Responding to the Human Rights Crisis in South Sudan

George Clooney, members of Congress, and activists were arrested last month for protesting human rights abuses in Sudan. Despite the attention this act drew to their suffering, the Sudanese people still face grave abuses, and their country remains devastated by years of civil war.

This week, Amnesty International Canada’s Alex Neve arrived in South Sudan. He is participating in a vitally important human rights research mission to investigate deadly attacks on villages and aerial bombings of civilians along the border region of Sudan and the world’s newest country, South Sudan.

Just before he left, Alex made a video about why this trip was so important. Watch the 3-minute video:

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Still more for us to do in Chad

An Amnesty research team is visiting Chad for the fourth time since 2006. This time the focus of inquiry will be on violence against women, general issues of insecurity, and new work on the recruitment of child soldiers. Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, is reporting.  You can follow his blog here.

AI Canada's Secretary General Alex Neve reunites with village chief Abakar Yusuf

The last think I ever would have expected in an isolated corner of eastern Chad is a reunion!

This afternoon we made our way out to Koudigou, a camp near Goz Beida that is home to about 11,000 displaced Chadians, most of who have been there for close to four years now.  It was a bumpy, sandy track through rough terrain, making our way past sporadic groups of people coming and going with supplies of water and bundles of firewood and hay.  Also sharing the road were camels, donkeys, goats and sheep with occasional herds of cattle in the distance.  As has been the case throughout our time on the ground here in eastern Chad the sun was relentless and the heat suffocating.

Even before we had arrived a group of about 15 elders and leaders had gathered to meet with us.  We made our way into a small building that offered welcome shelter from the sun while still allowing a breeze to blow through.

We made our introductions and explained who we were, a bit about Amnesty International and the focus of our mission.  The first village chief to speak, Abakar Yusuf, then astonished me by saying he remembered me from when I was here in 2006 and had spent some time in and around the village of Adé, very near the Chad/Darfur border.  He reminded me that he had spoken with me about the very tragic death of his wife, who was shot and then thrown into their burning home when their village had come under attack by Janjawid militia.

I immediately remembered and even recognized him. I certainly recalled the heart-wrenching story of his wife’s death, which had only happened about two weeks before our arrival. In fact I recall that the report we published in January 2007 following that mission, includes an account of Abakar’s wife’s death, alongside Abakar’s photo.

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From the Field: Child Soldiers in Chad

An Amnesty research team is visiting Chad for the fourth time since 2006. This time the focus of inquiry will be on violence against women, general issues of insecurity, and new work on the recruitment of child soldiers. Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, is reporting.  You can follow his blog here.

Putting an end to the recruitment and use of child soldiers is a pressing human rights concern in so very many parts of the world.  It is certainly an immense problem here on both sides of the border between Chad and Darfur.  The full range of armies, militias and armed opposition groups responsible for years of fighting and human rights violations here are notorious for having thousands of young children in their ranks and regularly sending them out onto the battlefield.

For the past two days we have been interviewing a number of former child soldiers – yesterday in the town of Guereda and surrounding villages; and today at Kounoungou Camp, which is home to about 16,000 refugees from Darfur.  All have been boys.  Some are Chadian; others from Darfur.   Most joined when they were very young, including as young as ten years of age.

All have now demobilized.  With the Chadian boys it happened when the opposition group they were involved with joined forces with the Chadian military and at that point all of the group’s underage fighters were turned over to the UN.  With the Darfuris we have interviewed, they have all made a choice to stop fighting – some because they felt they had family responsibilities, others because they had simply had enough.

What all of them so very much had in common though was a similar story of what propelled them to join the armed groups in the first place: human rights violations.  They talked of poverty; they talked of insecurity; they talked of discrimination; and they talked of a lack of opportunity.  It was all about human rights. 

They tell a crushing story of deprivation and fearfulness that so wrenchingly shows how all human rights are interconnected.  It is a story of human rights abuses that make it impossible for a family to escape poverty so deep that tomorrow’s food is never certain.  Of human rights abuses that unleash violence and insecurity that leaves family members dead, homes destroyed, and precious cattle stolen.  It is about human rights abuses that mean that the ability to go to school and build a future is never more than a dream.  And at the core of it all is the fact that this misfortune and hardship happens to you — and the protection you so very much crave and deserve is never forthcoming – all because of the ethnic group you belong to.

That is the toxic web of human rights violations that can eventually push a 10 year old boy to believe that all that is open to him is to be trained in how to use a Kalashnikov and hope that he’ll be allowed to join the others in the next round of fighting.  To believe that that is how he will be able to escape poverty; protect his family; and build a future.

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Amnesty On-the-Ground in Kenya

This week, Amnesty International kicked off a high level research mission to Kenya to launch our first Demand Dignity campaign action.  Irene Khan, Amnesty’s Secretary General, visited to two informal settlements in Nairobi – where almost two million people live in slums – asking residents to tell the Kenyan government what dignity mean to them via a free SMS service.   The responses have been inspiring, take a look at a few:

For me, living with dignity means “setting principles to your ways and standard of living and be true to them.”

“Dignity is having three meals a day. Clean water. shelter. Good roads. justice for all but not for the few corrupt.”

“Dignity refers to carrying humanity with respect and honour.”

Community members from Korogocho and Kibera slums told the Amnesty delegation stories, sang songs and used street theatre performances to illustrate the human rights violations they face everyday as slum residents.  Irene Khan noted:

“The development of slums in urban areas has become the iconic symbol of the forgotten, marginalized people – excluded not only from basic services like sanitation, but also from the decision making that takes place even in their own lives.”

In the settlements, children play in muddy streams which run through narrow passageways, while pathways are littered with garbage, animal and human waste. Overcrowding in Kibera – Africa’s largest slum – is a huge problem with more than 800,000 people living on 250 hectares

Many of the informal settlement residents described the insecurity associated with slum-life. In Korogocho, Irene Khan met with Mama Franco, a mother of three, who recently lost her few personal possessions in a house fire started by the paraffin lamp she uses as she has no electricity supply.  Mama Franco is one of an estimated 127,000 poor Kenyans who face losing their homes in a planned river clean up program.

Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity campaign seeks to empower people living in poverty and take their voices to the highest level of government. The voices collected in Kenya’s informal settlements through the SMS action and website will be collected and presented to the Kenya government on World Habitat Day.