Mail from the frontline: Darfur's current state of affairs

Until a few months ago, Dafur was (seemed to be) still high up on the agenda - of the western governments, the UN and the international news media. Then came the Israel-Lebanon crisis, which distracted everybody and gave news media a fresh pasture to feed on. The UN and the western powers have now found another area to show off their power and influence, and suddenly, it seems everybody has forgotten that there is still an ongoing crisis in Darfur - people are being killed, women are being sexually assaulted and the African Union (AU) peacekeeping troops seem very ineffective to stop any of these. We regularly hear about massive underfunding and lack of proper training for the AU troops, but no one seems to be doing anything about it. I hadn't heard from this friend of mine, who works in Darfur, for quite some time. This morning I got an email from him, and here is what he had to say:

Hello ALL

I just thought I would try and send this out to as many people as possible
just so everyone is aware of what we are dealing with...Darfur is really
becoming a mess and IRC has finally decided to take a stance on it and make
it as public as possible while everyone (government and UN) seems to muck
about delivering lip service to the Internally Displaced population about
giving them protection...

This was released yesterday and we are unsure of how the government is to
react since this is such a sensitive subject...have a read and spread the

Will write more soon!!

Take Care

The link he sent is a news release from IRC regarding increased sexual assaults of women and girls in the camps in Darfur, which I reproduce below with a link to the original.

Increased Sexual Assaults Signal Darfur’s Downward Slide

23 Aug 2006 - More than 200 women have been sexually assaulted in the last five weeks alone around Darfur’s largest displaced camp, Kalma, an alarming trend that is yet another sign of the region’s plummeting security situation.

The situation is so dire that about 300 women convened a meeting in Kalma on Aug. 7 to plead for more help from the outside world -- particularly from African Union troops mandated to protect civilians.

“This is a massive spike in figures. We are used to hearing of 2 to 4 incidents of sexual assault per month in Kalma camp,” said Kurt Tjossem of the International Rescue Committee, which collected the figures.

The numbers from Kalma, in south Darfur, are one measure of Darfur’s downward spiral, which is also being reflected in rising attacks on aid workers and in numbers of people fleeing their homes for displaced camps. The signing of a peace deal on May 5 has done nothing to halt the insecurity. Since the beginning of July, 14,780 newly displaced people have arrived at As Salaam camp in El Fasher, some after having spent two days on foot or riding donkeys to escape violence in north Darfur. They are among 50,000 people who have been displaced across Darfur in recent weeks. Last month alone, nine humanitarian aid workers were killed and 20 vehicles were hijacked in Darfur.

The women of Darfur are particularly vulnerable. They have no choice but to leave their camp confines in search of firewood – expeditions that force them to walk several miles into the bush. If men went instead, they would be killed. “We … have chosen to risk being raped rather than let the men risk being killed,” one woman said at the Aug. 7 meeting, summarizing how hopeless their plight has become. Victims range in age from 13 to 50.

In addition to the sexual assaults, which include rapes, an additional 200 women and girls say they have been attacked in other ways in the last five weeks, including being beaten, punched, and kicked by assailants who lie in wait a few miles outside Kalma.

“These women are demanding and deserve better protection,” said Heidi Lehmann of the International Rescue Committee. This must include regular and increased “firewood patrols” by armed AU troops, whose presence alongside women as they trek through the desert could deter attackers. These patrols once were a regular part of the AU’s mission in Darfur, occurring three times a week at Kalma alone. Since last April, though, the under-resourced AU has provided just one such patrol for Kalma’s women

“Resuming regular African Union firewood patrols is vital to the women’s immediate security needs. However, much more is needed,” Lehmann said.

What little protection exists in Darfur could be diminished further on Sept. 30, when the AU’s mandate ends. This will leave women even more in danger of attack and weaken international organizations’ abilities to deliver services to those in need.

All parties to the Darfur conflict must adhere to a full and comprehensive cease-fire immediately and stop targeting civilians. In addition, the IRC calls on the AU to provide a 24/7 presence and regular patrols, which would allow freedom of movement for civilians. Those countries that have pledged money to the AU must fulfill their promises. The AU itself must demonstrate a firmer commitment to civilian protection. To be credible and effective, it must be seen as independent and not partial to any signatories of the May accord. Both it and the United Nations need to make protection of Darfur’s innocents a priority.

Founded in 1933, the International Rescue Committee is a global leader in relief, rehabilitation, post-conflict development, advocacy and resettlement services for refugees and others uprooted or affected by violent conflict and oppression. The IRC is committed to restoring hope, freedom, dignity and self-reliance.

Media Contacts:

Tina Susman (New York)

Lydia Gomersall (London)
+44-20 7692 2741
+44-777 985 5021

Nicky Smith (Khartoum)
+249-912 178 019
+249-912 179 613

Peter Biro (Vienna)
+1-646-201-3697 (U.S. cell)

Update: Sudan rejects Darfur peace plan (from BBC)

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