Monday, January 17, 2022

Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

Voices from Darfur

By Louise Roland-Gosselin

September 3, 2008 — In October 2004, Rebecca Tinsley, a freelance journalist and human rights activist, headed for Darfur’s refugee camps to report on the conflict afflicting the region. What began as a fact-finding mission changed the course of Rebecca’s life and led to the creation of the human rights group Waging Peace.

As she sat down in the dusty Darfuri refugee camp, Rebecca interviewed survivors and carefully recorded the testimonies of the thousands of men, women and children who had been displaced from their homes by Janjaweed militias and Sudanese Government forces.

The testimonies she collected all recounted the same horrors: the systematic burning of villages, looting, killing of men and children, gang rape of women, racial abuse, forced slavery. She listened to Iklass, a 17 year old girl, who confided in her: “They attacked me. One man branded me, like I was a cow. He told me I was just a slave. They hurt me, and it was painful to sit down for several weeks. Now no one will want to marry me. No one will want me”.

When Rebecca asked what the West should be doing in response to the crisis in Darfur, one young girl named Aisha explained: “It is very kind of the people in your country to send us the food, but this is Africa and we are used to be hungry. What I ask is that you please take the guns away from the people who are killing us.”

On her return to the UK, Rebecca began to do what Aisha had asked and set up Waging Peace as a means of providing a platform for the people of Darfur and lobbying the decision-makers who have the ability to end the conflict.

As an independent, impartial and non-profit human rights organisation, Waging Peace strives to promote and protect the rights of Darfuri people in the UK and in Chad and Sudan. Campaigning against genocide and systematic human rights abuses in countries including Chad, DRC, Somalia and Central African Republic, Waging Peace’s priority has remained Darfur, where it is fighting for an immediate end to the atrocities and a stable and secure peace settlement that will bring about long-term safety and security for Sudan’s citizens. The organisation provides evidence to the International Criminal Court and UN investigative bodies, lobbies the British and EU parliament on Darfur and raises the issue of Darfur in the international press. In the last year alone, we have produced 5 in-depth research reports and over 50 briefings on Darfur, collected over 150 testimonies and written close to 50 questions asked in the UK Parliament.

At the core of Waging Peace’s work are our regular fact-finding missions to Darfur and Chad to uncover evidence and collect testimonies from the people who live there. During a trip in August 2007, Waging Peace collected 500 children’s drawings from refugee camps in Chad, which tell their story of the attacks on their villages by Sudanese Government forces and their allied Janjaweed militia. Many of the drawings depict adult men being killed, women being shot, beaten and taken prisoner, babies being thrown on fires and Government of Sudan helicopters and planes bombing civilians.

In November that year, Waging Peace presented the drawings to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, who accepted them as contextual evidence of the crimes committed in Darfur. The five hundred drawings collected by Waging Peace have been extensively featured in the media (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/darfur-the-evidence-of-war-crimes-459922.html) and are currently being exhibited throughout the world – from London to Harvard and South Africa – to raise awareness about the crisis in Darfur and the need for international action to stop the twenty-first century’s first genocide.

Waging Peace recently returned to the same camps to tell children that their drawings would be used in the trials of the people responsible for the killing in Darfur. Twelve-year old Ahmed told our researcher “I cannot express what it feels like to know that I will help make sure those who are organising the killing go to prison. It is the first time I have felt like I have been able to do something about the situation here.”

In early 2008, Waging Peace brought to the UK the first ever petition of Darfuri refugees, signed by over 60,000 men and women living in the refugee camps on the Chad-Sudan border. The petition and the testimonials scrawled alongside the names, call on the international community to intervene to stop the killings and restore peace and justice to Darfur so that the survivors can return home.

As one lady, Mariam, wrote “We the mothers want them [the UN peacekeepers] to enter Darfur immediately. They have displaced us, and killed us, and raped us in front of our children and husbands. They killed our children and burnt our houses. This was all done by the Janjaweed in our homeland.” The petition was presented to Gordon Brown by a delegation of Darfuris in early 2008 and was also sent to UN member states.

Most recently, Waging Peace uncovered evidence in Chad that Darfuri children as young as nine were being trafficked and forcibly recruited into armed groups operating in Eastern Chad, in particular the Darfuri rebel group JEM, as well as Chadian rebel groups and the Chadian army. Since the publishing of the report, the UN Secretary-General and the UN Special Rapporteur on Children and Armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, have raised the alarm on the recruitment of child soldiers in the region, with Ms Coomaraswamy explaining that she was “aware of ongoing recruitment of children by JEM”. A number of UN investigative bodies and International Judicial bodies have informed Waging Peace that they are following up on the organisation’s report and investigating the forcible recruitment of child soldiers in the region.

While Waging Peace’s success in campaigning on Darfur is in large part due to the regular fact-finding missions it carries out in Darfur and Chad, its work with the Darfuri community in the UK has been equally rewarding. Its regular contact with the heads of Darfuri groups within the UK, as well as with the Darfuri community as a whole, has enabled Waging Peace to act proactively on Darfuri issues facilitating Darfuris’ access to services and providing opportunities for them to speak publicly and engage in campaigning activities.

Waging Peace also closely monitors Home Office policy regarding Darfuris in the UK, investigating any wrong doing by the Department and helping to prevent Darfuris from being returned to Karthoum. For example, last month Waging Peace helped save Abubaker Yousef Mohamed, a JEM member, from deportation to Khartoum after he contacted the NGO for help. The same month, Waging Peace successfully campaigned to overturn UK asylum policy so that no Darfuri would be deported to Khartoum until a review at the end of the year.

The world rarely listens to the voices of the innocent civilians caught between warring factions and bandits, yet it is these people who hold the key to long-lasting peace and development in their country. As the conflict in Darfur enters its fifth year, Waging Peace will continue to work tirelessly, alongside our many partners, to ensure that the voices of Darfuris in the refugee camps, and in the UK, are heard and that they are able to play their part in ending the twenty first century’s first genocide.

The author is the Director of Waging Peace, London.