Thursday, February 28, 2008

UN - Shameful Silence On Civilian Killings in Darfur

The UN Security Council should strongly denounce the Sudanese government's recent bombardment of civilian villages in West Darfur and impose targeted sanctions on those responsible, Human Rights Watch said in a letter today.

Human Rights Watch warned that the Council's inaction has given Sudan a green light to continue attacking civilian targets, flouting international law and Security Council resolutions.

"The Sudanese government's recent attacks take us back to the very darkest days of the conflict," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The Security Council shouldn't stand by as though this is 'business as usual.'" Read more >>>>>>>>>>

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Indicted Sudan minister says west 'has no place in Darfur'

A Sudanese minister wanted for crimes against humanity by the international criminal court (ICC) has criticised western intervention in Darfur.

Ahmad Harun, Khartoum's humanitarian affairs minister, said the international criminal court (ICC) "has no place in this crisis at all".

Mr Harun, formerly head of the Darfur security desk, has been issued with an arrest warrant in The Hague over 40 counts of crime against humanity and war crimes including mass murder; widespread rapes; the burning of a mosque; and the expulsion of 60,000 people.

Since 2003 more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million forced from their homes in Sudan's western region of Darfur through the actions of the government-backed Janjaweed militia and rebel groups.

A joint United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force has been deploying since the new year, although it remains critically under strength.

In an interview with al-Hayat newspaper, translated from Arabic by the Save Darfur Coalition, Mr Harun denies crimes against humanity have taken place in Darfur.

He said the conflict was a result of Khartoum "assum[ing] its natural position of defending and protecting its citizens", although he admits "mistakes" were made. Read More >>>>>>>>>>

Boiling Over

A terrible consequence of the Darfur Peace Agreement, signed in May 2006 and resulting chiefly in dividing the anti-Khartoum rebel movement, is that it has allowed too many influential people to speak euphemistically about the crisis that's taking place in western Sudan and eastern Chad. Human destruction and displacement are no longer "genocidal," but rather a function of rebel fractiousness, opportunistic banditry, and a generalized "insecurity." Similarly, the role of the Khartoum regime is no longer that of orchestrating indefensible acts of violence, but of obstructing humanitarian operations and defying various international demands. All of it is terrible, of course, but not genocide.

Well, recent events in West Darfur, along the border with Chad, should compel us to start calling things by their correct names again. What we're seeing in Darfur now is a level of ethnically targeted violence that hasn't been approached since the terrifying days of 2004. Beginning on February 8, Janjaweed militias, coordinating with Khartoum's regular troops and military aircraft, began to attack areas north of el-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur. They targeted the towns of Sirba, Abu Surug, and Silea---all of which had come under control of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) this past December and January. Determined to drive the rebel group from its close proximity to el-Geneina, and bent on destroying its perceived base of civilian support, Khartoum struck quickly and savagely. (But not quickly enough to take out the rebels, who fled in advance of the attacks.) Soon, the destruction of ethnically African Masseleit and Erenga civilians and towns began in earnest. Militarily imprecise barrel bombs leveled much of these three towns, as well as surrounding villages and displaced persons camps. More than 60,000 civilians fled, perhaps 12,000 into eastern Chad, where the intensity of Khartoum's bombing attacks forced the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to withdraw its personnel. In Silea, a town of 25,000, only 200 remained when aid officials arrived on February 14. Read more >>>>>>>>>>>

Sunday, February 24, 2008

'Justice' needed for Darfur

The Hague - Nine months after the first arrest warrants were issued for those suspected of being behind atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region, the chief international prosecutor believes he has the masterminds in his sights.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has vowed to target the most senior people behind the violence and says that peace will only be possible in troubled Darfur if arrests are made and those responsible are brought to justice.

He issued a warrant last May for the arrest of Sudan's secretary of state for humanitarian affairs Ahmed Harun, but despite a UN resolution requiring Khartoum to comply with the court Harun is still at large.

"If Harun is not arrested and removed there will be no justice, no peace in Darfur," Moreno-Ocampo said in a telephone interview with AFP from his native Argentina on Friday.

He said arresting Harun "is the condition for any solution in Darfur." Read more>>>>>

Darfuris caught in crossfire as Sudan bombs rebels

- Sudan has reportedly bombed a rebel-held area in Darfur, despite assurances from Khartoum that civilians sheltering in the area near the Chad border would be allowed safe passage, the United Nations said on Sunday.

"UNAMID has received reports this morning of aerial bombings in the Jabel Moun area in western Darfur," a U.N. statement said. "We are gravely concerned for the safety of thousands of civilians in this area."

Sudan launched an offensive on February 8 to retake parts of West Darfur state from rebels. Residents said at least 114 people were killed, but the army said many of those were rebels in civilian clothing.

Thousands of people fled the fighting. Some crossed the border into neighboring Chad but many sought refuge in the nearby Jabel Moun area, which has been the scene of sporadic battles between army and rebels and has been a no-go area for the U.N.-AU peacekeeping mission known as UNAMID.

U.N. officials estimate some 20,000 people were in Jabel Moun. Read more >>>>>>>>

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Destruction in West Darfur Town Shocking, Reports UN Refugee Agency

United Nations refugee agency staff participating in a joint assessment of the West Darfur town of Sirba, which came under air and ground attack from the Sudanese Government and allied militia groups earlier this month, say they were shocked at the level of destruction they witnessed.

A joint UN humanitarian mission involving the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as well as the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Ameerah Haq, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, visited Sirba yesterday, as some locals drift back to the town in the wake of the deadly attack on 8 February.

The residents who stayed or returned pleaded with the assessment mission for help in securing their town and nearby villages from further attacks, UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters today in Geneva.

The residents also warned that fleeing across the nearby Chadian border was dangerous because of the continuing conflict in the area and the widespread banditry, and they voiced concern about their compatriots who have been living in eastern Chad since the attacks on Sirba and on the villages of Sileah and Abu Suruj.

UN agencies have been distributing emergency items such as food and shelter material since the attacks, while the Sudanese Government has also provided tents. Read more >>>>>>>>>>

French minister says peacekeeping force arriving to protect Darfur refugees

PARIS: Some 500 European soldiers have already arrived in Chad as part of the EU peacekeeping mission to protect refugees from Darfur, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Friday.

The minister told reporters that planes are bringing equipment into the capital of the central African country, N'Djamena, and the eastern city of Abeche "nearly all the time" ahead of the full arrival of the troops.

The bulk of the 3,700-strong peacekeeping force, known as EUFOR, is expected to be flown in next month. A 150-member advance team arrived earlier, and Kouchner told reporters that Swedish and Polish troops are deploying.

The force — starting up on a delayed schedule because of fighting in Chad — is to help protect thousands of refugees who have fled fighting in Sudan's Darfur region.

Kouchner, speaking after a meeting with Chadian Foreign Minister Ahmad Allam-Mi, said that the European Union troops' mandate allows them to defend refugees under attack and themselves "and are very capable of doing so." Read more >>>>>>>>>>>

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Suffering in Sudan brings calls for action

by Elaine Durbach

One question simmered at the center of the conference on Darfur at Kean University in Union last Friday, Feb. 15: Of all the tragic situations calling out for international intervention, why keep focusing on this one seemingly hopeless conflict?

That question was asked by each member of the roster of distinguished speakers at the Wilkins Theatre. It was repeated by many in the audience of almost 1,000 teachers and high school and college students from around the state and by political and community leaders from New Jersey and beyond who gathered for the conference — Darfur: The First Genocide of the 21st Century — hosted by the university’s Center for Human Rights.

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times writer Nicolas Kristoff, the keynote speaker, gave the answer in three parts:

• Though elsewhere there have been larger numbers of victims, the cruelty inflicted on the people in the southwestern region of Sudan is extreme.

• The entire region is in danger of descending into warfare, sucking in not only northern and southern Sudan, but also Chad and the Central African Republic.

• Despite all the failed attempts, the aggression in Darfur can be halted if the right pressure is brought to bear on those supporting it.

Kristoff was returning to Africa the following day, planning to visit Darfur for the 10th time. “It’s not the magnitude of the suffering,” he said. “Many more people die each year of malaria and AIDS. I’ve seen awful things in other places, but nothing moves me more than being in Darfur — the degree of suffering there and the degree of evil. The tearing of the moral fabric there demands of us that we assert our humanity by helping others.”

With the Olympics Games drawing nearer, he said there is a rare chance to persuade host country China to reduce its crucial support for the Sudanese government — specifically by halting the supply of spare parts needed to keep its air force flying. Read more >>>>>>>>>

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

UN refugee agency quits Chad/Darfur border amid new bombings


The United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday it had withdrawn a team caring for refugees from the Chad/Darfur border after fresh aerial bombing in the conflict-riven Sudanese province.

"Aerial bombardment overnight and this morning in West Darfur, Sudan, close to the border with Chad, has forced UNHCR to withdraw its team caring for newly arrived refugees in the Birak area away from the insecure border," spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told journalists.

The team will return "immediately the situation calms down," she added.

Seven refugees from Darfur crossed the border into Chad on Monday night, carrying with them a 55-year-old woman who had lost both her legs during an alleged bombardment of the Aro Sharow camp for internally displaced people, north of Jebel Moon in West Darfur, Pagonis said.

The woman later died at Birak's health centre, and the refugees said more people would now be fleeing to Chad.

"We have no further details of the alleged bombing raid but bombing could be heard from Birak," Pagonis said.

"This highlights the extremely vulnerable situation of the refugees and the humanitarian workers helping them," she added.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said at least 10,000 people had fled Darfur following heavy bombardment and aerial attacks by the Sudanese army and its Janjaweed militia allies on February 8. Read more >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Monday, February 18, 2008

Protecting Darfur's Women From Rape


KALMA, Sudan (AP) — U.N. peacekeepers in armored vehicles and pickup trucks whizzed into this refugee camp. A dozen women came to meet them, bringing their donkeys, water rations and homemade axes.

It was time for one of the refugees' most perilous tasks: collecting firewood.

Countless refugee women have been assaulted or raped, mostly by Arab janjaweed militiamen, after leaving the relative safety of their camps to gather wood in the open wilderness of Sudan's Darfur region. Most men don't even leave the camps because they risk being killed.

But one of the first steps taken by U.N. peacekeepers since they launched their mission in Darfur in January is to restore "firewood patrols" to protect women on their forays outside Kalma, home to 90,000 refugees and one of the region's largest camps.

The women walking out of Kalma one morning in late January were smiling and waving hellos as their leader, Khadidja Abdallah, came up to greet the peacekeepers who had come to escort them.

It was a stark contrast to nearly a year ago, in May, when an Associated Press reporter first met Khadidja. Then, the "sheikha," or woman chief, was cowering in a mud hut deep inside Kalma, trying to comfort seven refugee women who had been gang-raped while collecting firewood.

African Union peacekeepers in place then had halted firewood patrols because they felt powerless to stop violence. Khadidja and the woman bitterly complained that the AU force had all but given up on protecting Darfur civilians.

More than 2.5 million people have fled to camps around Darfur in the war between the Arab-dominated Khartoum government and ethnic African rebels. The government is accused of unleashing the janjaweed, who are blamed for widespread atrocities against ethnic African villagers and refugees. Read more >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Sunday, February 17, 2008

UN Says Armed Men Block Transfer of Darfur Refugees From Chad Border

By Lisa Schlein
Thousands of refugees from Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur province began fleeing to Chad a week ago to escape deadly attacks by government-backed Janjaweed militia.

The U.N. refugee agency estimates around 9,000 newly arrived refugees are scattered along the border between Chad and Sudan. And, there are reports that more refugees are trickling in.

U.N. refugee spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says efforts to move the refugees away from the volatile border to safer campsites inland were blocked by the presence of armed men.

She says the identity of the men is unknown, nor did the men give any reason for their actions. But, she says it was clear to aid workers they would not be able to relocate the refugees.

"The situation is so serious that our representative in Chad is now at the border trying to find a solution to this problem which is leaving the refugees extremely exposed and vulnerable," she said. "The area is highly insecure with armed groups roaming around and they pose a real threat to the refugees and the workers. And, also, in this region at night, the temperatures drop to around freezing. So, it is extremely cold, and that also is a threat to the well-being and lives of the refugees." Read more >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Darfur: Hundreds of Children Missing After Darfur Attack


Several days after Sudanese government-backed militia attacked villages in West Darfur, hundreds of children remain unaccounted for, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.

"There are an unknown number of children aged 12-18 who are missing, especially boys. Nobody knows what has happened to these children," Naqibullah Safi, head of UNICEF for West Darfur said.

Initial reports suggested that up to 800 children were unaccounted for, but the actual number is probably lower, UNICEF said in a statement following an assessment mission to the towns of Sirba and Abu Surouj.

"One of UNICEF's main concerns is to take care of the large numbers of children who have been orphaned or abandoned by their parents, or have gone missing in the confusion of the last few days," the agency noted.

The UNICEF team found that buildings had been burned and thousands of residents had fled the towns.

"Initially people needed food and medicine, there were cases of malnutrition, but the most common problem was people were burned," Safi said. "There are some civilian casualties, but exact figures are not known. Most shelters in Sirba have been burned, and 60-70 percent of Abu Surouj." Read more >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

BEIJING — Steven Spielberg was supposed to lend a little Hollywood glitz to this year's Beijing Olympics.
Instead, the heavyweight director's rejection of a role in the Summer Games on human rights grounds stands as the event's biggest political challenge yet.

Spielberg, who won an Oscar for his 1993 Holocaust film "Schindler's List," said he was turning down a position as artistic adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies because China was not doing enough to pressure its ally Sudan into ending the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region.

That decision drew praise from a slew of other groups critical of Beijing, boosting a months-long campaign by activists to spotlight the communist regime's human rights record.

Although not entirely unexpected, Spielberg's announcement Tuesday appeared to catch Beijing flat-footed. Neither the organizing committee nor China's Foreign Ministry had responded by late Wednesday. Read more >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Darfur: Heavy bombardment by Sudanese army and the janjaweed

The UN refugee agency says heavy bombardment and armed attacks in Darfur by the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed militia at the weekend have forced 12,000 refugees to flee into eastern Chad.

The refugees have fled to the Birak region, UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Helene Caux told AFP on Sunday.

Eastern Chad remains highly volatile after recent fighting between Chadian government and rebel forces, which led the UNHCR to evacuate staff from the country and thousands of Chadians to cross to neighbouring Cameroon, she said.

However, the fresh refugees from Darfur "have been through the worst already," she added.

Her colleague Catherine Huck, who runs UNHCR's operations in the Chadian eastern town of Abeche, stressed the difficulties that recent unrest in Chad itself have created for aid workers.

Last weekend saw rebels enter Njdamena and surround the presidential palace before retreating, leaving at least 160 people dead.

"We are already operating in an environment where security is spiralling downwards, where the supply line from NDjamena is cut after recent fighting, and where our field offices are running short of fuel," Mr Huck said in a statement. Read more >>>>>>>>>>

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Militia attacks West Darfur towns

8 February 2008

A large army-backed militia force is carrying out attacks on the West Darfur towns of Sirba and Abu Suruj. Janjawid militia on horses and in vehicles, supported by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), began their attack on the two towns on Friday morning.

According to reports from people living in the area, nine military aeroplanes from the SAF were seen overhead, described as being two MIG, two Antonov and five helicopters. The attacks started at 10am and were continuing at sunset.

The number of civilians in Sirba and Abu Suruj has grown due to an influx of internally displaced people who have fled there after earlier attacks elsewhere. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), an armed group in Darfur opposing the Government of Sudan, seized control of the area in December 2007. It remains unclear whether JEM fighters are still in the area.

JEM fighters often station themselves within civilian areas. Attacks by Janjawid and SAF almost invariably fail to discriminate between civilian and armed groups. On 24 January, Janjawid and SAF forces carried out an indiscriminate attack on the town of Saraf Jidad near Abu Suruj. Some 24 people, mostly farmers, including the Fursha (chief) of the area, were killed in the attack.

This attack is a major test for African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), which took over from the African Union Mission in Sudan on 31 December 2007 with a mandate to protect civilians in Darfur. Read more >>>>>>>>

Friday, February 08, 2008

ICC vows "no impunity" for African war criminals

By Pascal Fletcher

DAKAR (Reuters) - There can be no impunity for those guilty of war crimes in Africa such as mass rape or slaughtering civilians, even when peace processes are under way, the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor said on Thursday.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo made the pledge as he arrived in Central African Republic for a visit to back an ICC investigation into a series of rapes, killings and other abuses that occurred during armed conflict in the country in 2002 and 2003.

The Hague-based ICC, which has opened an office in the poor, landlocked former French colony, is gathering evidence about systematic acts of sexual violence which accompanied fighting in the capital Bangui between government troops and rebels. Read more >>>>>>>

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Dutch say willing to host Darfur peace talks

- The Dutch government would seriously consider hosting peace talks for Darfur if the request came from the African Union or the United Nations, a Dutch minister said on Tuesday while on a visit to Sudan.

"The Netherlands is prepared to take an active role in bringing together rebel groups (and the Sudanese government)," Development Minister Bert Koenders said after meeting with a representative of the Sudan Liberation Movement/ Army (SLM/A) rebel group, according to Dutch news agency ANP.

ANP quoted SLM/A commander Ahmed Abdel Shafi as saying ahead of the meeting: "The Netherlands would be a good option for peace talks." He added: "Last October we gave a letter to the Dutch ambassador in Khartoum, with a request for peace talks in the Netherlands." Read more >>>>>>>>>>>>>

Monday, February 04, 2008

Darfur Rebel Leader Wants Peace Talks in Netherlands

KHARTOUM, 05/02/08 - Rebels from the Sudanese province of Darfur have asked the Netherlands to host possible peace talks with the Sudanese government. The request will be discussed today with Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen.

Ahmed Abdelshafi, an important commander of the Sudan Liberation Movement Army (SLM/A), said yesterday that his organisation sent a letter to the Dutch ambassador in Khartoum last October with the request to hold peace talks in the Netherlands. "The Netherlands would be a good option for peace talks," he said.

Verhagen is currently in Sudan with Development Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders. Abdelshafi is to have a meeting with them this afternoon. He hopes that the ministers will come up with a response to his request. "We will see what the agenda of the Dutch ministers is." A spokesman for the foreign ministry in The Hague did not wish to anticipate the meeting yesterday. Read more >>>>>>>>>>>