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.

(Cross-posted from Health Rights Advocate)

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.

(Cross-posted on Health Rights Advocate)

The World Health Organization’s representative to Sudan, Mohammad Abdur Rab, told reporters yesterday that 10 percent of children in Darfur and in South Sudan die before their first birthday, and that 15 percent of children in western Darfur were malnourished. This immense figure provides a quantitative background to PHR’s work on food security issues, as well as sanitation and health needs of displaced Darfuris living in UNHCR camps for the past five years.

In meetings held with members of Congress in Washington, DC last week, PHR doctors briefed co-Chairs from the House Commission on Human Rights, Congressional Women’s Caucus and Congressional Caucus on Sudan on the urgent health, food and security needs in Camp Farchana. The camp was the site of PHR’s 2008 investigation into the impact of sexual violence on survivors of the Darfur conflict (see the report here), which found high levels of malnourishment, lack of healthcare, insufficient sanitation and lack of protection for women and girls in the face of daily risk of attack.

The food security issues and the health needs are closely linked—and an integrated strategy between UN agencies and aid organizations on the ground is desperately needed—on both sides of the Sudan/Chad border. Although the World Food Program (WFP) target caloric intake of 2,100 kilocalories is formally being provided to the refugees by WFP rations, the type and quantities of food apparently are seriously inadequate.

WFP rations consist of only five items (sorghum, oil, salt, sugar, corn-soy blend) and the sorghum rations are distributed in an un-ground form, which means that the refugees themselves have to pay the cost of grinding the grain.

The lack of milk, meat or vegetables has consequences for the health needs of refugees, particularly vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women. Even where fortunate refugees receive the target caloric intake, they don’t receive sufficient nutrients because of the limited diet.

We must commit to reducing child malnutrition by providing milk and meat to pregnant women and children. PHR has been working to encouraging UN agencies to coordinate sufficiently so that refugees themselves can be involved in the solution to this issue.

Currently, women are forced to sell their meager sorghum rations for milk or meat, travelling to a local market where they receive a vastly reduced price for their sorghum due to market saturation. However, if UN peacekeepers would provide protection for women and girls outside the camps, they could collect the necessary hay and water and raise livestock around the camp. This would give them a supply of milk and meat to add to their diet, and also provide them with the opportunity to provide for their family’s livelihood.

In his briefing yesterday, Abdur Rab also mentioned that international donors need to increase their support for fragile health services in Sudan, with special attention to secondary and tertiary care centres. Next week PHR will be doing more work on the issue of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGV) programming, and the need to provide emergency assistance for injuries, documentation of injuries, access to HIV/AIDS prophylactic treatment, pregnancy testing, psychological and social support—none of which are currently being provided to women and girls in Darfur.

(Cross-posted from Health Rights Advocate)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
Jonathan Hutson
jhutson [at] phrusa [dot] org
Tel: (617) 301-4210
Cell: (857) 919-5130

Physicians for Human Rights calls for immediate end to Sudan’s obstruction of humanitarian operations

(Cambridge, Mass.) — Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes the renewed sense of urgency and purpose contained in President Obama’s new policy on Sudan, but remains skeptical that the genocidal regime in Khartoum can fulfill the role of trusted partner envisioned in the policy.

“The new policy relies heavily on offering incentives to the Bashir regime to improve the situation on the ground and to advance peace, but the regime has shown no willingness to make positive change since the crisis began,” said Frank Donaghue, PHR’s CEO.

“Effective incentives are fine but the Administration and international community should be maintaining strong multilateral pressure on the regime and giving a higher priority to the accountability for genocide and atrocities, which it acknowledges are necessary for reconciliation and lasting peace,” said Susannah Sirkin, PHR’s Deputy Director, who has coordinated the organization’s work on Darfur.

PHR Calls for End to Impunity for Genocidal Campaign, Including Rape

As an independent medical organization which has documented, from 2004 to 2009, the Sudan government’s mass killing and rape, pillage, forced displacement and destruction of all means of survival for hundreds of thousands of Darfuri civilians, PHR calls for an end to impunity for this genocidal campaign.

An immediate goal for US policy which is not explicitly addressed in the new comprehensive approach is an end to the gender-based violence occurring inside and outside camps in Chad and Darfur and an end to impunity for the crime of rape.

In line with US Strategic Objective #1, “A definitive end to conflict, gross human rights abuses, and genocide in Darfur,” UNAMID and all UN agencies must be tasked with specific reporting on the problem of gender-based violence and must be free to report without obstruction by local authorities. The current system, which discourages women from reporting rape and seeking justice, must be reformed and existing rape laws must be strengthened.

The US and UN must also immediately demand a commitment from the Government of Sudan to cease impeding support programs for victims of gender-based violence and remove any obstacles to gender-based violence programming in technical agreements between the government and humanitarian NGOs. It is essential that the US monitor the ongoing situation on the ground in Darfur and not allow Omar al-Bashir’s government the opportunity to further deceive the international community over human rights abuses. The Government of Sudan must accept an independent fact-finding mission to assess the human rights situation in Darfur, and the State Department should immediately encourage a high-level congressional delegation to perform this role, according to PHR.

As the US engages with the Government of Sudan and international partners to attempt to reinvigorate the peace process, US policy must remain committed to safely return refugees in Chad and displaced in Darfur to their homes and rebuilding of their villages and livelihoods. This goal should not be lost in efforts to achieve short-term forward progress in the peace process and immediate improvements in humanitarian assistance to the millions of displaced Darfuris.

The renewed commitment by the Obama Administration to end the conflict in Darfur and move forward with implementation of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement must not deter the US from supporting the UN Security Council and the ICC in pursuit of justice by enforcing the arrest warrant for President Bashir.

“Lasting peace cannot be achieved in Darfur without a process that brings justice for war crimes and genocide,” said Sirkin. “It will undermine long term prospects for peace if President Bashir and others alleged to be responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan are let off the hook so that they can participate in a process of negotiations with uncertain results.”