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

Sudan’s President Al Bashir Accused of Genocide by the ICC

Today, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a second arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir for three counts of genocide. An arrest warrant was first issued for Al Bashir in March 2009 for five counts of crimes against humanity (which includes murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape) and two counts of war crimes (for intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population and pillaging).

Satellite images provide evidence of the destruction of villages in Darfur. See more at Copyright 2009 DigitalGlobe

While a trial is the only way to determine whether or not Al Bashir is responsible for the crimes he is accused of, this second arrest warrant shows the determination of the ICC to ensure that those who have suffered the most from conflict in Darfur – civilians – have access to justice.

And while President Al Bashir will most certainly continue trying to evade justice and is unlikely to surrender himself in the near future, this new arrest warrant will certainly not make his life any easier. Even since the first arrest warrant was issued, his travel has been heavily restricted as he has been uninvited or at the very least, discouraged from attending many events in foreign countries.

This new arrest warrant, as the very least, reminds us that there is a still a lot to be done to ensure justice for the people of Darfur. That’s why we’re continuing to ask the US government to do all that they can to assist and cooperate with the ICC, especially on the Sudan cases. The Obama administration has stated that it supports international efforts to bring those responsible for genocide and war crimes in Darfur to justice. It’s time to put those words into action.

This coming Saturday, July 17th, the world will be celebrating International Justice Day, which provides us with a great opportunity to remind the US government that international justice should be a priority and to urge support for the ICC’s cases in Sudan. You can also celebrate by participating and hosting a variety of events. The American NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court (AMICC), which AIUSA is a part of, has an extensive list of great ideas for activities you can plan in celebration of International Justice Day.

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.


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.


Check Out Our New Video on Chad

Last week, we told you about the need for UN peacekeepers to stay in eastern Chad to help protect refugees and IDPs. We also sent an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about our concerns. Now you can check out our new video that sends a powerful message to Secretary Clinton and all of the US Government that we need greater civilian protection in Chad.

And don’t forget to ask Secretary Clinton to support MINURCAT’s renewal! We need you to take action today to make sure peacekeepers can stay in Chad and the Central Africa Republic. MINURCAT still has a chance.

Civilians Still Need Protection in Eastern Chad

UN peacekeepers that have been crucial in protecting civilians in eastern Chad and northern Central African Republic (CAR) are being asked to leave once the mission’s mandate ends on May 15th. Without these peacekeepers, human rights abuses in the region will almost certainly increase, further endangering the lives of the refugees and internally displaced people living in camps.

Both the conflict in neighboring Darfur, Sudan, and Chad’s own internal conflict have created hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people, many of which now live in refugee camps in the eastern part of Chad, close to the border with Sudan.

Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad

Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad

Despite recent improvements, security in these camps remains a major issue. Amongst other issues, violence against women and girls is common both within and outside of the camps, and acts of violence are carried with almost complete impunity. And the UN peacekeepers are the only ones who can provide protection for these people.

Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, has asked the UN peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MINURCAT, to withdraw from Chad when the mission mandate’s comes to an end on May 15th. But it’s not too late. If the United States can take a leadership at the UN Security Council, MINURCAT has a chance. And so will the people living in eastern Chad.

It’s up to you to take action today to ask the US government to be a leader in ensuring MINURCAT’s renewal.

Tentative Hope for Internally Displaced Persons in Africa


Children in Kalma Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, South Darfur, Sudan.

An internally displaced person is someone forced from their home by natural disaster, extreme poverty or political conflict but do not leave the borders of their homeland. This is the crucial difference between internally displaced persons and refugees; refugees cross a border, leaving their homeland and subject to protections afforded by international treaties. There are more than 25 million internally displaced persons (IDP’s)  in the world, outnumbering refugees by a ratio of two to one. However the vast majority of relief efforts target refugees rather than IDPs and there are no United Nations agencies or international treaties that specifically target this population-until now.

 Africa is home to at least half of the world’s IDP’s. Algeria, Sudan, Chad and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) all have at least a million IDP’s each. “[In Africa,] forced displacement … is mostly attributable to the acts or omissions of the state, such as human rights violations, political and socio-economic marginalization, conflicts over natural resources and governance challenges, according to the AU.” In late October, seventeen member nations of the African Union signed the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons. Previously, the only international law document specifically targeted to IDP’s was the Guiding Principles for Internal Displacement. As the name suggests, this document only lists suggested principles of behavior to prevent and manage situations of displacement; it is what’s referred to as “soft law” in that it is not binding on State’s behavior. Conventions and treaties, on the other hand, are binding on State’s behavior and can lead to sanctions or adjudication. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Darfur: New Evidence of Attacks on Villages

Back in 2007, Amnesty International launched a ground breaking website, Eyes on Darfur, which showcased satellite evidence of attacks on villages in Darfur. The images demonstrated the ongoing insecurity in the region and the destruction and violence civilians are confronted with on a daily basis. The site also broke new ground by allowing the world to literally “watch over” 12 villages that were determined to be highly at risk but that had not yet been attacked.

Just a few weeks ago, we updated the satellite images on the Eyes on Darfur site and found that sadly, several of these at-risk villages have been attacked and at least partially destroyed. We were able to document that between January 2008 and March 2009, four of these villages were subject to attacks by Janjawid militias and Sudanese government forces, which destroyed many of the structures in those villages.


Human Rights Flashpoints – November 10, 2009

What’s Up This Week

  1. Colombia – Venezuela: No Love
  2. Sudan: Threat Against Election Officials
  3. Upcoming This Week

Colombia and Venezuela – The Cold War Continues?
The tension between Colombia and Venezuela has once again flared with Venezuela’s government sending 15,000 troops to the border at the end of last week and publicly stating that it is preparing for war. There have been multiple causes for the recent deterioration of relations between the two governments. Most recently, the murder of two national Venezuelan guardsmen on the border allegedly by Colombian paramilitary groups resulted in the closing of two bridges connecting the two countries. Consequently, Chavez has accused the Colombian government of complacency against paramilitary groups trying to destabilize his government. In addition, the Venezuelan leader has cited last month’s military cooperation lease between the US and Colombia to give American troops more access to national military bases as the foundation for a US invasion into Venezuela. The US and Colombia have argued that the military deal will assist in the fight against drug traffickers and other insurgents. The recent violence further exacerbated the already strained relations caused by the Venezuelan arrests of supposed Colombian spies last month, the discovery of multiple bodies along the border presumed to be Colombian paramilitaries, and Colombian charges that Chavez was supplying guerilla groups with anti-tank weapons.

The Uribe government in Colombia announced on Sunday that it would solicit the aid of the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to deal with the growing enmity with Venezuela.  While an all out war between the parties is highly unlikely, Chavez’s decision to send troops to the border could lead to an escalation in border violence.


Darfur Refugees Raped in Chad Camps

A new Amnesty International report draws a shocking picture of the fate of women and girls who fled the violence in Darfur to neighboring Chad: Instead of finding safety in refugee camps across the border, many become victims of sexual violence. Chadian police, trained and supported by UN forces, do little to protect women from sexual attacks in and outside the camps. In a statement to the Associated Press, a spokesman for the Chadian government denied any responsibility for protecting the refugees: “If there are cases of rape in the camps we cannot prevent them. The government is not responsible for security in the camps.”

The conclusion of the report – titled No place for us here. Violence against refugee women in eastern Chad (pdf) – is devastating and speaks for itself:

Refugee women and girls continue to face the risk of rape and other serious violence in and outside refugee camps in eastern Chad despite the presence of the MINURCAT and the full deployment of the DIS [Detachement Integre de Securite; UN trained Chadian police force] in the 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Outside refugee camps, women and girls face a range of abuses, from harassment and threats of physical attacks to rape and other forms of violence. Within the camps there is little safety from rape and other violence at the hands of other refugees, including members of their own families. In some cases women and girls even face the risk of rape and other violence from staff of humanitarian organizations, whose task is to provide them with assistance and support.

Perpetrators of rape and other forms of violence against refugee women and girls are very rarely brought to justice. This is the case even when survivors report instances of rape and other violence to the local Chadian authorities, the DIS or to refugee camps leaders. There is a deeply entrenched culture of impunity throughout eastern Chad when it comes to rape and other forms of violence against women.