Mission to Chad
Will there be hell here also? – Darfuris experience endless displacement - Written by Alex Neve
‘It always feels like something is about to explode’ – tension along the Chad/Sudan border - Written by Alex Neve
Canada must help Sudan address its many human rights crises - Written by Alex Neve
Trapped in an endless cycle of violence – the plight of Darfuri women and girls - Written by Manar Idriss
Will there be hell here also? – Darfuris experience endless displacement
By Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, currently in Goz Beida, eastern Chad
“We are safe here in the refugee camp right now. But we believed we were safe every other time we moved to a different village or [internally displaced persons] camp. Something always happens that makes us have to flee again.”
- Refugee from Darfur, Goz Amir Refugee Camp, eastern Chad, 10 November 2013
We have spent the past two days interviewing Darfuri refugees who fled from Sudan to eastern Chad earlier this year. Most came in April after a surge in fighting and grave human rights abuses in Central Darfur State – some of the worst violence in the region in years. At least 50,000 refugees have arrived in Chad this year, joining 250,000 who have already been here for the past decade. It is the highest refugee exodus out of Darfur since 2006.
Over the coming days we will gather more details about what lies behind this despairing turn for the worse in Darfur. It is already clear that there is a very worrying complexity to the fighting. Notably, two Arab tribes, the Salamat and Misseriya, who were allied in the past, seem now to have become sworn enemies. That adds a particularly volatile dimension to a conflict that was already very fragmented and unpredictable.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Darfur’s agonizing human rights and humanitarian tragedy. How troubling then that not only do lasting solutions to the crisis continue to elude the people of Darfur and the world community but – worse – a new chapter of killings, rape and mass displacement is being written.
Interviewing dozens of refugees at Goz Amir camp, numerous common themes have emerged. Most critically, we’ve documented the eyewitness testimonies from survivors of a massive armed attack on the town of Abu Jeradil and several surrounding villages in early April. Together they tell a story of tremendous chaos and indiscriminate violence.
Particularly haunting, however, was the frequency with which refugees shared with us their long personal and family histories of endless displacement over the past decade. It would be sorrowful enough to have endured the fear and hardship of having fled their homes in April. But for almost everyone, this was just one more instance of fleeing and escaping, in a long line of others going back years.
For many the story begins with a village being attacked and destroyed by Janjaweed fighters back in 2003 or 2004. Many lost loved ones at the time. Homes were burned and everything was lost. Some fled to other towns and villages, only to come under attack again weeks or months later. Many of those we interviewed had arrived in Abu Jeradil after trying to find safety in three or four other villages over many years.
Some – particularly the young men – went as far as moving to Khartoum or other large Sudanese cities where they were later rounded up during mass arrests of Darfuris on suspicion of being involved in armed opposition groups. Once released, they were certainly on the move again.
Large numbers, of course, took shelter in Darfur’s vast network of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, where conditions remained precarious and dangerous, particularly for women when they travelled outside camps in search of firewood. And some, therefore, left the IDP sites behind in search of somewhere safer.
Many have been crossing borders frequently in an area that brings together the turbulence of Darfur, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad. Darfuris have fled to CAR, then back to Darfur when chaos and unimaginable violence erupted there. Chadians have fled to Darfur and then back to Chad. Central Africans have fled across both borders to escape the spiralling violence in their own country.
I interviewed one Darfuri refugee who had fled first to CAR, then back to Darfur and now on to Chad. As he put it, “I left hell behind me when I fled Darfur the first time. Then hell found me in Central Africa. But it was still hell in Darfur. What will happen to me now in Chad? Will there be hell here also?”
One man, in tears, spoke of his hard work in building a good life for his family only to have it completely destroyed in a Janjaweed attack in 2004, forcing him to flee first to an IDP camp and then eventually to Abu Jeradil. There, he and his brother had worked hard again and were able to open a small shop and provide for their large families – only to see it all go up in smoke when the town was attacked and virtually all buildings destroyed by fire in April of this year. He told me, “they didn’t even steal anything; they just set it all on fire. It was clear they were trying to destroy our lives, not take our things.”
One woman spoke of her son, who she says she has only seen about once every two years as he has fled from one place to another. She worries about the younger generation who, she worries, “do not know what it is to have a place as your home”.
So accustomed are Darfuri refugees to this endless displacement that many expressed doubt that the situation would remain safe for them in the refugee camp. As one man told me, “something always happens that makes us have to flee again”.
It is intolerable that this crisis of human rights abuse, forced displacement and conflict has gone on for a decade. It is impossible to stand by and watch as it gets worse now. We must increase the pressure for real solutions to the Darfur crisis.
‘It always feels like something is about to explode’ – tension along the Chad/Sudan border
By Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, in N’Djamena, Chad
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2013
Tension is building fast along the Chad/Sudan border. The signs of a worsening human rights situation in Sudan’s neighbouring Darfur region have been growing for months, including while we have been travelling in areas close to the border during this mission. Fighting and human rights violations are always more prevalent during the dry season. And the end of the rainy season this year has certainly brought a sharp increase in violence.
Fighting is raging between various ethnic groups on the Darfur side of the border, particularly between two Arab tribes, the Salamat and Misseriya, who have been allies in the past. More villages are being attacked and left in ruins. That means more people killed and injured. It also means more women and girls being raped, though it is as of yet impossible to get a clear read on how widespread that has become. Homes and businesses are being set on fire and destroyed. Looting and theft, of livestock and personal property, is pervasive.
And tens of thousands of people are on the move. More than 30,000 have crossed over into Chad as refugees since the beginning of the year, the highest number to flee in years. Some have settled in refugee camps, others remain dispersed near the border. Untold thousands more are newly displaced in Darfur, where they are too far from the border to reach safety in Chad. Capacity to assist refugees in remote areas of eastern Chad is already strained and will be all the more so if there is another large influx.
Meanwhile, relations between Chad and Sudan – which have been amicable since 2010 after years of belligerence, cross border clashes, and support for armed opposition groups – appear to be increasingly strained because the current violence is so close to their shared border. Chad fears that the fighting might again spill over into its territory, as it has in the past. Sudan assumes that armed groups carrying out attacks in Sudan may use refugee camps in Chad for shelter. If the two countries return to warmongering and finger-pointing, that will most certainly not make things any easier for Darfuris displaced on either side of the border.
No wonder that a young man I spoke with in the Abgadam Refugee Camp, not far from the volatile conflux of the borders of Chad, Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), told me that it always feels like “something could explode at any moment.” One more cattle raid. One more village attacked. One more wave of refugees. A further turn for the worse in CAR. And this region could explode.
Yet the world does not seem to be paying close attention. In the same camp, meeting with a group of Sheikhs representing the Masalit community, our Amnesty delegation was thanked profusely for coming. They told us they are very grateful for all that the international community is doing to provide them with food and water. But they asked us if the rest of the world knows how quickly things are “changing for the worse” in Darfur?
Last Thursday, 14 November, as we prepared to leave the area surrounding Abgadam Camp, fighting along the border intensified again. Reports came in of several people killed, and people on the Chadian side of the border described seeing villages in Darfur engulfed in smoke. It felt as if everyone – refugees, humanitarian workers, UN officials and Chadian authorities – was collectively holding their breath.
Rumours swirl. Will there be further counter-attacks? Are more refugees coming? What of the thousands of refugees living in the brush, most of them Misseriya, around Abgadam Camp, with its largely Salamat inhabitants?
And there is increasing talk of possibly relocating refugees to a new camp further away from the border. It would be an understatement to say that Abgadam is located in a very volatile area. At the same time it is where the refugees want to be. They have close ties with the Chadian population in this area and feel that they are close enough to go back home as soon as it becomes safe to do so. When we have asked refugees at Abgadam what they thought of the possibility that they might be transferred to a new site several hundred kilometres further inside Chad, we hear nothing but defiance.
One elderly man told me: “I’m too old to be moved to a place where we have no friends. I won’t go. I’d rather go back and die in Darfur or even die right here.”
No decisions about relocation have been made, but the rumours themselves have most definitely become a source of considerable agitation.
Many times over the course of this mission I have found myself remembering the women, men and young people I’ve encountered in recent missions not that far from here, along the South Sudan/Sudan border, investigating human rights violations in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan State.
During interviews in April 2012 in the sprawling Yida Refugee Camp in South Sudan’s Unity State, very close to the Sudanese border, or in January 2013 as we travelled through villages that have been bombed in Southern Kordofan, the themes that emerged and the questions we were asked were so similar to what we are hearing now in Chad. “When will this end?” “Does the world know what is happening?” “Why do they want to move us from this refugee camp? We won’t go.” “Please make the Sudanese government stop violating our rights.”
Two different conflicts, two different borders, two different countries sheltering refugees. But behind the myriad human rights violations, one nation – Sudan. It is time for concerted and unified global action to end human rights violations in Sudan – everywhere in Sudan. We can’t keep waiting for things to explode, again and again. Renewed and determined efforts to protect human rights throughout Sudan must become a priority for world leaders, particularly within the UN Security Council and the African Union.
Canada must help Sudan address its many human rights crises
Earlier this fall the Canadian government significantly down-scaled the diplomatic and financial resources devoted to helping make a difference in Sudan
Darfuri women refugees in Chad
(c) Amnesty International
- Alex Neve,
Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
when the high-level Sudan Task Force was disbanded. The decision conveyed a disappointing message that Canada is less concerned about Sudan, at a time when the situation there is the most volatile it has been in years.
It was an unfortunate decision. There is an urgent need for a renewed global effort to address Sudan’s multiple human rights tragedies. Canada must get back in that game.It is hard to think of another country faced with so many full-blown human rights catastrophes.
I am currently wrapping up an Amnesty International research mission in Chad, along Sudan’s turbulent western border, investigating a surge in inter-communal violence and human rights violations in Darfur. Earlier this year I worked with another Amnesty team along Sudan’s southern border. We travelled through villages that have endured a harrowing Sudanese aerial bombing campaign in the state of Southern Kordofan and interviewed refugees who have fled into remote reaches of neighbouring South Sudan.
There is more. Civilians have also suffered terribly in the midst of fighting between the Sudanese military and armed opposition in Blue Nile State. And last month Sudanese authorities responded to widespread popular demonstrations against cuts to fuel subsidies with a harsh crackdown that left at least 200 dead and more than 800 protesters thrown into jail, including members of opposition parties, journalists and activists.
This year over 30,000 refugees from Darfur have fled into Chad, bringing the number of Darfuri refugees in Chad to close to 300,000. It is the highest influx in seven years.
And while we have been in eastern Chad, fighting has continued to rage just over the border in Darfur. More people killed. More villages set on fire. More people forced from their homes. It is, to say the least, tense. As one recently arrived refugee told me, it is impossible to shake the feeling that the entire region could explode at any moment.
Whether it was earlier this year in South Sudan’s refugee camps and the devastated villages of Southern Kordofan; or this week in the isolated refugee camps in Chad, I have heard similar concerns.
People wonder whether the world knows what is happening. They fear the world does not care. They implore other countries to make the Sudanese government stop violating their rights. They ask when it will end.
And there is so much heartbreak. Having fled amidst chaos, many refugee families in Chad are separated. Parents do not know if their children are still alive. Children worry about their missing elderly parents.
A 10-year-old girl described to me seeing her father shot and killed in front of her in a village in Central Darfur in early April. She told me: “I have never been so afraid in my life. When I’ve been afraid before it is my father who makes me feel okay, but he couldn’t this time.”
The cycles of displacement have been endless. Starting in 2003, one Darfuri man fled first to a displacement camp inside Darfur, then on to the Central African Republic, back to Darfur and now Chad. As he put it, “I left hell behind me when I fled Darfur the first time. Then hell found me in Central Africa. But it was still hell in Darfur. What will happen to me now in Chad? Will there be hell here also?”
International efforts in the face of these deepening human rights violations are insufficient, disconnected and, ultimately, ineffective.
There is a UN Security Council sanctioned mission on the ground in Darfur. Sudanese forces keep those UN soldiers away from some of the most troubled parts of Darfur. That is particularly worrying as Sudan does not allow independent human rights monitors and dramatically restricts the activities of international humanitarian organizations in Darfur. The UN mission itself has seen a worrying number of fatalities this year.
A different Security Council process addresses troubles between Sudan and South Sudan, and gives some minimal attention to the grave situations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. The Security Council has failed, however, to unequivocally condemn war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Sudanese forces.
The African Union similarly gives separate attention to these crises, as if they were happening in different countries, and in its most recent report dealing with troubles along the Sudan/South Sudan border did not mention human rights at all.
An infamously leaky arms embargo has been imposed by the Security Council, but applies only to Darfur, not the rest of Sudan. The Sudanese President and other indicted war criminals have evaded International Criminal Court arrest warrants related to abuses in Darfur for over 6 years now. Tragically and ironically, Ahmed Haroun, indicted for alleged crimes in Darfur when he served as Sudan’s Interior Minister and Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, was, until recently, the Governor of Southern Kordofan.
A recent effort to intensify pressure on Sudan at the UN Human Rights Council was unsuccessful. The Council has kept scrutiny of Sudan under the lower-key theme of technical assistance and capacity building, making difficult to independently document the human rights situation on the ground.
There has been little international response to the recent killings and arrests that followed the recent wave of protests across Sudan. Again, it feels as if the world sees those concerns as unrelated to the country’s other human rights problems.
It is time for a forceful and coherent international response to the multiplying and mounting human rights crises in Sudan. Canada should step up and help lead that effort.
Originally printed in the Toronto Star - Published on Tue Nov 26 2013
Trapped in an endless cycle of violence – the plight of Darfuri women and girls
Darfuri women refugees in Chad
© Amnesty International
After spending more than a week this November in eastern Chad, interviewing Darfuri refugees in two different refugee camps, I found myself reflecting on how the latest round of violence in Darfur led to yet another influx of refugees into Chad. And in particular it was distressing, but not surprising, to hear how the violence has impacted on women and girls, not only in Darfur, but also on the perilous journey to Chad.
Fleeing the violence between the Salamat and the Misseriya (two Arab tribes present in Sudan and in Chad), many women fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs and somehow made their way into Chad. Many of them told me about how they had to escape after witnessing their loved ones being shot and killed , their homes burned and their belongings stolen.
I sat for long hours in the middle of a group of women in the refugee camps listening to their traumatic accounts; to their fears and their hopes. They talked about their past, their present and their future. They had all suffered a great deal. Most had lost their husbands, or other close family members. Many didn’t know where their children were, and whether they were still alive. Some of the women had also been beaten up or shot at, and others had been raped.
The refugee camps we visited are predominantly populated by women and children. Walking inside Abgadam camp, in the far south-eastern corner of Chad, the absence of men is striking. Some women’s husbands stayed on in Sudan to look after their cattle, or returned to their villages to see what property they could recover. Many have disappeared or been killed.
One woman from the Masalit tribe who used to live in the Darfuri village of Abujeradil, told me:
“We woke up in the morning to make breakfast, then heard gun shots from afar, so we got scared and I ran away with my children. My husband refused to come, he wanted to stay and look after our home and cattle. I was later told that he died. He was shot in the chest…. Now I am alone here, with my eight children, and it’s not easy…”
Another woman, a mother of five, told me how her husband was shot dead as he attempted to run away. He was carrying their five-year-old son at the time. “I ran back to check on them… and saw that they both died on the spot,” she said looking down to the floor, as if trying to hide her pain.
These are only two of the many accounts I heard while in refugee camps in eastern Chad. What was most humbling was that despite the horrors these women have experienced, they were all striving for a better future. Many told me how they wished to get an education for themselves and, more importantly, for their children. “Lack of education is why we are here now,” many of them said. “Education is our only hope for a better future”.
Rape and other forms of sexual violence
Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been features of the armed conflict in Darfur and remain a constant threat for women and girls, both in areas directly affected by the conflict and across the region as the conflict fuels widespread insecurity.
After speaking with the leaders – men and women – of the Masalit tribe in Goz Amir Camp, I asked the men around us to leave, so the women could speak freely. As soon as the men left, one woman grabbed my arm and told me that armed men had abducted her 10-year-old daughter during the attack on her village. They held the girl for four days, during which time they beat and raped her. Then they abandoned her on the road to Chad. “She is only 10 years old. She came back full of bruises on her body, they beat her and raped her. How could they do that to a child” she said. Indeed, how could anyone do this to a child?
Many women told me that armed militias harassed and threatened them while they were fleeing to Chad. Some told me that men had tried to rip the clothes off their back. Others told me about women who were abducted in front of their eyes, and reappeared days later, with barely any clothes on them.
A 20-year-old woman told me how she was locked in a room with many other women from her village. The armed men, who were dressed in military fatigues, came and took “the prettier ones” and raped them. “They came, killed all our men, and then beat us, and raped some of us. They told us we are slaves.”
What struck me is the way some of these woman have accepted rape as part of their fate. They are too afraid to speak out, because they do not want to be stigmatized by their communities. They are too afraid to report rape, out of fear of being harassed, particularly in cases where the perpetrators are state actors. They have no confidence in the authorities’ ability or willingness to investigate. They know this shouldn’t be happening, but believe that nothing can be done about it.
UN and humanitarian workers we spoke with confirmed that the number of reported cases of sexual violence is strangely low. They are concerned about those low numbers because they know how rape has been such a central part of a decade of conflict in Darfur. And sure enough, almost every refugee I spoke with – men and women alike – told me that sexual violence, and in particular rape, is still very common in Darfur and certainly happened frequently during the most recent clashes in this region.
This is not only something that happens in conflict-affected areas. It seems to be part of the rampant insecurity that has prevailed throughout Darfur since the beginning of the conflict, a decade ago.
Many women and girls are raped when they go out to fetch firewood. One man told me that “sometimes you see a woman come back with torn clothes after disappearing for a few days. You can guess what happened. The problem is that nothing can be done about this.”
What these women’s traumatic accounts show is how the Sudanese government has utterly failed in its international legal obligations to prevent, protect against and punish these fundamental human rights violations, some of which may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity for which individuals can be held criminally responsible. Sudanese authorities must also exercise due diligence to prevent and punish their violation whether by state or non-state actors such as the militias.
Women’s human rights are often forgotten and treated as a secondary concern, both in and outside of conflict situations. Despite efforts by the international community to address the violations and abuses committed against women and girls, in Darfur – rape and other forms of sexual violence remain a constant threat, and particularly due to the climate of pervasive and widespread impunity. More needs to be done to address the effects of this on-going crisis and to protect women and girls from this continued violence that has lasted for a decade.