"We...saw that the Janjaweed had burned everything--fields with crops, houses, shops. Everything. There was nothing to salvage." --35-year-old mother fromDarfur
Just days before Sudanese leaders responsible for orchestrating ongoing acts of violence in Darfur host the African Union summit in Khartoum, a new report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) reveals, in unprecedented detail, the underreported catastrophic elimination of traditional livelihoods in Darfur, Sudan. The report, Assault on Survival: A Call for Security, Justice and Restitution, spotlights the obliteration of the means of survival and the way of life in three villages by the Government of Sudan (GOS) and its proxy militia, the Janjaweed.
During three trips to the region between May 2004 and July 2005, investigators randomly surveyed dozens of survivors from the villages of Furawiya, Bendisi and Terbeba and documented--with hundreds of photographic images as well as hand-drawn maps--compelling evidence of attacks on lives and livelihoods that PHR has assessed as genocidal.
"Killings, rape, torture and other heinous crimes against non-Arabs in Darfur are well-documented", said PHR investigator and report author John Heffernan. "But PHR's in-depth investigation shows that the GOS and the Janjaweed, have in a systematic way attacked the very survival of a people by destroying property, livestock, communities and families , driving victims into a terrain unable to sustain life, and then repeatedly obstructing humanitarian assistance, their only lifeline."
The report also illuminates and analyzes an overlooked clause in the Genocide Convention which defines the crime as including deliberate infliction on a group "conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part." The PHR investigators documented the precariousness of life in the vast no-man's land beyond the network of villages and transport. One refugee told PHR investigators that she overheard her attacker say, "Don't bother, don't waste the bullet, they've got nothing to eat and they will die from hunger."
To begin to address these particular crimes, PHR has called on the UN Security Council to establish and implement an effective Compensation Commission as recommended by its own Commission of Inquiry report released in January 2005. This would be in addition to the ongoing International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation.
The three villages, chosen to represent the ethnic and geographic diversity of Darfur, were far from one another and attacked at different times. Yet, eyewitness accounts of the assaults were strikingly similar: early morning attacks by armed men on horseback or in pick-up trucks, backed up by Sudanese military aircraft. The attackers killed and raped villagers, and then looted and burned houses and shops, poisoned wells, stole livestock and torched prime farmland. The majority of people PHR interviewed reported the collective loss of thousands of camels, cattle, donkeys, sheep and goats, as well as thousands of sacks of sorghum, millet, ground nuts and other food stocks; the torching of scores of acres of prime farmland and looting of virtually all personal possessions, including mattresses, rugs, clothing, radios, and Korans.
With wells poisoned, homes and shops burned to the ground and attackers often in hot pursuit of their victims, survivors fled into the harsh desert. Many wandered through the bleak landscape for weeks or months. They escaped death by eating wild foods growing in the desert and eventually found their way to outside assistance. Others were not so lucky. PHR found that many households experienced a substantial drop in size due to death and separation while seeking refuge.
The average household size in all three villages before the attacks was 12.1 people, while after the attacks, the average household had shrunk to just 6.7. Out of a total combined population of 558 people in all of the households of respondents, 251 were confirmed killed or missing; of these 141 were confirmed killed.
The PHR investigations were led by PHR staff researcher Heffernan and included Drs. Jennifer Leaning and Michael Van Rooyen, Co-directors of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), Harvard University; Dr. Kirsten Johnson, a HHI Fellow, based in Toronto, Canada; and David Tuller of the University of California at Berkeley, School of Public Health.
As well as describing life in Darfur before the attacks, the devastating impact of the attacks and the flight of the survivors, Assault on Survival explains the importance of livestock, water supply, food stocks and homes in the context of Darfur's culture and economy, and the impact of the destruction of each of these elements.
In order for the victims to reclaim and restore their lives, there must be a form of redress, PHR insists. The United Nations has called for a Compensation Commission. In its report, PHR outlines key elements that must be part of such a reparations program including linking profits from Sudanese oil or other commodities to compensation, restitution and rehabilitation. This is an essential part of any negotiated settlement of the current conflict, according to PHR.
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