Human rights defenders from over 70 countries around the globe participated in a Dublin conference hosted by Front Line Defenders, the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (http://www.frontlinedefenders.org), in October 2005. The three day platform saw individual human rights defenders give moving testimonies of the work they do and the hardships, challenges and risks they face daily. Pambazuka News will be publi...read more
Human rights defenders from over 70 countries around the globe participated in a Dublin conference hosted by Front Line Defenders, the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (http://www.frontlinedefenders.org), in October 2005. The three day platform saw individual human rights defenders give moving testimonies of the work they do and the hardships, challenges and risks they face daily. Pambazuka News will be publishing a series of these testimonies over the coming weeks, beginning with that of Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, who recounts the experiences of the Sudan Social Development Organization in Darfur.
“I am giving this testimony on behalf of my organization, Sudan Social Development Organization (SUDO), and myself.
What is Sudan?
The word in Arabic (Sudan) literally means the blacks. It was used in ancient history to describe the land South of Egypt. In modern history it was used as a name to describe inhabitants of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Chad (the French Sudan) and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Sudan in its now known political boundaries, came as a result of the territory’ sharing between the colonial powers in the 20th century.
This country is characterized by its multi-ethnic, multi-cultural multi-religious population. There are more than 600 groups living in the country. These groups when setting the boundaries were not consulted as to whether or not they wanted to live together to form one nation. They were packed in these boundaries without consultation.
That means in reality that there is no one nation called Sudanese, but a country lived in by groups with diverse races, cultures and religions.
How it is ruled?
The colonial powers adopted a governance structure which is centralized, run and controlled by Khartoum. This system was inherited by a clique of Sudanese after independence in 1956, who preserved the same social, economic and political structure.
The basic features of this structure are:
- A small section of the Sudanese people are active in exploiting the resources of the country and have control over the state apparatus and the resources of the country, and impose policies and culture that serve their greedy interests.
- The majority of the population with their ethnic, religious and cultural diversities are ruled by this minority. Their right to be masters over the wealth that they produce and to participate in the general affairs of their country and regions is denied. Also their right to express their cultures and heritage is denied.
In spite of slogans and allegations of implementing decentralization, regionalism, federation and the just redistribution of power and national wealth, the hegemony and domination of the minority has deepened much more.
On the cultural aspect, traditions, cultures, and customs of the majority of the peoples were marginalized and a racial, narrow-minded vision of the identity of the country established.
The majority of people, as a result of the continuation of this structure, experienced the suffering of poverty, ignorance, diseases, and deprivation, and faced different kinds of calamities, like war, famines and epidemics which affected to a great extent the rural areas. This led to increasing numbers of emigrants and displaced people towards cities to dwell in miserable conditions. Misery became the general feature of their life in urban and rural areas.
The following manifests the essence of this system of governance structure:
- The strict centralization avails to the government of Khartoum an absolute power to decide on all crucial local and national issues. This situation marginalizes and deprives the will of all people.
- The preservation, by the different governments, of the aspects of uneven development inherited from the colonial state is made even worse to the extent that the least developed regions were much more underdeveloped. The phenomenon of economic collapse and the decline of the standard of living is common to all the nation but has hit rural areas with great severity and damage.
- The adoption of a dangerous and incapable concept of Sudanese identity that stands on the ground of religious and ethnic superiority.
- The establishment of the religious state giving all the mentioned grievances their institutional embodiment and their most horrible expression as manifested in the existing wars and in the ethnic and religious purging and mass annihilation. The religious state also deprives people from their rights of citizenship and creates a second-class citizen, it also supports economic and social inequality and renders the unity of the country impossible.
Due to these policies, Sudan has never lived in peace since its independence. War in the south began even before the colonial troops left the country. The central government in Khartoum adopted policies of divide and rule and used local conflicts to wage war against its opponents. The regular army has always fought by proxy using tribal militias. The more people start demanding equality and justice the more brutal becomes the central government. In the south of Sudan, in a long war, 2 million people have been killed, Five million persons were displaced or took refuge. The ongoing war in the Darfur killed 300,000 persons, about 2 million persons are displaced.
Emergence of SUDO
In this environment, looking at the condition of the country and the people, some 54 Sudanese men and women gathered and formed a national NGO, under the name of the Sudan Social Development Organization, known as SUDO, to work towards the welfare of the Sudanese people.
The SUDO mission is to contribute to the creation of a general human rights movement capable of defending itself and seeking a society free from all forms of human rights violations.
SUDO considers providing and availing basic needs and services a basic human right. It adopts a rights based approach on all its interventions. SUDO finds it impossible in societies like Sudan to advocate for political rights without economic and social rights. Therefore drilling a borehole or building a clinic or school is a very good event to advocate for political and social rights. Training and advocacy programs can be conducted concurrently while providing the service.
Given the conditions of the country, being ruled by a dictatorship and controlled by security, registering an NGO with such a mission was on its own a challenge.
From the first day of its registration SUDO started to work, and adopted an approach of going directly to the grassroots community.
In this short testimony I will just give a brief about the SUDO experience in the defense of human rights in Darfur as an example.
While working in Darfur since it was formed in 2001, SUDO recognized the ongoing conflict in the region. Although very young and vulnerable SUDO started advocating about what was going on in the region. We approached diplomatic missions in the Sudan as early as 2002, telling them about abuses in the region, attacks on villages, killing of civilians, burning of houses, and the looting and destruction of property. SUDO reported the systematic trend of attacks, systematic killing of individuals and mass killings of certain tribal groups.
SUDO reports were not listened to, not because they were discredited but because the political environment was not accepting to believe what had been said. SUDO worked closely with Amnesty International to highlight the gravity of what was going on in the region, in terms of human rights abuses, but both Amnesty and SUDO were not listened to. Although we managed to get out credible reports throughout 2002 and 2003, western governments were not wanting to accept the fact that there was another war going on in the Sudan. Western governments were by that time very involved in the peace process between the so-called South and North. One of the diplomats was even telling us “Why Darfur now?” Our reply was: “It is not our choice, we have not invented it.”
Hundreds were detained arbitrary and SUDO worked closely with Amnesty International for their release. We mobilized local communities and thanks to these efforts we managed to free many who were innocent, but with severe regret many lost their lives under torture. Slowly the war started to get a political dimension. By the end of 2002, a political/armed group named itself as the Darfur Liberation Front (DLF) and later transformed to the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement SLA/M. The trend of the war has changed. Instead of militias backed by government forces attacking villagers the government army started to launch systematic attacks against civilians. SLA has launched very painful, planned attacks against government army garrisons, and the government has retaliated by using heavy bombardment, air raids against villages, and concurrently used militias to attack villages burn, loot, rape and kill.
SUDO and other international organizations started reporting what was happening to the public and the Western missions in Khartoum, but still very little response was noticed. The government reacted by putting restrictions on INGO (international NGOs) movement, confining them to the main cities in Darfur, Geneina, Fasher and Nyala. The government started to gather outlaws, free criminals from the prisons, grant them amnesty and recruit them to join it on its war campaign.
SUDO, being a national NGO, has not abided by the restriction of movement. SUDO staff and members went to all areas in Darfur, seeing the misery of the fighting and the burden inflicted upon the civilians. Hundreds, thousands of women and children were forced to leave the burned villages, their dead husbands, sons and fathers and flee bare footed for days and weeks. They were without water and food, forced into camps at the outskirts of deserted towns, and away from the eyes of the humanitarian organizations. They were without shelter and clothes and subject to the attacks of the government militias called Janjaweed. SUDO reported in one instance, in one of these collection of people, the death of a child every second day. By the end of 2003, the international community started its very slow movement, forced by the magnitude and gravity of the situation.
In its effort to highlight the Darfur cause SUDO suffered a lot. Many of its members, volunteers and staff were arrested and tortured, but in spite of that continued to work. SUDO intervened with humanitarian assistance to the people in need and managed to pull in many international organizations to come in, and give assistance. Our staff has carried the risk on their shoulders, under fire and bombardment, in Kaila, Mershing, Zalingei and many other places. They are in the front assisting people. Young men and women, risking their own lives, opening a road for international assistance. SUDO staff have faced militias and talked in very dangerous situations to the tribes who were involved in the conflict. Still to date SUDO staff is working, delivering a service to the people in need, despite the danger they face. Our staff is working in areas designated by UN security as unsafe.
Although it is an emergency, SUDO, still based on its mission, is protecting people, our field monitors, victims of rape, victims of other violations. Our protection officers are resource persons at the forefront, assisting UN agencies to deliver their duties. They are training police and other law enforcement forces, at camps and towns, in human rights, trying to ensure their abidance with international human rights conventions.
A Short Personal Testimony
I have gone through different detention experiences by the ruling regime, since they came to power in 1989. But I had also had my share with other colleagues in relation to the Darfur conflict. I was arrested three times since December 2003. The first was meant to shut my mouth on the 24th of December 2003. I was arrested from home by 8 security members with Kalashnikovs in plain clothes, at 11.00 pm. My house and my office were searched. I was interrogated for two days at security offices and then transferred to the security detention centre in the general federal prison of Sudan called Kober. After being kept in that detention center for more than 45 days, I went on hunger strike on the 8th of February. On the 10th of February I was transferred to the prosecutor of the crimes against the state and charged under 9 articles of the Sudanese penal code. Five of these charges carry the death penalty. I went on trial for about 8 months, until the case was drawn from the court by the prosecutor general, due to lack of evidence, internal and international pressure.
Again I was detained from my village with a friend on the 24th of January 2005, and kept in solitary at a ghost house called Abu Ghyreib, for two months. I went on hunger strike for 12 days, after which due to internal and international pressure I was transferred to the Prosecutor of the crimes against the state and charged with an attempt of suicide and then transferred to the hospital to be treated from the effect of the hunger strike. I lost 10 kilogrammes of my weight on the hunger strike. I was released from the hospital, without the charge being dropped. On the 8th of May, while I was due to board a plane to Dublin to receive an award from Front Line I was detained again, my passport was confiscated and I was banned from travel. I stayed 3 days at the security detention centre together with my friend and my driver, and was then transferred to the prosecutor of the crimes against the state under accusation of espionage and photographing military areas. I walked out from the prosecutor office 10 days later without being stopped.
Still I ask, whether I deserve being awarded a prize (for human rights work), when I can recall individuals, paying with their lives trying to protect their people’s rights. Do I really deserve it?”
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