On the International Day for Human Rights, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) organised a seminar titled “When Raping Women is a Weapon in Darfur” which shed light on the status of women and the violations which committed since the beginning of the conflict. The Seminar was moderated by Moataz El fegeiry CIHRS Programs director. A number of speakers participated in this seminar including Ambassador Ahmed Haggag the Secretary General of the African Association and President Mubarak’s personal representative in the Darfur negotiations, Azza Suleiman, the director of the Institute for EgyptianWomen’s Issues, Tariq Khater the director of The Legal Assistance for Human Rights Association, Abdu Hammad from the Sudanese Labour Association, and Ahmed Hisso a Syrian media professional working in German broadcasting.
In the very beginning, El fegiery emphasised that the presence of United Nations forces in the region in order to help put an end to the ongoing conflict and halt the crimes being committed against civilians in the region has become one of the main demands of human rights organizations, pointing to the fact that many human rights and aid organizations have pulled out of the region as their members have become targets for the warring militias. El fegiery also expressed his astonishment at the Sudanese government’s persistent denial of the incidents of violence and rape which have been mentioned by all international reports and fact finding missions as well as its continued refusal to allow international forces in the region, pointing out the double standards present in the Arab world and the insistence of Arab media apparatuses to compare the reality in Darfur to that in Palestine, which does not do justice to the inhabitants of Darfur.
He added that the Abuja Peace Agreement signed on the 5th of last May between the Khartoum government and one of the largest opposition factions in the region has not achieved peace and security in the region and that, in fact, most signs and analyses point to a deterioration of the situation. He stated that the agreement since its inception has contained the seeds of its own destruction as it included no clear mechanisms for the implementation of its articles as well as its dependence on the Sudanese government for the execution of the agreement in a manner which is contradictory to the fact that the Sudanese government is a main party to the conflict. Furthermore, the government has not presented any concrete vision for the disarmament of the Janjaweed militia.
El fegiery also pointed out that the head of the United Nations mission in Khartoum, Jan Pronk, noted last August that UN estimates point to the deaths of up to 1600 civilians in reciprocal attacks between the warring factions within the region during the first half of this past year. Furthermore, according to a report issued by the outgoing Secretary General of the United Nations last June, 250,000 people were displaced during the first half of this past year in addition to recent reports about a further 1000 displaced persons as a result of government attacks on the north of Darfur, which also caused tens of civilian deaths. El fegiery noted that what many do not fully take into account, most importantly the Khartoum government, is that Sudan currently hosts foreign forces which are attached to the UN on its land. There are 10,000 UN personnel in Sudan coming from 60 different Arab and Asian countries dispersed in the centre and south of Sudan as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended 21 years of civil war between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in the south of the country.
Abdu Hammad, the representative of the Sudanese Labour Organisation stated that there were a number of critical issues closely related to the Darfur Crisis, most prominent of which are the violations which women are exposed to and suffer in Darfur, and the use of rape as a weapon in the conflict. He declared that women in Darfur faced three stages of abuse. The first stage involved the massacres that took place in the region, which were individual incidents. The second stage was in the nineties when the Darfur issue became critical with various economic, political, social, cultural and security implications and inhabitants were forcefully displaced from their villages to main cities. This reflected on the status of women whose burden increased and who became more vulnerable to rape and other rights violations and abuses. As for the third stage, it involved the use of rape as a weapon in the political conflict, which began in 2003 and is ongoing till today. There are cases of mass rape which are denied by the Sudanese government despite the existence of a UN mission report which points to 700 known incidents of rape within only four months in West Darfur.
As to the reasons of the use of rape as a weapon, Hammad said that women in Darfur have a special social position, so that attacking them constitutes an attack on the tribe or clan itself. Thus this method was used to make the war more brutal between the warring tribes. Moreover, women in Darfur are illiterate and do not have the means to adequately report what has happened to them. Significantly and according to the inhabitants of Darfur, these crimes were committed by elements from regime forces and Janjaweed militias, as well as reported incidents committed by African Peace Keeping forces which came to protect the inhabitants of Darfur from such crimes.
Tariq Khater the director of the Legal Assistance for Human Rights Association said that the main crisis in Darfur involves the issue of marginalisation, poverty and neglecting the region’s participation in public affairs. There are also many laws which restrict various freedoms, in addition to the problems of desertification and drought faced by Darfur. The central government in the north of Sudan has not attempted to develop the region, and thus conflict exploded as a result of the region’s tribes searching for their missing rights.
Khater also called for implementing international standards for punishing war criminals especially since the conditions for declaring genocide have been met. Khater questioned why the international community has not until now decisively interfered in order to halt the criminal violations being carried out against the sons and daughters of Darfur. He also stressed that Darfur is a national security issue in regards to Egypt, and that Egypt should have an effective role to play on both a popular and governmental level.
On her part, Azza Suleiman director of the Institute for Egyptian Women’s Issues saw that there has been sort of a conspiracy by Arab regimes regarding the events in Darfur, and that Egyptians have dealt in a racist manner with Sudanese refugees in Egypt. She pointed to the fact that Islamic aid funds which collect millions of donations for displaced and needy Muslims all around the world have not called for assistance for Muslims in Darfur and have not spoken about or brought attention to the distressed citizens in the crisis-ridden area or condemned the Sudanese government which has been covering up for all these crimes.
Ahmed Hisso, who works for German broadcasting, admitted that the Darfur issue suffers from a lack of coverage and information in the media, as well as a lack of interest on behalf of Arab media which is more concerned with hotspots like Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. When Darfur was addressed by the Arab media, the focus was on the West’s double standards in giving Darfur more attention and importance than other Arab issues, a point which was exploited intelligently by the Sudanese government, and emphasised in its official rhetoric. This attitude was shared by Arab governments who called on the Sudanese government to prevent foreign peacekeepers from entering the region. Arab media then started propagating clichés describing foreign peacekeepers as a new form of invasion and imperialism, which points to the deficiency in proper professional standards in Arab media apparatuses when dealing with such issues.
Ambassador Ahmed Haggag, President Mubarak’s representative in the Darfur negotiations stressed that those responsible for Egyptian national security need to pay attention to what is going on in the south, pointing out that everyone is rather concerned with local issues. He said that Darfur has a special historical position in its relationship with Egypt since it was a sultanate and not part of Sudan which it only joined in 1916 after the British arrived. He admitted that Egypt has neglected Darfur for the past 25 years. He also stated that the Abuja Declaration of Principles which was signed on the 5th of last May was a good one which took into consideration the interests of all parties.
Youssef Suleiman Minister Plenipotentiary at the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo replied that many organisations obtain their information about Darfur from inaccurate sources which is the fault of these Egyptian human rights organisations. This is because the organisations and sources from which they get their information are detached and far away from Sudan, even though they are able to go to Darfur and double check their information. He added that in Sudan there are 150 international organisations in operation employing 14,000 volunteers. Out of these, there is only the Egyptian Physician’s Union, while the rest are all Western organisations. Thus the accusations which are made against the Sudanese government are not based on sound fieldwork, and what is needed are a more balanced account and reports which convey accurate information.
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