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Posts Tagged ‘Darfur’

Last week, I was able to attend a panel with a Kennedy School professor, a member of Physicians for Human Rights, and a photojournalist who worked in the Darfur region.  Here are some of the things that I picked up at the event.

Photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale was in the region from in the region from 2003 until 2008. He traveled there about 12 times in that period to Chad, Darfur and Central African Republic.  He documented the plight of villagers as they tried to escape the janjaweed for refugee camps within Darfur and in Chad. He was kind enough to allow me to post a few of his pictures from that time on this blog.

He mentioned how at the sound of airfare or helicopters, entire villages would cluster around huge trees so that it would shield them from the bombs.  This was happening to hundreds of villages in Darfur while they were moving from their homes to the camps. It is hard to fathom until you see some of the pictures he has taken.

Sudanese displaced take refuge under a tree in Disa, Northern Darfur out of the heat of the day and out of view of the Antanov responsible for the bombing, there are estimated to be 2,000,000 displaced in Darfur who are trapped on the east, west and south by government troops and in the north by the desert wasteland which will certainly claim the lives of their livestock and weaker members of their family.  Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Sudanese displaced take refuge under a tree in Disa, Northern Darfur out of the heat of the day and out of view of the Antanov responsible for the bombing, there are estimated to be 2,000,000 displaced in Darfur who are trapped on the east, west and south by government troops and in the north by the desert wasteland which will certainly claim the lives of their livestock and weaker members of their family. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

There is reason for them to hide as the Sudanese army/ janjaweed was throwing phosphorous bombs from the back of helicopters and planes.  The results are horrific, and I’ll let Marcus’s photo do the talking.

Abakar Tidjani 17 years old lies in bed in Abeche suffering from 3rd degree burns to 80% of his body. He was playing with a grenade when it exploded. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Abakar Tidjani 17 years old lies in bed in Abeche suffering from 3rd degree burns to 80% of his body. He was playing with a grenade when it exploded. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

What seemed to outrage Marcus the most is that the refugees could live in make shift shelters waiting months for assistance outside the camps without any hope of assistance.  He asks, “how can the international community allow this to happen?” No human should have to feel like animals stripped of dignity.

Sudanese Refugees in Eastern Chad wait to register in the Tulum refugee camp. Supplies of food and water are sporadic and moving into the rainy season the supply route will get worse.  Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Sudanese Refugees in Eastern Chad wait to register in the Tulum refugee camp. Supplies of food and water are sporadic and moving into the rainy season the supply route will get worse. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

There are currently 3 million internally displaced people (IDP’s) in the region.  At the camps, families make the conscious decision to send the women to fetch for firewood even though they are raped by militia/ janjaweed, and even men from the camps during their journey because the alternative would be death for the men.

It is nearly impossible to prosecute any man of rape under current Sudanese law.  For a successful prosecution, the victim would need 4 male eyewitnesses to support your claim or 8 female eyewitnesses.  There is tremendous stigma associated with rape, so the women do not talk about it.  They fear that they will be accused of adultery or so defiled that they are not worth marrying.

Even though the Bush administration declared Darfur a genocide, the government was slow to act because Sudan was helping with US intelligence in the Middle East.  The Obama administration has been preoccupied with other issues like health care, the economy, and Afghanistan/ Pakistan.

Thirteen international non-government organizations were kicked out, and 3 Sudanese aid groups were shut down after the International Criminal Court issued its arrest warrant for president Omar Bashir.  This has left a tremendous void for the people.

The only way forward is to put pressure on China to cancel their contracts for  Sudanese oil and for Chinese weapons that Omar Bashir is providing the janjaweed.  This would be economically difficult for America to ask of China.

Ideally, the international community would force China’s hand using the ICC’s decision as its basis.  Money talks, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) could put pressure on China by forcing it to pay tax on key exports for dealing with a criminal.  China has an unfair economic advantage because other countries are not willing to deal with a human rights violator for its oil.

China should pay the consequences for its economic activity because their business is abetting a genocide.  Unfortunately, this will continue as it has made deals with the Guinean dictator despite soldiers involved in mass rape and killings during a protest earlier this year.

This can only be stopped if China is punished.  The question is, “Does the international community have the political will to make this happen?”  Unfortunately, we may already know that answer.

Special Thanks to Marcus Bleasdale for his work and for allowing me to post some of his pictures on our blog.  I encourage you to check out his website and take 10 minutes to watch a piece he did on the conflict in the Congo.

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Greeting BFP Blog Readers!

Amy and Alicia and I, all international justice enthusiasts, have decided to start exploring international justice (IJ) issues using our group blog. I spent well over a year working closely with AIUSA’s Program on International Justice and Accountability. The Program focused on the international justice components of several conflicts, including demanding an International Criminal Court investigation into the conflict in Darfur. I loved my time with the program. I learned a lot about the international justice system, why it was important to human rights activism in general and I had the opportunity to work with some very talented and brainy folks who are super committed to the international justice system and growing grassroots support for that system in the U.S. The Program closed earlier this year, but the BFP invested so much time in training and networking in this area that I plan on continuing our work.

As an organizer, I’ve had a difficult time trying to get people to respond to the term “international justice”. It is both too vague and too clear. Of course human rights activists want justice! Isn’t that all we do, really? And yet justice itself is really the focus of IJ work. It means using the mechanisms provided by international law to ensure that allegations of the very worst human rights abuses- torture, disappearances, genocide, and crimes against humanity- are investigated and if necessary, prosecuted. But getting a grasp of international law, processes and these mechanisms can be downright intimidating. AIUSA has provided some fantastic fact sheets and even a film online that explores some of the key concepts with exceptional clarity. You can find those resources at

With these “What is International Justice” posts, we’ll be exploring these mechanisms in practice, looking at the role the tools of international justice could play in the many ongoing conflicts in the world. We’ll also be looking at some of the inherent problems with the notion of international justice. In addition to the posts from BFP -ers, I’m hoping that I can arrange for a few current and former IJ colleagues to guest blog about their thoughts and work.

So while you folks spend the weekend reviewing the AIUSA film and fact sheets (hey, an IJ activist can dream, right??!), I’ll be researching more about this : http://www.salon.com/wires/ap/world/2009/09/01/D9AEPAFG4_lt_chile_dirty_war/index.html and this http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/08/24/holder/index.html.
I think it is interesting that the role of the International Criminal Court is to hold the “architects” of these crimes accountable while the Chilean investigation seeks to investigate “all who have participated” and the Holder investigation is, at least for now, only looking at CIA interrogators and some military contractors. I look forward to reading some more and picking the brains of my brilliant friends working in the field. I will report back next week for sure!

In solidarity,
Jenn

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This is the first of my (intended) weekly posts on resources that encourage readers of this blog to stay abreast of human rights news as well as become aware of interesting sites and articles that assist in activist capacity building and personal enrichment.

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Increasingly, satellite technology is coming into use as a tool to monitor human rights crises and provide infallible evidence of injustices and crime in real time.  I first heard of satellite imagery being used in this manner several years ago when the Zimbabwe government denied razing nearly 5,000 buildings and farms and internally displacing nearly 700,000 of its own country’s people in Operation Murambatsvina (meaning “drive out rubbish”).  

Amnesty International found the following, very clear before and after shots of the forced demolition and evictions:

Amnesty/Digital Globe

Satellite images from 2002 and 2006 showing the destruction of the Porta Farms settlement outside Harare. Photo: Amnesty/Digital Globe

AI also embarked on a satellite imagery project to document the ongoing crisis in Darfur, called “Eyes on Darfur.”  Increasingly, these types of tools and situation reporting, (including social media), seem to foster a greater sense of connection, deepened understanding and impassioned action among activists, journalists, students and others.  Pictures often can drive action more powerfully than words.

Outside the scope of Amnesty’s work with satellite technology, I recently learned that the UN Institute for Training and Research has an Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT)  that uses geographical information systems, field workers, satellite imagery experts and more to deliver “satellite solutions to relief and development organisations within and outside the UN system to help make a difference in the life of communities exposed to poverty, hazards and risk, or affected by humanitarian and other crises. ”

I came across Gaza Strip Damage Maps when searching for some of the latest information regarding the Israeli bombing of the UN compound

UNOSAT as you’ll see has maps for many other countries and regions and for various events ranging from train collisions in North Korea to population distributions in Mexico. 

I think we’ll be seeing more and more satellite technology make its way into how humanitarian crises and other human rights news are reported and also digested by readers – perhaps it will be the one extra push some might need toward pursuing action.

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Today, December 10, is the sixtieth anniversary of Human Rights Day.  Sixty years ago the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which define in 30 points what is our basic rights.

Since I have Monday’s off, I was able to attend the AIDS town meeting hosted by Physicians for Human Rights.  There, the Rev. Gloria White Hammond was one of the panelists who spoke there.  Here are some of her thoughts on human rights day and violence against women.

The cholera epidemic is Zimbabwe is critical because it could spread rapidly in the upcoming months because of the political situation there.

As mentioned earlier, aid agencies will be facing a shortage of food supplies in January when the need is the greatest.  The BBC reported in a podcast that students are foraging in the countryside and abandoning class to find food for their family.  If people are hungry, there immune systems will be weakend therefore being more vulnerable to cholera.  There are also shortages of basic medical supplies in hospitals throughout the country making it more difficult to treat.  In addition, the collapse of the sewage and basic water services has made it easier for the disease to spread.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7771184.stm

Change starts from the bottom up.  Dr. Jim Yong Kim also spoke at the AIDS town meeting.  In it he reminded the audience of the need to stay active in urging for change by quoting Franklin Delanor Roosevelt.  Sidney Hillman, a union representative, urged the new elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt to use his powers to enact stronger protection for workers.

FDR responded.  “I agree with you.  I want to do it.  Now go out and make me do it.”

It is critical that we ask our elected officials to put pressure on Robert Mugabe and ask him to stand down peacefully for the sake of his country.  We need to make them do it.

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