Any human rights activist who has worked on Sudan is familiar with the name Kober prison, the century-old British building which was ‘Cooper Prison’ for its first half century, and which has ‘graduated’ entire classes of Sudanese political leaders, from the early nationalists to the entire parliamentary, trade union and civil society leadership in 1989-90. Physically, much of the prison has changed very little over the decades and possesses a colonial-era aura. The buildings are brick, with the names of generations of prisoners carved into the stucco. It is clean. The prison authorities have a tradition of professionalism—they endeavour to stick to the rules, which include treating prisoners with basic respect. If anyone is arrested, his relatives are relieved when he arrives in Kober, because then he is relatively safe—it is in the security centres between detention and being formally remanded in custody, that the risk of abuse is greatest. Two days ago, I passed through the gates of Kober for the first time. One of the immediate and tangible outcomes of President Thabo Mbeki’s mission to Sudan was that the government agreed to a request for members of the Panel to go and visit the JEM members, including leaders, […]
Several posts over recent days have pointed to the discrepancy between media attention and levels of mortality. The analysis of media coverage of Darfur during and after the height of hostilities in 2003-04 finds that there is a striking inverse correlation between violence and media coverage — as killings decline, coverage increased. The contrast between Congo and Darfur also points to this inverse relationship. One response to this is to cry foul. Surely media coverage should track the level of the crisis? And especially when that media coverage is concentrating on the horror stories, surely it should faithfully describe the level and pattern of violence? But another perspective on this is to focus on what media coverage does. There is good circumstantial evidence that it is responsible (in part) for driving down the violence and helping reduce famine mortality. So, even if the media are somehow distorting our picture of the crises, are they not performing an even more useful function in saving lives? A similar argument could be made for human rights investigations and the ICC. If we see the goal of the ICC as bringing suspects to court, it has not succeeded (at least not yet). But if […]
Abd al-Wahab Abdalla (25 March) says “The worst massacre of the last 12 months was by JEM! It killed 128 Meidob over 2 days.” There have been a number of allusions on this blog to the unrest at JEM’s base in eastern Chad on January 1 this year, but hard facts and clearly identified sources are signally missing — and no rights group appears to think the incident worthy of remark and/or investigation. (How different it would be if the “massacre” had been committed by the government — a comment that will no doubt be trumpeted out of context by the Sudan government’s pet “intellectual” and paid apologist, David Hoile, but that needs making nonetheless.) The following is what I have been told, by Meidob contacts who have proved reliable in the past. At the end of 2008, JEM’s leader, Khalil Ibrahim, promoted four or five officers to the rank of general. All belonged to his own Zaghawa Kobe group. Other tribes protested — especially the Meidob, who had contributed young fighters in support of JEM’s attack on Omdurman last May (not always voluntarily). Khalil refused to rethink. At this point, accounts differ. Some sources say non-Kobe withdrew from JEM […]
Starvation isn’t an accident of nature. Starving more like wounding—something people do to one another. For many years I was a staunch advocate of criminalizing some forms of famine creation—especially the military measures that create the most extreme manifestations of famine, such as massive outright starvation. Today I am not so sure. The case for a criminology of famine creation is still strong, but turning humanitarian workers into criminal investigators would fatally compromise their mission. Read my article in The Lancet on this question.
Last Sunday the Washington Post ran a column by me in the section This Writing Life. It begins: Some years ago in a rebel-held enclave of Sudan, I met a man whom I had reported as assassinated. He was chief Hussein Karbus, and I was introduced to him by the man I had said killed him, the liberation fighter Yousif Kuwa Mekki. Both of them thought my mistake – made in a human rights report – was hilarious. In truth, Karbus had gone into hiding, and many had feared he was dead. It’s characteristic of Sudanese society not to let political differences – even accusations of homicide – get in the way of amicable social relations. It’s also characteristic of Sudan that the worst will usually come to pass. In recent years especially, some commentators have gained a reputation for prescience by parroting that mantra. The column continues here.
Earlier this year in the run up to the release of the anti Islam ‘film’ Fitna by the Dutch maverick right-wing politician Geert Wilders, the leading Dutch political scientist Job van Amerongen warned the left liberal chattering classes against stirring up hysteria, that Wilders was leading the Dutch back into the darkest days of the extermination of the Dutch Jewish community in World War II. In particular van Amerongen criticised in his comment in the Dutch ‘quality’ morning paper De Volkskrant on 4 February the Labour Party mayor of Amsterdam Job Cohen for making the claim that not since Auschwitz the fear for and the mistrust of ‘the other’ has been so enormous in the Netherlands. This was the typical kneejerk reaction of making sweeping historical comparisons to invoke the understandable ‘never again’ sentiment, but was in fact another example how in recent years the unique historical character of the Holocaust was being blurred, wrote van Amerongen. He added that he had detected a growing resentment among those who came to remember their family members at commemorations for the victims of the German occupation of the Netherlands against the increasing presence of representatives of campaigning groups who wanted to highlight […]
Six days after the aerial attack on Shigeg Karo, UNAMID has finally spoken out, in a press release that raises more questions than it answers. A verification team visited Shigeg Karo on Thursday—a full four days after the bombing, taking nothing to assist the wounded still remaining there—and confirmed the market was “completely burned”. The school, which was beside the market, appears to have been undamaged, contrary to initial reports. The UNAMID release claims this assessment was “rapid”. It says the village was “reportedly (the italics are mine) subjected to aerial bombardment by the Sudanese Armed Forces”, yet speaks of seeing “four craters as a result of the bombings”. Who bombed the village if SAF did not? The rebels have no planes. UNAMID also says Shigeg Karo “is a remote and isolated area in a valley surrounded by hills”. Shigeg Karo is a relatively large market town, seat of the most senior tribal leader of the Bideyat tribe in Darfur, and lies on the direct road into Darfur from the major border town of Bahai. If it is “remote”, it is remote only from the humanitarian organizations which have virtually no presence in North Darfur. It is the humanitarians who […]
Posted on behalf of Julie Flint. At 2 pm on Sunday 4 May, a single Antonov bomber targeted the village of Shegeg Karo in North Darfur, destroying the market and hitting the village school during classes. At least 11 people were killed outright, six of them children between the ages of five and eleven. More than 30 were injured, half a dozen seriously. Forty-eight hours later, villagers began driving the most badly injured—including an eight-year-old girl believed to have a broken back—in search of treatment. It was the bloodiest Antonov attack in Sudan in years—possibly the most lethal since 14 children and a teacher were killed in Kauda, in the Nuba Mountains, on 8 February 2000. Darfur is the focus of the world’s largest peacekeeping operation, UNAMID, and largest and most vocal activist movement. Yet for a full 48 hours no-one got to Shegeg Karo to get the wounded out and medical aid in—not UNAMID and not the ICRC, both of whom have aircraft—and the only voices reporting the atrocity were Reuters and the BBC’s Network Africa. When the “slaughter” we are told never ceases in Darfur actually happened, with children at the heart of it, the reaction was miserable. […]
The point of departure for the report, Darfur: Dimensions and Dilemmas of a Complex Situation, published by the Uppsala University Department of Peace and Conflict Research, is a field study conducted by the author in Sudan during the fall of 2007. The purpose of this analysis is to deepen knowledge about the current crisis in Darfur through a broad approach. The study includes a short background to the crisis in Darfur and examines some of the major actors, the situation on the ground, the peacekeeping process, the negotiations and the international response. It is argued that the current situation in Darfur is a result of three parallel and interlinked types of conflicts: communal conflicts, conflicts between different regional elites, and periphery-centre conflicts. It is also argued that a comprehensive approach to Sudan is needed to find a lasting solution in Darfur and other areas of Sudan. Moreover, the report stresses the vast problems that both the negotiations and the peacekeeping operation face at the moment. Finally, a call is made for a stronger commitment from, and co-ordination by, the international community to solve the conflicts in Darfur.
In her posting yesterday, Mia Farrow identifies the success of the "genocide Olympics" campaign—which she was instrumental in starting—as a "defining moment." She is right. For the first time, an international activist movement has compelled the Chinese government to recognize that it has global human rights responsibilities. Beijing’s rebuttal of Stephen Spielberg’s charges is the tribute that realpolitik pays to principle—or conservative foreign relations pays to public relations. But will it be a defining moment in the history of Darfur? That is still in the balance. As Beijing has been quick to point out, it neither designed nor implemented the Darfur crisis, and its traction over the Sudan government is limited. And others have pointed to the large number of other countries that invest in Sudan or provide it with arms—India, Iran and Malaysia among them. What can we expect China, singularly, to do? In this regard, it’s well worth taking a long historical perspective on how Sudan handles its foreign relations. Unlike other African countries, Sudan didn’t have a single colonial power—it had two, Britain and Egypt. And insofar as Egypt was itself busy negotiating the terms of its domination by Britain and France, Sudan always maintained a line […]