By Dominique Soguel
Friday, December 14, 2007
Peacekeepers heading to Darfur in January may be too late for women who are in the camps for displaced people. Aid groups say that Sudan's wave of camp breakups is cutting off their access to food, medical care and protection from rape and trafficking.
(WOMENSENEWS)--After five years of conflict that has destroyed hundreds of villages, killed 400,000 people and displaced another 2.5 million, nongovernmental groups are warning that the Sudanese government is breaking up Darfur's camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) before the arrival of a reinforced African Union-United Nations "hybrid" force of 26,000 peacekeepers in early 2008.
"All information points not to isolated acts but to a pattern of attacks by Sudanese officials against civilians, in particular the 2.5 million displaced people," Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, told the U.N. Security Council on Dec. 5.
Zahara Abdelnaim Mohamad Abdalla, who travels regularly to the two largest camps for internally displaced persons in North Darfur--Abu Shouk and Al Salam--issued similar warnings during a recent awareness-raising visit to the United States, which ended on Dec. 4.
While working for Dar El Salam Women Development Association in El Fasher, Abdalla says she witnessed multiple government attacks on the two camps--which have a combined population of over 100,000 people--in the last three months.
Women, she says, are the majority of the camps' adults.
"Some of them are being forced by the government to leave the camp," Abdalla told Women's eNews. "They are detaining camp leaders. Soldiers are attacking them, shooting the IDPs."
Niemat Ahmadi, one of the few Darfuri women to participate in the Darfur Peace Agreement, signed May 2006, echoed the concerns.
"We are really worried about the time between now and the beginning of the deployment," said Ahmadi, a native of Darfur who now lives in New Jersey and works for the Darfur Leadership Network, an organization mobilizing Darfuris in the diaspora to assist Sudan's grassroots peace process.
Currently, 4.2 million people--two-thirds of Darfur's population--depend on aid to survive. Approximately 50 humanitarian groups work in South, North and Western Darfur, a region the size of France. But heightened insecurity has disrupted aid and scaled humanitarian work to in-and-out operations.
"Aid workers are taking helicopters for distances as short as seven kilometers," said Jan Pronk, former United Nations envoy to Sudan, during a Nov. 30 panel discussion on Darfur at New York's Columbia University.
The government is attacking the camps as sources of support and strongholds for Darfuri rebel groups, which have splintered and re-splintered since the start of the conflict.
Abdallah, Ahmadi and other advocates say that women, who head makeshift households in the camp, feel most of the pressure when the government strangles aid supply lines. Darfur's malnutrition rate is currently 13 percent, just two percentage points shy of the emergency threshold level.
Zahara calculates that the two camps she works for have lost 50 percent of rations since the summer.
To supplement limited aid, women are leaving the camps to seek work in nearby villages and markets. The African Union, according to a September report from Human Rights Watch, lacks the resources to provide adequate protective patrols for women. The journey from the camps to the towns puts women at risk for rape, gang rape and sexual slavery.
In El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, Abdallah works with a team of 12 doctors to provide counseling as well as post-abortion care and surgery to women who have been raped. Miscarriages and complications, she says, are very common among rape survivors but the stigma of rape restricts their care.
The women's suffering is exacerbated by Sudan's legal system, which defines rape as the offense of "zina," or adultery, a crime under Islamic law that could punish a man with 100 lashings. The burden of proof, however, falls on women, who are required to produce four witnesses to the crime.
Mohammed Ahmed Abdallah, a physician at the Amel Center for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture in South Darfur, told Women's e News that he has heard only one man accused of rape admit to the crime. Despite that, he was not beaten.
In February and March 2007, two Darfuri women were sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery.
In the first eight months, over 240,000 people have been displaced or newly displaced--for a second, third, fourth time--according to an August report from the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. More than 200,000 people fled to neighboring Chad in 2007.
In October Sudanese police and military forces renewed their efforts to break up Kalma, one of the largest camps in South Darfur, holding 91,630 people in the last count. According to U.N. reports, at least 562 families in the camps--approximately 3,000 individuals--left Kalma.
Four hundred families were displaced by government forces from Otash camp, outside Nyala town, on Oct. 27. Armed soldiers loaded mostly women and children into trucks and drove them to two new sites that Human Rights Watch labeled as unsafe. U.N. staff tried to visit the camp to monitor the clearance but they were refused access by Sudanese security forces.
"It's this highhandedness that's outrageous," Human Rights Watch's Darfur researcher Selena Brewers told Women's eNews, "the idea that it's OK to move your population at gun point."
In November 100,000 more people were displaced from camps.
Efforts to bring forced migrations to light have been snuffed by the government. On Nov. 8, Sudanese authorities asked for the departure of Wael Al-Haj-Ibrahim, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarians Affairs in Nyala, South Darfur, and one of the voices calling attention to the forced relocations at Kalma and Otash.
"It's becoming increasingly hard to report anything," said Brewers. "The government has done a great job at shutting down whatever avenues of information there may have been."
Dominique Soguel is the Arabic editor for Women's eNews.
Refugees International, "Ending Sexual Violence in Darfur":
Human Rights Watch, "Darfur 2007: Chaos by Design":
International Crisis Group, "Darfur's New Security Reality" [PDF format]:
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