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

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

People are Dying While the Politicians are Talking

Aid workers prepare rations of sorghum (AFP, Giulio Petrocco)

Aid workers prepare rations of sorghum (AFP, Giulio Petrocco)

As negotiations are slowly underway in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, humanitarian crises worsen. Internally displaced persons in camps in Jebel Marra in North Darfur, have no aid or relief access. Also spiked water shortages in Zam Zam camp are leaving displaced people without water. The local authority have reduced the fuel quota for water stations manned by UNICEF and at other privately owned stations. The crisis has increased the price of a barrel of water to 10-12 Sudanese pounds inside the camp, and aggravated long queues in front of the eight UNICEF stations, which are only operating for three hours a day. People in Kokaya in East Darfur have also been suffering water shortages for the month following the failure of the only water station in the area. A citizen of the area told Radio Dabanga that the lack of water has killed livestock including donkeys and cows. Meanwhile, Tolom refugee camp in eastern Chad has been suffering from a lack of water for the past four days after a pump stopped working, leaving 25,000 people without access to drinking water. Also shortages of drinking water in Seraf Umra, Dankoj and El Nasim camps for internally displaced people is getting worse as pumps are failing and other stations have reportedly been sabotaged by unknown groups. As if things couldn’t get any worse, there is also a famine threat in the Nuba Mountains with thousands left without access to food, water, and assistance.

Meanwhile, the peace talks between Sudan and South Sudan are said to be yielding slow progress despite reports of fresh clashes on the ground and questions about Sudan’s withdrawal from the disputed Abyei region.  Tensions were high as the latest round of negotiations opened with a South Sudanese demand for sanctions against Khartoum.

“The government of Sudan did not withdraw from Abyei within the two weeks as required.  This is a violation. We also asked the representative of United Nations to report this violation, and this non-compliance by the republic of Sudan, and we expect Sudan to suffer sanctions and measures from the Security Council as promised.” South Sudan’s Chief Negotiator, Pagan Amum.

Although recent negotiations are a great cause of celebration and progress between the two countries, my concern is with the dire need of the people on the ground who are facing humanitarian crises and water shortages everyday. I hope the leaders and mediators spend each day of negotiation wisely, realizing that with every day passing, humanitarian conditions are worsening.

As If Widespread Conflict Isn’t Enough, Now Food and Price Challenges Plague South Sudan

A local farmer harvests sorghum. (Photo Courtesy Fred Noy/UN Photo)

A local farmer harvests sorghum. (Photo Courtesy Fred Noy/UN Photo)

Thousands of civilians have been displaced following ground clashes between the SPLA and the SAF and aerial bombings by Sudan. As if that wasn’t enough despair, the rising fighting has more than doubled the price of basic commodities and food for Southern Sudanese living in the areas of Unity, Upper Nile, Northern and Western Bahr al Ghazal states. For the last month, traders who usually import foodstuffs from Southern Kordofan in Sudan to South Sudan have been victims of violence en route.

“A 20 litre jerry can of cooking oil rose from 20 to 40 dollars in the last two weeks,” said Simon Kenyi, a teacher in Bentiu.

The official death toll from the conflict is not known, however, but Unity State Governor Taban Deng Guy said this week that 75 people had died in aerial bombardments in his state alone.

On top of that, Sudanese authorities have seized and impounded more than 60 vehicles carrying food across the border to South Sudan, Sudanese justice minister, Mohammed Boshara Dosa, said on Thursday while inspecting White Nile State. He warned that Khartoum intends to rigidly enforce a ban on smuggling to the southern neighbor and that the seizure is meant to signal the fact that Khartoum considers smuggling of food to South Sudan as “a crime tantamount to supplying the enemy with arms.”

To top it all off, on Thursday the UN decided to reduce the number of soldiers and police in the joint UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) by 4,000, citing improved security across parts of Darfur. However this is incredibly far from reality and I cannot believe this option was even mentioned when UNAMID confirmed bombings taking place in North Darfur at the beginning of this month. Displaced and refugee activists told Radio Dabanga ‘improved security in parts of Darfur’ is inaccurate and the daily rapes, looting, murder and displacement of civilians along with impunity for perpetrators and militants continue to terrorize them with no end in sight.

The coordinator of camps in North Darfur, Umda Ahmed Ateem described the humanitarian situation in the camps for internally displaced people at the very least as ‘disastrous’, stating that famine, the impune rule of government militia, murder, intimidation of civilians and rape as a weapon are widespread and part of everyday life. He said it is shameful that the UN security council has not implemented any of the 17 resolutions drafted on Darfur.

It’s frustrating and difficult to understand how and why there is a disconnect between what is being done and what thousands of displaced, starving, and devastated civilians need.

The Worst We Feared: Sudan and South Sudan at War

SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN

On Friday Sudan launched a counterattack on South Sudan over the disputed territory of Heglig. Sudanese military spokesman Al Sawarmi Khaled Saad told reporters in Khartoum the army was close to Heglig, and is aiming not just to take over the area but also to destroy South Sudan’s forces in the area. A Unity State government spokesperson in the state capital Bentiu, confirmed the aerial bombings near the border:

“The areas in the north of Unity State are still subject to Antonovs (planes). We don’t have the updates yet between Heglig and Kelet, but all those areas they are subjected to bombing.” – South Sudan Spokesperson, Gideon Gatfan. South Sudan’s military spokesman Philip Aguer told Radio Dabanga that the Sudanese army is still around 30 km from Heglig and said South Sudan is still completely in control of the area.

Calls from Khartoum to mobilize for war in Heglig have reportedly failed amongst the Misseriya in two towns in South Kordofan, El Muglad and Dibab. Witnesses said the Misseriya of the western sector in South Kordofan are not willing to die for the government in a conflict they do not support.

The UN and African Union have unsuccessfully demanded immediate ceasefire, since President Bashir has refused to negotiate with Juba unless they withdraw their forces from Heglig. On the other hand, South Sudan’s lead negotiator, Pagan Amum, said his country was ready to withdraw under a UN-mediated plan.

“On the ground, we are ready to withdraw from Heglig as a contested area … provided that the United Nations deploy a UN force in these contested areas and the UN also establish a monitoring mechanism to monitor the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement,” he told reporters.

Sudan has taken it a brutal step further by targeting ethnically Southern Sudanese living in Sudan. Over 5,000 South Sudanese citizens living in a camp in the Sharef area of East Darfur were forced out, looted, and had their homes burned down and destroyed on Monday by a group of Sudanese militia. There have also been a series of rape crimes carried out by militias loyal to the Sudanese government throughout Darfur, targeting displaced girls and women in camps. It is as if there is no end to abuse and violence.

This long-lasting conflict is rooted in major disputes still not settled since South Sudan’s independence in July last year.

“They have no agreement on oil, they have no agreement on their border, they have no agreement on citizenship, they have no agreement on Abyei and indeed these were issues that were meant to be resolved before independence. Also in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, the popular consultations in the political process which was to incorporate all the people of those regions into the larger Sudan were abandoned.” US ambassador Susan Rice

It might not be as simple as both countries coming to some sort of negotiation and resolution over these pertinent issues, but it would at least be a beginning to light at the end of the vicious tunnel.

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