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.

Hearing the Cries, Heeding the Cries

Nakivale refugee camp has been home to thousands of Congolese during and since DR Congo's civil war

Nakivale refugee camp has been home to thousands of Congolese during and since DR Congo's civil war

SUDAN and SOUTH SUDAN

This week’s news offers a small glimpse of hope as the thousands of lives that are being jeopardized in the Nuba region is finally grasping the attention of the international community, government officials, and the media with recent visits by Anne Curry and Nick Kristof.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday accused the Khartoum government of actively trying to undermine the government of South Sudan and suggested that the US is prepared to take measures against Bashir. Her comments came in response to Representative Ed Royce’s (R OC, CA) introduction of a new piece of legislation last week to expand the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program to include those wanted for the most serious human rights abuses, which includes Bashir’s indictment by the ICC.

The UN Security Council also called on the Sudanese government and the SPLM-N to cooperate fully and ensure that humanitarian assistance is delivered to those suffering from the rising levels of malnutrition and food insecurity. However, as attention is finally turned to these atrocities, attention is not enough, genocide by attrition still continues.

“We are still expecting them, they are still around us and now we don’t sleep in the houses, we are sleeping in the bush. That means the war is still there, no change.” Meluth Kur Jok, an elder who has sought sanctuary in Jonglei’s Akobo town since five close relatives were killed and 80 children abducted in an attack on his home village of Woulang a few weeks ago, told IRIN of his fears of more violence.

An unlikely actor, an American man married to a Nuba woman, Ryan Boyette, is risking his life to collect video of atrocities and has set up a network of local citizen journalists to document the atrocities and starvation in hopes of making the world care enough to intervene. So far the Associated Press, CNN, Fox News and Al-Jazeera have used his videos or photographs, and he plans to post more on a website, EyesAndEarsNuba.org and he was the one that helped Nick Kristof enter the Nuba Mountains.

Now more than ever we can feel the value of Ubuntu and realize that if one person is suffering, we are all suffering and must heed the cries for help and humanitarian assistance to the starving and afflicted people of South Kordofon/Nuba Mountains.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

All is not as it appears in the DRC as little is done to provide safety and security to the endangered and constantly antagonized Congolese civilian population. It is in the works to open up a third refugee camp in Uganda to cope with a influx of at least 100 people a day crossing the border to escape an upsurge in violence in eastern region of DRC. However, the population continues to be at risk from killings, abductions, and rape by armed men in the Eastern Kivu provinces, during transit, and in refugee camps. It is a situation replicated in thousands of registered and unregistered displaced persons settlements throughout the Great Lakes region. So what is being done?

The first case brought to the International Criminal Court filed in 2004 charging Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga with war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under age 15 as soldiers during the conflict in 2002, has come to a verdict to be heard on March 14. This will be the ICC’s first judgment since its conception a decade ago. As an avid follower of DRC’s long entrenched conflict watching  heinous human rights abuses and brutal rapes committed, it’s extremely disappointing that this narrowly focused case is the only one being heard after nine years and does not even come close to address the extent of crimes endured by the thousands of civilians everyday. It is also important to mention that Lubanga’s co-accused, Bosco Ntaganda charged by the ICC at the same time with war crimes relating to the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Ituri is currently untouched and a Congoloses general.

“There has never been a systematic attempt to address the issue of impunity within the Congolese justice system,” said Aaron Hall, Enough Project Congo policy analyst and report co-author. “The lack of accountability for war crimes including the murder of civilians, rape, plunder, and extortion is one of the key obstacles to creating an environment for peace and development in eastern Congo.”

I believe the ICC and the international community should work much harder with local partners to begin to hold perpetrators accountable, tackle impunity, and bring an ounce of justice to victims and survivors in the DRC.

BURMA

Burma’s on the surface changes are twofold. On the one hand Burma has headed toward reform and cease-fires reached with ethnic insurgents, and unprecedented open discussion about human rights violations, including in Kachin State where fighting since last June has displaced 70,000 people. However, on the other hand, the Burmese army is acting no better than it has in the past six decades, with reports of sexual violence, use of forced labor and firing on civilians.

“With all the changes happening in central Burma, it’s quite alarming that the military has shown absolutely no compunction to change its behavior,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher, David Mathieson told the Wilson Center.

Mathieson also noted less-documented rights abuses by some ethnic armed groups against their own people, including use of child soldiers—rampant too in the national army—and executions of Burma prisoners of war. It goes to show that although Burma’s release of prominent political prisoners is a step towards change, Burma has a long way to go as sporadic fighting and lack of accord between Kachin rebels and Burmese government leaves thousands of civilians in makeshift camp on the Chinese border.

You don’t give hair extensions to people in a war zone… or do you?

Do we need to change how we think about what refugees need and what qualifies as legitimate humanitarian aid?  IRIN recently featured, SECURITY: New report on R2P challenges humanitarians.  Ironically, civilians successfully fleeing conflict on their own is often the best means of civilian protection available.

The report also indicates that sometimes the requests for assistance are not what one would expect.  After escaping near death, refugees often wanted “non-necessity” items to preserve ceremonies and traditions.  Guitar strings, bead and hair extensions were deemed important for wedding celebrations, music and dancing.  After losing the home they knew, it makes sense that it is genuinely important to be able to preserve that which is familiar, life-affirming, and solidifies a sense of belonging and community in their displaced location.

Darfur Family Reunited

A couple from Darfur currently residing in New York has reunited with their four-year-old daughter recently released from a refugee camp in Sudan.

It had been two-and-a-half years since the parents had seen their child. The mother described her ordeal as “very difficult…it’s a piece of your heart”.

The daughter continues to ask her mom and dad why she was “left behind”. Her father’s answer?

I tried to explain to her but I don’t know how to explain.


Update: Here is a video of the story.

“Trapped in Places of Perpetual Insecurity”

A recent study conducted by US-based Physicians for Human Rights reports that over 50% of Darfuri women at a refugee camp in Chad continue to feel threatened by sexual violence.

Many of these women experienced rape in Darfur, fleeing to Chad to escape suffering. Yet in Chad, their place of refuge, sexual violence is alive and well.

According to the deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights -

The women live in a nightmare of memories of past trauma compounded by the constant threat of sexual violence around the camps now…trapped in places of perpetual insecurity.

Regarding mass rape in Darfur, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir maintains that “there is no document or evidence, just accusations”.

26 Million Strangers in Their Own Homes

According to a European aid organization, there were 26 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 2008.

IDPs differ from refugees because, although they flee their homes, they do not cross any borders. Sadly, they are homeless in their homeland.

Three countries account for approximately 45% of the IDPs – Sudan (4.9 million displaced), Colombia (2.7 – 4.4 million displaced), and Iraq (2.8 million displaced).

According to UN humanitarian chief John Holmes -

The IDPs are the real human face very often of conflict and disaster…the scale at the moment is horrific…the physical and psychological suffering that people go through in this situation cannot be underestimated…too often, I think, they are the forgotten remnants of crises.

“Obama, Save Us From Imminent Death”

Photograph by Stop Genocide Now

Photograph by Stop Genocide Now

A prominent leader representing Darfur’s IDPs and refugees has written a letter to US President Barack Obama – informing him of the deteriorating conditions in camps and demanding that he take action to prevent the “imminent death” of many.

Click here to read the letter for yourself.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.