira state, at Khartoum. ((Reuters) (December 9, 2012)

Hi everyone,

A few months ago, protests in Darfur got personal for me.  As the reports of government forces using live fire on demonstrators and mass numbers detained, one of my Facebook friends, living in South Darfur, suddenly didn’t have a profile on line anymore.  With no response to my email query to him to find out if he was okay, I was left with an overwhelming feeling of dread and helplessness.

There were myriad explanations and I knew he might be just fine.  Yet, just in case, I reviewed, and reviewed again, the names of those who had been killed.  I was relieved to not see his name listed, but that was the extent of info I had access to.  He re-surfaced after a few silent weeks and told me he had indeed been detained for five days.  He said it was the Government of Sudan that had taken down his Facebook profile and this of course had been my fear.  His communications had an undertow of lack of safety far more than what I had ever heard from him before.  It took a while, but he eventually managed to get out of the country and I continue to live with fingers crossed for his safety.  Silence in between emails can feel very long.

For many years I have heard stories of those who have been “disappeared” in many different countries of the world.  This was my first personal experience of realizing that I might have a friend who so-to-speak “disappeared”, leaving me in the uncertainty of not knowing what had happened, and not knowing if it involved yet another act by a malevolent, genocidal government.

Fortunately, my friend was released, able to communicate, and leave the country.  Yet, the brief silence left a deeply embedded experience of what it is like when you just don’t know.  For some, over the course of a lifetime, they never get to know what happened to those they love.  If ever there was an act of cruelty to inflict torment without direct contact, leaving family members to just not know anything has to rank very high on the list of most extreme cruelties human beings can do to one another.

With that as background, protests continue in Sudan and in many of them, those from Darfur continue to be targets.  Some protestors were killed;  some disappeared.  And somewhere others sit wringing there hands, feeling a sense of dread and helplessness, not knowing what happened to their loved ones.

Barbara English
Executive Director, Living Ubuntu
http://livingubuntu.org
(949) 891-2005

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