Friday, December 08, 2006

Darfur, Sudan

Here's a post I've been working on, and I mean "working on" in the sense of reading things and wondering what to make of them and what to say, or whether to say anything at all. It was going to be the world's best post, too, so inspirational it would have galvanised you into action, reader - you and your superhero powers - to solve all the problems of the world, starting with the conflict in Darfur, Sudan.

But sadly I'm not going to write the world's best post, because I can't. There's too much to say and I don't know what I'm talking about. I've been reading all week, trying to absorb a few facts and build up a bit of authority, but there's too much to catch up on.

Let's not fuss (I say to myself). We'll just go with quotes - a collection of impressions.

But first an explanation for this sudden interest in Darfur. About two weeks ago and in keeping with the random fluky nature of all things internet, I was doing a Google blog search for "quotes" and one of the results on the first page was Some of my favourite quotes. I toddled on over there and found Soldier of Africa by Werner, a South African soldier who is working as a military observer with the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), and currently editing the AMIS newsletter from El Fasher, Darfur.

I ended up wandering through his archives, amazed that somebody could be blogging from Darfur, and aghast at just how much I didn't know about the place or the situation there.

So. That's how it started. And here's how it will continue: quotes from here and there, snatches of this and that, until hopefully I can sort out all these ideas in my head and put them in neat lines and sentences.

Darfur, Sudan, 2006.

There is no peace whatsoever in Darfur. To a great extent this is the responsibility of the Government.
- Jan Pronk, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Weblog nr 38, 27 November 2006.

As of December 2005, more than half of Darfur's six million people - Arabs and non-Arabs, pastoralists and farmers - now suffer the effects of a collapsed economy, little or no freedom of movement, and the loss of livelihoods from looted and destroyed property. More than two million displaced victims of "ethnic cleansing" in Darfur remain confined in camps, some for more than two years, where they are almost entirely dependent on foreign assistance and remain vulnerable to violence. Most displaced persons are unable to return to their rural homes due to the insecurity created by government forces and Janjaweed [militias]. Where individuals have attempted to return, they face continuing harassment and deadly attacks from growing numbers of armed groups, including the rebel movements, in some cases at the hands of the same persons who forcibly displaced them.
- "Entrenching impunity: government responsibility for international crimes in Darfur: I. Summary," Human Rights Watch, vol. 17, no. 17a (December 2005).

Crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by Sudanese military and militia forces have included the targeted killing, summary execution, assault and rape of thousands of civilians, the destruction of hundreds of villages, the theft of millions of livestock, and the forced displacement of more than two million people.
The rebel groups in Darfur are also responsible for serious abuses, including killings, rape and abductions of civilians, attacks on humanitarian convoys, and theft of livestock, that are war crimes.
Escalating attacks on international and Sudanese aid workers and [African Union (AU)] personnel demonstrate that these groups are increasingly viewed by the warring parties as legitimate targets, a situation that jeopardizes the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance to more than three million people, or half of Darfur's population.
- "Entrenching impunity: government responsibility for international crimes in Darfur: III. Background," Human Rights Watch, vol. 17, no. 17a (December 2005).

[Among the lawyers at Amal Center in Nyala, South Darfur, is] Thuriya Haroon Daldon, who is teasingly nicknamed Mrs ICC by local judges and, unusually for a woman here, drives herself around in a van. Thuriya Haroon's first case with Amal was in 2001, representing a group of men who said they had been tortured by national-security officers. "I submitted the names of the torturers to the attorney general, but until now there's no permission even to pursue the case, and no answer," she said, and laughed. A frank woman with a friendly but firm aspect, Thuriya Haroon uses laughter to fend off the realities of death and cruelty that now fill her workday. "Instead, we face harassment," she said. "They follow us, watch us. And until now the victims say to me: 'What do you do? We give our stories, and those who tortured us are on the streets.' Sometimes I'm ashamed. I've done nothing." She has handled hundreds of rape cases, for example, and until now: "No one has been convicted of rape in all of Darfur. We've had only two cases of immoral behavior. They were sentenced to six months."
Since August 2004, the Amal Center has compiled information on more than 72,000 cases [of torture and abuse].
It's not that no one has been connected by Sudanese courts to the genocide. They have convicted several men who did not want to take part in it: Darfurian Air Force pilots who refused to fly bombing missions over their homeland. They are serving 10 to 20 years in Kober prison in Khartoum.
- Elizabeth Rubin, "If not peace, then justice," New York Times Magazine, 02 April 2006.

The main reason other international [television] stations don't always cover Africa well is - not because execs think viewers aren't interested, because they know very well that public attention is shaped by their decisions - but simply money. It costs a lot to send people into Congo and Darfur, [...]
- Andrew Stroehlein, "Great hopes for Al Jazeera International," Reuters AlertNet, 03 November 2006.

While one of the world's worst humanitarian crises continues some 600 miles away in Darfur, across Khartoum bridges are being built, office towers are popping up, supermarkets are opening and flatbed trucks hauling plasma TVs fight their way through thickening traffic.

Despite the image of Sudan as a land of cracked earth and starving people, the economy is booming, with little help from the West. Oil has turned it into one of the fastest growing economies in Africa - if not the world - emboldening the nation's already belligerent government and giving it the wherewithal to resist Western demands to end the conflict in Darfur.
The boom is also strengthening the government's hand at home. Over the past few years, [President] Mr. Bashir has been on an infrastructure binge, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into roads, bridges, power plants, hospitals and schools, projects that tend to boost any government's popularity. Mr. Bashir seems to desperately need it, with many people across the country, not just in Darfur, openly rebelling against his rule.
[According to Abda Yahia el-Mahdi, a former finance minister, now in private consulting] more than 70 percent of the government's share of oil profits is spent on defense. A government priority is to manufacture guns and ammunition domestically, in case external supplies are cut off.
- Jeffrey Gettleman, "War in Sudan? Not where the oil wealth flows," New York Times, 24 October 2006.

UN Sudan Bulletin 06 Dec 2006: West Darfur: Twenty five children, who were abandoned when their parents fled to Chad, were reported in need of food.
- United Nations Country Team in Sudan, "United Nations Sudan Bulletin 06 Dec 2006," ReliefWeb Latest Updates.