Canada must help Sudan address its many human rights crises

By Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

Earlier this fall the Canadian government significantly down-scaled the diplomatic and financial resources devoted to helping make a difference in Sudan when the high-level Sudan Task Force was disbanded. The decision conveyed a disappointing message that Canada is less concerned about Sudan, at a time when the situation there is the most volatile it has been in years.

It was an unfortunate decision. There is an urgent need for a renewed global effort to address Sudan’s multiple human rights tragedies. Canada must get back in that game.It is hard to think of another country faced with so many full-blown human rights catastrophes.

Darfuri women refugees in Chad
(c) Amnesty International 

Alex Neve, Secretary General

Tue Nov 26 2013

I am currently wrapping up an Amnesty International research mission in Chad, along Sudan’s turbulent western border, investigating a surge in inter-communal violence and human rights violations in Darfur. Earlier this year I worked with another Amnesty team along Sudan’s southern border. We travelled through villages that have endured a harrowing Sudanese aerial bombing campaign in the state of Southern Kordofan and interviewed refugees who have fled into remote reaches of neighbouring South Sudan.

There is more. Civilians have also suffered terribly in the midst of fighting between the Sudanese military and armed opposition in Blue Nile State. And last month Sudanese authorities responded to widespread popular demonstrations against cuts to fuel subsidies with a harsh crackdown that left at least 200 dead and more than 800 protesters thrown into jail, including members of opposition parties, journalists and activists.

This year over 30,000 refugees from Darfur have fled into Chad, bringing the number of Darfuri refugees in Chad to close to 300,000. It is the highest influx in seven years.
And while we have been in eastern Chad, fighting has continued to rage just over the border in Darfur. More people killed. More villages set on fire. More people forced from their homes. It is, to say the least, tense. As one recently arrived refugee told me, it is impossible to shake the feeling that the entire region could explode at any moment.
Whether it was earlier this year in South Sudan’s refugee camps and the devastated villages of Southern Kordofan; or this week in the isolated refugee camps in Chad, I have heard similar concerns.

People wonder whether the world knows what is happening. They fear the world does not care. They implore other countries to make the Sudanese government stop violating their rights. They ask when it will end.

And there is so much heartbreak. Having fled amidst chaos, many refugee families in Chad are separated. Parents do not know if their children are still alive. Children worry about their missing elderly parents.

A 10-year-old girl described to me seeing her father shot and killed in front of her in a village in Central Darfur in early April. She told me: “I have never been so afraid in my life. When I’ve been afraid before it is my father who makes me feel okay, but he couldn’t this time.”

The cycles of displacement have been endless. Starting in 2003, one Darfuri man fled first to a displacement camp inside Darfur, then on to the Central African Republic, back to Darfur and now Chad. As he put it, “I left hell behind me when I fled Darfur the first time. Then hell found me in Central Africa. But it was still hell in Darfur. What will happen to me now in Chad? Will there be hell here also?”
International efforts in the face of these deepening human rights violations are insufficient, disconnected and, ultimately, ineffective.

There is a UN Security Council sanctioned mission on the ground in Darfur. Sudanese forces keep those UN soldiers away from some of the most troubled parts of Darfur. That is particularly worrying as Sudan does not allow independent human rights monitors and dramatically restricts the activities of international humanitarian organizations in Darfur. The UN mission itself has seen a worrying number of fatalities this year.

A different Security Council process addresses troubles between Sudan and South Sudan, and gives some minimal attention to the grave situations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. The Security Council has failed, however, to unequivocally condemn war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Sudanese forces.

The African Union similarly gives separate attention to these crises, as if they were happening in different countries, and in its most recent report dealing with troubles along the Sudan/South Sudan border did not mention human rights at all.

An infamously leaky arms embargo has been imposed by the Security Council, but applies only to Darfur, not the rest of Sudan. The Sudanese President and other indicted war criminals have evaded International Criminal Court arrest warrants related to abuses in Darfur for over 6 years now. Tragically and ironically, Ahmed Haroun, indicted for alleged crimes in Darfur when he served as Sudan’s Interior Minister and Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, was, until recently, the Governor of Southern Kordofan.

A recent effort to intensify pressure on Sudan at the UN Human Rights Council was unsuccessful. The Council has kept scrutiny of Sudan under the lower-key theme of technical assistance and capacity building, making difficult to independently document the human rights situation on the ground.

There has been little international response to the recent killings and arrests that followed the recent wave of protests across Sudan. Again, it feels as if the world sees those concerns as unrelated to the country’s other human rights problems.

It is time for a forceful and coherent international response to the multiplying and mounting human rights crises in Sudan. Canada should step up and help lead that effort.

Originally printed in the Toronto Star  – Published on Tue Nov 26 2013