In Deadly Darfur, IRC Programs Help Safeguard Human Rights
What could possibly be more vital than food, clothing and shelter? To the people driven from their homes in Sudan’s Darfur region, the answer is simple: Protection. The United Nations estimates that 50,000 have died since the notorious Janjaweed militias began attacking and displacing sub-Saharan Africans in this Texas-sized chunk of the world. Unlike many other crises, the leading killer is not disease or malnutrition, but fellow human beings. Most murder victims are men, but anecdotal evidence indicates that the incidence of rape among women is of staggering proportions. Children also have been killed, and many survivors have witnessed unbearable cruelty.
In the camps where many of the 1.2 million displaced people have gathered – along with another 200,000 in neighboring Chad – the predominant mood is one of sheer fear. In the Kassab camp in North Darfur, for example, the Janjaweed militia has a base just a few kilometers away.
“People say ‘Yes, we need water. Yes, we need food. But what we really need is security,”’ said an International Rescue Committee program coordinator for Darfur.
In Darfur, the IRC has been launching programs to monitor and help safeguard human rights in one of the deadliest places on the planet.
The IRC will deploy a gender-based violence specialist to coordinate an effective and appropriate response to violence against displaced women; future plans include opening drop-in centers for survivors. This is part of an emergency health care response and broader protection program aimed at counseling local officials on human rights issues and supporting local human rights groups.
The IRC already has begun training police officers on human rights issues. The organization has had success with such programs in southern Sudan – where a separate war has been waged – and in the West African nation of Sierra Leone.
One of the first tasks is to train human rights monitors who can interview victims and hopefully seek some sort of remedy through Sudanese legal system, the Sharia law of Islam, and the communal laws overseen by tribal elders. In all three systems, there are clear passages that deal with the safeguarding of human rights.
Yet there are also significant hurdles. For instance, Sudanese law requires that a woman must report a rape to police even before she sees a doctor. The victims in Darfur are often deathly afraid of the police. The majority of people in the camps are women and children, and women who fetch firewood and water are among the most vulnerable victims of the war. There have been widespread reports that the Janjaweed militias routinely rape, beat and rob the wood-gathering women.