While it is a good gesture that the African Union (AU) has decided to extend the mandate of its peacekeeping force in the Sudanese region of Darfur until the end of the year, the fact remains that conflict in Darfur must come to an end.
The decision, which was announced after a meeting of African heads of state at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, also expected that Sudan would allow the 7,000-strong force to stay on beyond its 30th September deadline is not enough to push the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to stop the conflict which has led to the death of more than 200,000 people during the three-year rebellion and over two million displaced.
Although the president has also insisted reports of a humanitarian crisis in Darfur were exaggerated, according to Amnesty International 2006 report, there is compelling evidence that the Sudanese government is largely responsible for the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
Amnesty International’s report, which came after its delegates returned from visiting refugee camps in eastern Chad, reveals further that the Sudanese government has totally failed in its obligation to protect its own people.
The testimonies of scores of refugees describing attacks on rural communities by militias which included members of the armed forces or other security forces has not only led to the bleak conclusion that at least some elements in the army are encouraging this devastation, but also continuing attacks and killing.
According to the report between 4th and 8th July, 2006, some 72 people were killed, 103 injured and 39 women raped in targeted attacks against civilians in the Korma region, 70 km north west of al-Fasher, the capital of Darfur. Out of 71 confirmed dead 12 were school pupils and seven women.
As the report further indicates, until the Janjaweed are disarmed and put in a position where they can no longer commit human rights abuses, there will be no security in Darfur.
Yet the Sudanese government has taken no action to stop the attacks or to control and disarm the Janjaweed, despite the commitments it has made to do so, or to bring to justice those leaders and members of Janjaweed who have committed gross human rights abuses.
Yet still, on the contrary as the report reveals, the Sudanese forces do not effectively patrol the country’s borders or make efforts either to intercept or pursue the Janjaweed or to protect the civilian population on which they prey.
The Sudanese government continues to support the Janjaweed, whose fighters wear uniforms similar to those of the Sudanese army and have been found to be carrying identity cards showing them to be members of the Sudanese paramilitary forces.
Just last year alone the first major Janjaweed attack that took place on September 26, aimed at greater Koumou village area, the Janjaweed killed 55 and provoked the first mass displacement from the border villages surrounding the town of Koloy.
The Janjaweed again launched a second large attack on March 2006 near N’Djamena village, a few kilometres from Modaina, in which 72 who had been previously displaced to Koloy were killed.
Since 2003 the conflict in Darfur has been characterised by widespread and systematic violations of human rights including unlawful killings; mass forced displacement; and torture, including rape and other sexual violence particularly targeting women.
Even if al-Bashir denies any responsibility in Darfur, his government bears a heavy responsibility for continuing abuses by the Janjaweed, who would be unable to function without its support, including the guarantee of a safe haven inside Sudan.
Amnesty International delegates visited nine settlements in eastern Chad, from Tine in the north to Birkengi in the south. They spoke to refugees (including members of an Arab group which had refused to join the militias), Chad government officials and representatives of UN and non-governmental organisations, describing a dangerous humanitarian situation.
Although the refugees are in an extremely vulnerable position, having little or no food and difficult access to water, living in precarious shelters and suffer badly from the cold at night, the fact that Darfur is at risk of rapidly degenerating into a full-scale civil war where ethnicity is manipulated, and some will want to take revenge for those killed, seek arms to defend themselves or join armed opposition groups, is even making the matter worse as peace in the region is concerned
Apart from major humanitarian disaster, many attacks have happened before farmers were able to harvest; fields have been burnt, people killed and cattle stolen, and homes destroyed.
It is against this background that the international community must show the same determination and use the same pressure to end the conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur just as it is doing in the peace process to end the war in the southern Sudan between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army.
Which is why Amnesty International is not only calling on the Sudanese government to acknowledge and address the political and human rights crisis in Darfur and to take steps to restore peace and security in the areas of conflict, but also take immediate action to protect civilians in Darfur from deliberate attacks by armed groups; ensure unimpeded and secure access for humanitarian organisations to all internally displaced people in the region.
Set up an independent and impartial Commission of Inquiry which should examine the complex causes of the crisis, report publicly and make recommendations which must be implemented immediately; and provide redress and rehabilitation for the victims of human rights abuses.
Although the UN and human rights organisations have reported serious violations of human rights, relief organisations are still facing problems reaching people in need, due to insecurity and poor road infrastructure.
In a speech to the Assembly’s annual debate in New York, Omer al-Bashir said that Khartoum refuses “all forms of dictates” about Darfur--where UN officials, including Secretary-General Kofi Annan, have warned that a man-made humanitarian catastrophe is looming.
He criticised last month’s resolution at the Security Council, when it voted to deploy more than 17,000 blue helmets amid mounting concern over what will happen at the end of this month, when African Union (AU) troops stationed in Darfur are slated to leave.
He described the resolution as the climax of efforts to undermine the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), which was signed in early May by the Government and some of the rebel groups it has been fighting since 2003.
Last week Mr. Annan said Darfur is headed for a disaster unless Khartoum changes its mind about allowing UN peacekeepers to intervene, and Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland are among many UN officials to also express alarm over the situation.
In March 2004, Darfur was described by the then United Nations (UN) Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, as the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.
Massive human rights violations committed in the region include: extra-judicial executions, unlawful killings of civilians, torture, rapes, abductions, destruction of villages and property, looting of cattle and property, the destruction of the means of livelihood of the population attacked and forced displacement.
Yet the Sudanese government has not only failed in its duty to protect civilians, it has also actively violated its legal obligations to protect civilians.
Rapes have been committed in the context of attacks on villages, and according to some testimonies collected by Amnesty International, during smaller raids, mainly at night, before attacks on villages took place.
Women are primary targets for violence and are more vulnerable in the context of armed conflict because in Darfur, it is women who are responsible for the children and other family dependants. They are the main caregivers, which renders them more vulnerable during attacks and flights.
Women are more accessible to aggressors during attacks, because they usually stay closer to the village, compared to men who tend cattle, further away from the village.
According to the report women who have become pregnant as a result of rape are most likely to suffer further abuses of their rights. There is the trauma of the rape itself as well as the difficulties associated with carrying and caring a child who is the result of violence.
E-Mail [email protected]