On June 2, Sudanese security forces reportedly attacked medical personnel participating in a peaceful protest march through Khartoum, organized by students of the School of Medicine of Khartoum University. Reuters news service reported that doctors, while peacefully protesting the arrests of Dr Walaa Alden Ibrahim and Dr Alhadi Bakhiet, were beaten by security officials armed with sticks.
Dr Ibrahim and Dr Bakhiet were arrested on June 1, then re-arrested following public statements made by the doctors, detailing the conditions of their arrests and alleging torture at the National Intelligence and Security Services head offices in Khartoum.
The June 2 demonstration was disrupted by the arrival of security officials, who reportedly beat and arrested many of the medical personnel participating, and prevented doctors from the Khartoum Teaching Hospital from joining the demonstration. The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies has reported that six medical students were charged under Article 77 of the Sudanese Criminal Code 1991, banning “public noisiness” – in contravention of freedom of expression, guaranteed under Article 39(1) of the Sudan Interim National Constitution.
As a membership organization of health professionals, Physicians for Human Rights calls for the release of the detained doctors, and condemns the torture and arrest of medical students involved in the organization of the peaceful protest.
(This blog post picks up from one written last week.)
Contrary to the agreement of UN and Chadian officials that the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) has “served its purpose,” the BBC reported news of clashes between the Popular Front for National Resistance (FPRN) and Chadian security forces over the weekend. Unofficial reports from the area reference heavy losses of both troops and vehicles sustained by the Government of Chad (GoC)—raising concerns about the possibilities for continuation of humanitarian operations in the area.
The Secretary-General’s speech yesterday continued to maintain that improved relations between Chad and Sudan would allow for a significant reduction of military troops in the volatile Eastern Chad border region; the speech did not respond directly to concerns from human rights groups regarding the financial and logistical components of the new security arrangement. More than 200,000 Darfuri refugees are dependent upon humanitarian operations by international and domestic NGOs for food, shelter, and medical care in the region.
Outlining the proposals advocated in his report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended the MINURCAT mission’s military component in Chad now be reduced from 3,300 troops to 1,400 troops. In context, the remaining military troops would represent only 38 percent of the troops initially authorized by the UN as necessary to securing the displaced refugee population and humanitarian operations in Eastern Chad. (Even before this withdrawal, the MINURCAT deployment never approached its full authorized deployment of 4,900).
As noted previously, over the past year the region has remained among the most hazardous operating environments currently sustaining humanitarian operations. The disruption of humanitarian operations this weekend was not the first such occurrence. Multi-week suspensions of operations by agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in November-December and May 2009.
Without sufficient security in the area, NGOs are unable to provide services ranging from food distribution—a particular concern ahead of the rainy season; water and sanitation projects—vital to control the spread of disease among overcrowded and vulnerable refugee populations; and medical services, including mobile clinics serving rural populations.
The continued absence of a military capable of securing the area and deterring further attacks could threaten not only the refugee community, but the ability of the humanitarian NGOs to continue to operate in the area.
In addition to these concerns, the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report increase the informal role of the Détachement intégré de sécurité (DIS)—formed to provide security in the refugee camps and surrounding areas but increasingly relied upon to provide escorts to many UN agencies and some NGO convoys. The under-deployment of the MINURCAT military component, and its lack of troop-strength capable of providing military escorts, increased the role of the DIS (UN-trained Chadian police); this has diverted the focus of the force away from providing security to camp residents, including protection to women gathering firewood and animal feed and to those travelling to market of farming areas.
Along with replacing the lost 1,400 MINURCAT troops—the Government of Chad must also scale up the capacity of the Gendarmerie Nationale national police force of Chad in order to take over the security escorts required by humanitarians—a challenge considering the lower levels of operational and human rights training provided to this force.
Human Rights groups urged the Secretary-General to consider the security of NGO operations, as well as the need for consultation and transparency with refugee communities and humanitarian agencies on the ground. It is vital that the final recommendations, to be adopted by the UN Security Council later this month, are revised to include these concerns.
In sum, the Secretary-General’s recommendations advocate for the withdrawal of 1,400 troops by 15 July (leaving only 1,900 international troops in Chad until 15 October 2010, when they are planned to cease all operations and commence their final withdrawal), while the Government of Chad must source the necessary financial and logistical resources to secure a volatile region hosting in excess of 200,000 Darfurian refugees, whilst sustaining renewed attacks from militia groups possibly associated with the Government of Sudan.
Next week, the UN Secretary-General’s report on the future of the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) peacekeeping force in Eastern Chad will be released, outlining the withdrawal of peacekeeping troops in the Chad-Sudan border region visited by PHR researchers in 2008. The report Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women, released by PHR in June 2009, outlined urgent human rights issues in Eastern Chad, including food insecurity, camp infrastructure, access to health and psychosocial care, and security for refugee families. Among the disturbing findings of our investigation was a 50% rate of rape or sexual assault reported by women interviewed by the PHR medical team.
Since the time of PHR’s investigation, a number of security threats and human rights issues have been recorded — via international media reporting on hijackings and kidnappings of humanitarian aid workers, and reports such as that released by the Institute of Studies on Conflicts and Humanitarian Action (IECAH) on the continued need for the peacekeeping force.
Many large-scale infrastructure issues remain, such as the weak Chadian legal system, drought and food shortage, and the continued operation of militarized rebel groups in the area, as well as auxiliary practical issues such as low phone coverage (a key issue for reducing attacks against refugees and humanitarians, as emergency phone calls allow for MINURCAT forces to be alerted to security problems). The recent dispute over the continued presence of the MINURCAT force has detracted focus from these problems, which need to remain at the forefront of the diplomatic and humanitarian agenda in Chad. (Despite ongoing needs in Eastern Chad, the Chadian Government opposed the MINURCAT mission’s renewal in January 2010.)
The withdrawal of MINURCAT transfers responsibility for the security of refugees and humanitarian operations to the Government of Chad (GoC) — a significant challenge for a state with low material wealth and incomplete infrastructure. So, what can be done, given the limitations of the current circumstances?
First, it is important to remember that the continued existence of the 200,000 Darfurian refugees in Eastern Chad relies on the efforts of humanitarian aid workers and UN staff on the ground: managing the refugee camps, distributing WFP rations and shelter items, and providing emergency medical care. Humanitarian agencies have continued to operate in Eastern Chad despite increasingly frequent security threats to NGOs and personnel, and rely on police escorts in order to operate in the Phase IV security environment. The current system of police escorts for NGO convoys must be taken over by the Chadian police force, and it is particularly important that NGOs are not obliged to pay or provide other compensation for the new security arrangements, and that the GoC accept responsibility for ensuring the security of the humanitarian operations.
Secondly, refugee communities and the humanitarian actors working with refugees must be consulted and kept informed of the transition and departure of MINURCAT and how the GoC will continue MINURCAT’s security and protection activities. In order to ensure this takes place, the GoC should immediately establish a dialogue and consultation forum with refugee communities and humanitarian workers, and the international community should remain engaged in the transition process to ensure that this takes place.
Thirdly, it is of utmost importance that the MINURCAT withdrawal not be allowed to disrupt the humanitarian operations in Eastern Chad and/or detract from refugee security and protection. The continued monitoring of the human rights situation on the ground, and a specific focus on the security and protection needs of refugees, is paramount. The numbers of the civilian police force should be increased as the military component is phased out, and measures must be taken in the recruiting process to improve the conduct of police officers, sensitize police to human rights and gender issues, and dramatically raise the number of women police officers.
The disappointing withdrawal of the MINURCAT force — before the benchmarks of withdrawal have been met (see the Secretary-General’s December 2008 reports) — should not distract the UN Security Council or the international community from addressing the ongoing problems affecting the Darfurian refugee population in Eastern Chad. The reduction of arms, sexual and gender-based violence and human rights abuses (demilitarization of camps) must remain a key priority, along with assisting the voluntary and safe return of communities. In addition to resolving security issues on a community level, it is vital that widespread problems, such as the capacity and training of national law enforcement agencies, judiciary and prison systems, are addressed, and that the Chadian military assigns a quick reaction force to take over from MINURCAT’s civilian component.
Last Friday, the PHR team delivered to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a joint advocacy letter, urging that sexual and gender-based violence (SGV) programming be recognized as an urgent need in Sudan. Forty advocacy and human rights groups called on Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sudan Envoy Scott Gration to recognize the absence of vital SGV programming following the March 2009 expulsion of international humanitarian organizations and key Sudanese NGOs. The number of supporting organizations has since grown to more than 60.
The team from PHR met with General Gration’s office, and with the office of the Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues on Friday, to present the letter and advocate for the inclusion of SGV programs in the Sudan Policy benchmarks.
The elimination of SGV services in Sudan is a perfect storm of collateral damage: when the 16 international humanitarian organizations and NGOs were expelled, these programs—and equally importantly, the network of SGV-focused personnel and leadership—disappeared. In a climate where remaining staff and organizations were afraid to rebuild or renegotiate their contracts for fear of Government of Sudan retribution, services for survivors of sexual violence in Darfur collapsed.
Despite this, and despite the fine work of the State department on a number of gender-based violence issues, the issue of sexual violence was not explicitly recognized in the administration’s Sudan Policy review, nor was it included in the details of US strategic objective #1, which deals with the humanitarian situation in Darfur. It was, however, recognized by the UN panel of experts in the recent report released on the humanitarian situation in Darfur, and has been a key sticking point for activists in the US at the recent Pledge to Protect conference.
Today—just in time for the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women on November 25—PHR has launched a congressional action for advocates and activists to urge Senators and Representatives to join us in our call to the State department on this issue. Partnering with our co-signatories, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, the Arab Coalition for Darfur, the Enough Project, Save Darfur Coalition and others, we continue to advocate for the restoration of services as basic as emergency assistance for injuries, documentation of injuries sustained during these brutal attacks, access to HIV/AIDS prophylaxis treatment, pregnancy testing and psychological and social support. We ask Hillary Rodham Clinton and General Gration not only to include SGV programs as a benchmark in the Sudan policy, but also:
- To ensure that renegotiation of technical agreements between humanitarian organizations and the Government of Sudan takes place, so that international humanitarian organizations and NGOs can incorporate or SGV programs into their authorized operations in Sudan.
- To monitor Government of Sudan obstruction of SGV services in Khartoum and on the ground: SGV services must be restored and made available to all IDP populations, including West and South Darfur, where humanitarian operations have historically functioned at a lower level than in North Darfur state.
- To support and facilitate coordination between aid agencies, camp residents and UNAMID gender desk officers. The recruitment of gender desk officers must involve camp residents, and the work of gender experts should fully utilize the expertise and resources of aid agencies as well as camp residents, to ensure the establishment of culturally competent services.
We need action to protect the rights of survivors in Darfur: please let your US Senators and Representative know.