Save Children’s Lives by Stopping Illicit Weapons Worldwide

Emmanuel Jal is a hip-hop artist and humanitarian, as well as a former child solider.

Emmanuel Jal is a hip-hop artist and humanitarian, as well as a former child solider.

Below is an open letter from hip-hop artist, activist and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal, urging President Barack Obama to push for a strong Arms Trade Treaty at the U.N. conference this month. This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

In Sudan and around the world, children are forced into warfare. Many end up as child soldiers, forced to take lives and continue the cycle of violence that they have been born into. Child soldiers are found today in as many as 20 countries.

I was one of them. I was fortunate enough to have escaped to Kenya and found another life through music. But the lives of many children are cut short before they can escape. The most difficult part of this situation is that these children do not have a choice when they are introduced, often after they have been orphaned, to a perpetual war zone and raised by the harsh reality of the violence around them.

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The “Terminator,” War Crimes, and the Obama Administration: All Roads Lead to Rome

DJ-Fugitives-Infographic BOSCO

Click on the image above to access the full-size infographic

As news breaks about the surrender of the “Terminator,” Bosco Ntaganda, to the United States embassy in Kigali today, the US State Department was quick to note that it “strongly support[s] the ICC and their investigations on the atrocities committed in the DRC.” Further, Ambassador Stephen Rapp, head of the Office of Global Criminal Justice, tweeted “Bosco #Ntaganda surrenders in #Rwanda and asks to the taken to the #ICC. We are helping to facilitate his transfer.”

This development, and the U.S. administration’s quick signaling of its intent to adhere to obligations to transfer Ntaganda to the court to answer charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity is welcome, and encouraging. Thus, I will not start with the call that “the US should take all steps to ensure the speedy transfer of Ntaganda to The Hague.”

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5 Steps Forward, 5 Steps Back: Catching and Convicting War Criminals

international justice fugatives

Click image to view full infographic and list of wanted fugatives

Today, supporters of human rights mark the Global Day for International Justice, an anniversary the need for which makes ‘celebration’ difficult, if not impossible.  A cursory look over last year of developments as it relates to securing justice for the most egregious of crimes—war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide—might yield cause for optimism, however.

Five Steps Forward for Justice

  1. Over the last year, following a UN Security Council referral of Libya, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found reasonable grounds for issuing arrest warrants for top Libyan officials, even as conflict was ongoing, demonstrating the ability and importance of the court in active crises.
  2. The ICC saw the first verdict and sentence handed down as Thomas Lubanga answered for conscription of children in devastating conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
  3. Also over the last year, Laurent Gbagbo, the former head of state of Cote d’Ivoire, became the first head of state to be surrendered to the ICC for alleged crimes, only one week after his indictment.
  4. At the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Ratko Mladic finally faces prosecution for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for the largest mass murder in Europe since the end of World War II.
  5. The first conviction of a former head of state since the Nuremburg trials, as my colleague Angela Chang describes, was a historic step for international justice.

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Getting Over ‘Sudan Fatigue’

The rainy season in Sudan has begun, and for UN and aid agencies operating just across the Sudan border in the dozens of refugee camps housing those who’ve fled from the indiscriminate bombing of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), a logistic and operational nightmare is very present.

For the hundreds of thousands displaced by the bombing campaign, food and (paradoxically) water shortages have reached crisis proportions.

Last night, Amnesty released its newest research findings in ‘We Can Run Away From Bombs, But Not From Hunger,’ documenting the illegal and indiscriminate bombing campaign of the SAF in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, in Sudan.

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Business as Usual

Just over a year ago the African continent saw the birth of its newest country, South Sudan. Like many other African countries, its road to independence was marked by terrible violence and bloodshed.

According to the US Department of State Country report for human rights practices, the 22-year civil war that engulfed Sudan claimed an estimated 3 million lives and impacted tens million more. Like many other African states,  it gained independence with staggeringly little beyond the determination of the people of Southern Sudan and in the ground the blessing and curse of oil reserves.

What was and remains different is that unlike the other waves of independence, Southern Sudan has its former ruler and military adversary right on its borders and sadly what had been hoped to be the end of a terrible conflict only went underground and is now threatening to erupt fully in.

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Continued Abuses in Sudan

In the midst of what feels like an exceptionally tumultuous time in the world and in the Middle East and North Africa particularly, it is easy to let certain issues fall by the wayside. With international intervention in Libya, continued clashes in Egypt, and the escalation of conflict in Bahrain, the people of Sudan cannot afford for the international community to forget about them.

In the past week, clashes between the South Sudan army and rebels have killed at least 70 people. Continued fighting over the disputed oil-producing region of Abyei threatens to derail peace talks between the north and the south.

The tense political climate has led Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party to take action to crush opposition. It has cracked down on opposition party members, students, and activists through violence and illegal detentions. This week the government threatened to silence internet-based dissent by using “cyber jihadists”.

Fighting in the Darfur region, where villages continue to be burnt down, has forced an estimated 66,000 people—mainly women, children, and the elderly—to seek safety in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps since January of this year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The mass movement of IDPs to camps has placed “considerable strain” on resources and services, said Georg Charpentier, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, as arriving IDPs have led to increased demand for protection, food, and sanitation facilities.

Threats to the safety and wellbeing of the people of Sudan remain, and mounting political tension and violence related to the north-south split brings an increased risk of further human rights abuses in the upcoming months. We must keep up international pressure to continue to monitor and protect human rights in Sudan.

Take action to ensure accountability for crimes committed in Darfur

You can also take action now against the illegal detention of political dissenters and human rights advocates

Sara Harden, Africa Program, contributed to this blog post

A Compromised Future for Children in Chad

By Christian Mukosa, Researcher at Amnesty International

Some former child soliders have depicted their experiences of conflict in art © Amnesty International

Rawan is just 13 years old, though he looks older. He was not even 11 when he left his home and became a child soldier. He – and the 40 other boys who talked to us about their experiences – are living proof of the use of child soldiers in Chad.

Children are still being used by both the army and armed opposition groups. Thousands have joined up in recent years as the armed conflict between the Chadian army and rebel groups has intensified in the region and the Darfur conflict over the border in Sudan has engulfed eastern Chad.

Most child recruits are boys aged between 13 and 18, but some are as young as 10. Most receive military training, including weapons handling, and many are involved in combat. Hazam, who was 15 when he joined a rebel group, told us: “What was the most difficult was taking part in the fighting. Many of us were my age. There is nothing joyful in the rebellion.”

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Satellite Images Show Grave Crimes Continue in Darfur

UPDATE: Please take action to ensure accountability  for crimes committed in Darfur

While the whole world is watching the outcome of the South Sudan referendum, Darfur continues to burn. New satellite images released by Amnesty’s Science for Human Rights Program provide shocking evidence that grave human rights violations continue in Darfur 8 years after the outbreak of the conflict. The situation has deteriorated in the run up to the referendum in South Sudan last month.

More alarmingly, the escalation in violence has been largely ignored by the international community, which is focusing on the formation of a new state in the south of the country.

Click to see full graphic

The Negeha region of South Darfur
The images were analyzed by our partners from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and show irrefutably that civilians were targeted in the Negeha region of south Darfur with whole villages burned to the ground as recently as December. We have previously reported that in December alone more than 20,000 people were displaced by government attacks, including in Dar Al Salam, Shangil Tobaya and Khor Abeche displacement camps in north and south Darfur.

Based on new reports of offensives in the Negeha region in December 2010, we sought to document any apparent violations of international law through the targeting of civilian dwellings. According to reports, the villages of Negeha and Jaghara were burned in December 2010, resulting in more than 7,000 internally displaced persons. Satellite imagery of the region was collected and compared from three time periods: December 2005, January 2010, and December 2010.

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Don't Ignore the Dire Human Rights Situation in Sudan

This posting is part of the Sudan Referendum Watch series

While many observers are optimistic that the referendum in South Sudan this Sunday will go ahead peacefully, the last few months do not bode well for the future human rights situation in the country (no matter what the outcome of the referendum will be).

Thousands have been displaced by the government’s military offensive in Darfur, while the international community’s attention is focused on preparations for the referendum and the negotiation of a peace agreement for Darfur.  Since December 2010, more than 20,000 people in Darfur have been displaced during attacks by the Khartoum government’s attacks on various parts of North and South Darfur, including camps for the displaced in Dar Al Salam, Shangil Tobaya and Khor Abeche. The international community shouldn’t repeat its mistakes from 2004 and 2005, when focus on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) led to an ignorance (and acceptance) of grave crimes committed in Darfur.

The April 2010 elections were marked by human rights violations and threats to freedom of expression in both the south and north of the country and  we remain concerned that such violations would occur again during or after the referendum.

Human rights should be at the heart of this coming referendum. The governments of unity and of south Sudan should make it clear that human rights violations will not be tolerated. The respect, protection and promotion of human rights in Sudan are vital to the success of this historic vote.

An Amnesty International delegation recently returned from Juba in southern Sudan where it assessed the human rights situation ahead of the referendum. To get detailed information about our human rights concerns in Sudan, please take a look at some of our resources:

For an interesting non-AI resource, don’t forget to follow the Sudan Vote Monitor (SVM), which was launched today. SVM is a Sudanese civil society initiative to monitor the referendum and is based on the powerful Ushahidi plattform.

Forgetting Darfur?

This posting is part of the Sudan Referendum Watch series

Lately, there’s been no shortage of news about Sudan. On January 9th, the people of South Sudan will vote in a referendum that will determine whether or not South Sudan becomes independent. Thousands of southern Sudanese who have been living in the north for decades are making their way back to South Sudan to participate in what is sure to a historic event.

But as we wait with impatience for the referendum and as we plan ahead for what is likely to be an independent South Sudan, let’s not forget about Darfur.

Civilians in Darfur continue to be faced with violence and are subjected to human rights violations on a regular basis. Humanitarian aid organizations struggle to reach the people who rely on the aid. Armed groups and militias continue to attack villages, leading to more death and more displacement. Human rights defenders are still being systematically targeted.

And these are just some examples of the ways in which the situation has been deteriorating over the past year. Just two days ago, rebel officials in Darfur announced that it was highly unlikely that a peace deal between the government of Sudan and the Darfuri rebel group the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), would be signed on December 19, as originally planned. While the international community focuses on the referendum and on the North-South dialogue, peace efforts in Darfur are  going nowhere.

So as we prepare ourselves for what might come next, let’s make sure that we remember the people of Darfur.

  1. Read our Sudan Referendum Briefing (pdf)
  2. Follow this weekly blogging series. For daily updates and breaking news, follow me or Amnesty on Twitter
  3. Look out for new materials, such as more maps and a resource guide, in the weeks running up to the referendum on January 9. New content will be posted on this blog or on our Sudan Country Page