“I Escaped the Janjaweed, but we have no protection here” – The Irish Catholic

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern TD visited Sudan and Darfur between July 2-5. His visit must now result in Ireland taking a proactive role in international efforts to resolve the political and humanitarian crisis in the region, including diplomatic intervention with Russia and China, writes Simon Roughneen.

FATA BORNO — Harian Abdullah was on her way to the wadi about a half a mile from Fata Borno camp for displaced people in Darfur.

“Like all the women here, I have to go to collect firewood so we can cook and have light in the camp. I walk there most days to get some fuel. Two days ago, I was on my way down to the trees”, she says, pointing towards a green oasis about half-way between her shelter and the nearby clinic where GOAL provides healthcare and nutrition services to the camp-dwellers.

“It was not yet dark. I saw five men moving out from near the trees. I stopped for one moment as I did not recognise them. They were about 500 meters away. I turned and ran back. They ran as well, but stopped soon afterward once I got close to the camp.”

IDP woman, northern Darfur (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

However, making the trek to the camp edge for firewood is a hazard that Darfur’s women face daily, across the vast region. With 2 million people crammed into sprawling and uncomfortable camp settlements, Harian’s dilemma is a recurring one for Darfur’s women.

In the camps, with minimal facilities, firewood is needed for cooking – otherwise the often malnourished and illness-prone people will go without food, exacerbating other health complications resulting from conflict and displacement.

However as Harian’s narrow escape describes, these vital chores entail huge risks.

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in Darfur since the outbreak of fighting in 2003, and numerous accounts of wanton sexual violence fill reports by the UN and rights organisations. But reports won’t help Harian next time she encounters the Janjaweed. She needs effective security.

As well as needing firewood to cook, there are other reasons why Darfur’s women make the treacherous trek most days. As Rugaya says, “if the men go, they will be killed by the Janjaweed. There have been six rapes around this camp in the past couple of weeks. We have no protection from the Janjaweed. Even if the women go to the gardens near here, they can be attacked. The African Union is here in the camp, but they don’t help.”

Since the May 5 Darfur Peace Agreement was signed, security condition have deteriorated rapidly on the ground in Darfur, as Sudan Liberation Movement/Army rebels who signed the deal now fight their erstwhile colleagues who refused to sign the agreement.

Their mutual foe, the Janjaweed militas, have been left relatively unhindered in their continued depredations on Darfur’s civilian population, entering camps at will, looting, raping and intimidating. The Janjaweed is allegedly armed and backed by the Sudanese government. The militia is the vanguard of the counter-insurgency campaign against Darfur’s now-squabbling rebels, but the Darfur civilians have borne the brunt of the Janjaweed’s campaign. Now rebel groups supporting the DPA are attacking former colleagues who oppose the Agreement, and committing the same execution and rape atrocities.

The peace agreement stipulates that the Sudanese government must disarm and demobilise the Janjaweed. However a recent deadline, part of the peace agreement, for the government to present a plan/timetable for disarmament, has slipped, like much else in a peace agreement that looks increasingly flawed, in its origins and in its implementation ever since May 5.

Harian’s cousin, Adam, says; “this is no peace. We will have no peace or security until the Janjaweed is removed,”

Supposed to protect the like of Adam and Harian is the African Union peacekeeping force, which maintains a barracks in the camp, but according to camp-dwellers, is impotent to deter the Janjaweed.

“We need protection. If the UN comes here and protects us, then they are welcome,” says Adam.

A neighbour from a nearby shelter joins the discussion: “We need the United Nations here. The AU cannot help, the government will not stop the Janjaweed. And the peace is false, there will be no peace here now.”

However the Sudanese government has so far refused to allow a UN peacekeeping mission enter Darfur. With 10,000 UN troops elsewhere in Sudan as guarantors of the separate 2005 peace agreement between Khartoum and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Army (SPLM/A), ending a 20 year war that cost 2 million lives, the Sudanese government has cited ‘colonialism’ as part of the UN agenda in entering Darfur.

This is despite the almost-certainty that most of any UN force would be comprised of African troops, with perhaps Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Nepalese troops added. Moreover, if Khartoum acquiesced to a UN force tomorrow, it would be at least 6 months before the transition from the AU could be completed, as UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno admitted two weeks ago.

Minister Ahern has witnessed at first hand the conditions in camps for displaced people. In a briefing afterwards, GOAL emphasized to Mr Ahern the inability of aid agencies to operate effectively in an insecure environment. We cannot reach some of the 200,000 people we deliver health, nutrition, sanitation and water services to across Darfur. Altogether, 2 million Darfurians have been displaced into camps by the fighting and terrorism conducted by the Janjaweed.

The Irish Government can now take a proactive role in the international efforts to end the violence in Darfur. On the humanitarian level, Mr. Ahern can lobby for more funding for the World Food Programme operation in Darfur, which had to cut rations by half in May, down to 1200 calories per day per person, half the daily recommended minimum.

However, Darfur’s humanitarian crisis is political in origins and will only be solved by political means.

The Minister must tell the world that the Darfur Peace Agreement will become a dead letter if it is not shored up, and if the refuseniks are not brought on board. And despite the patchy record in peacekeeping operations, a properly-mandated UN operation in Darfur would contribute to disarming the Janjaweed and the SLA, and assuring the displaced of the safety as they make their way home from the array of vast camps across the region. Compensation for the millions of displaced and dispossessed must also be addressed.

Mr Ahern must now go to Russia and China to persuade them not to veto a UN mission when a vote comes around at the UN Security Council. Commercial ties based on oil extraction mean that both states have a vested interest in backing the Sudanese stance on Darfur. This is the clear stumbling block to a UN force and a successful resolution of the Darfur crisis. With 400,000 already dead, many more may die if Darfur’s agony drags on. And women like Harian will not be so lucky next time the Janjaweed prowl around the edge of her camp.

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