By Jody Williams
Monday, 28 July 2008
The sky is full of clouds and it is raining this morning in Addis – not a surprise as this is the rainy season here and no one should complain given the famine gripping parts of Ethiopia because of the drought that has hit the eastern and southeastern parts of the country bordering Kenya and Somalia.
The combination of lack of rain devastating food production in the region and skyrocketing global food prices which affect relief operations makes for a very dismal situation. Some reports indicate that over ten million people are in varying degrees affected by the drought. Ethiopia’s population is 80 million. I don’t know if the rain is finally reaching the drought-affected areas, but hope that it is the case.
As I sat down to start writing, I could hear the sound of the morning call to prayer wafting through the air from a distant mosque somewhere in the city. To me it sounded a bit mournful, but it was also beautiful.
Good morning again. Obviously I didn’t get very far yesterday. Just those few paragraphs into writing, I had to stop and get myself ready to start the day.
It was excellent to see Professor Wangari and her daughter Wanjira for our breakfast meeting. They’d arrived late Sunday night and by the time they arrived at the hotel, I’d already been asleep for a couple of hours so wasn’t there to greet them properly. So before our day really got going, we took some time for Wangari, Mia and I to finalize our press statement with Rachel and also discuss our messages for the African Union.
At the press conference, we called for an immediate cessation of violence in Darfur, and full support for legitimate negotiations to build sustainable peace. Of paramount concern to the Nobel Women’s Initiative is the on-going, systematic violence against women and children including the use of rape as a weapon of war.
We also thanked the AU for its efforts to bring peace to Darfur through the first AU peacekeeping mission as well as its continued role in the UN/AU hybrid UNAMID mission. We recognized the losses sustained by those peacekeeping forces in Sudan. At the same time we pressed for more vigorous political action to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table to end the years of carnage. To achieve these ends requires strong leadership from all African countries, with the support of the African Union and the international community.
A big issue in the Q & A period of the conference was the recent decision of the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor Ocampo to ask the judges of the Court to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. African heads of state had denounced the move, calling it a threat to the peace process and noting that Bashir was important to post conflict security in Sudan. One journalist noted that it could “open a Pandora’s box” putting many heads of state at risk of indictment.
As Wangari pointed out, if a president is accountable to the people and isn’t committing crimes against them, s/he has nothing to fear from the ICC. Mia pointed out that there is, in fact, no peace process to threaten. Nothing is happening. Full deployment of UNAMID is still being blocked by Khartoum. What is at threat is the regime that is waging war against the civilian population of Darfur.
Our two-hour long discussion at the end of the day with African Union Commissioner Jean Ping and AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtene Lamamra touched upon all of these themes. We agreed to disagree on the question of the International Criminal Court but all recognized the critical need to end the crisis in Darfur before it continues to spread further into Chad and the Central African Republic. Recognizing that not all African states share the same view as to how to resolve the conflict, how sufficient political will might be generated to end the fighting remains to be seen.
While we certainly had differing points of view, the Nobel Women’s Initiative delegation sincerely appreciated the time Commissioners Ping and Lamamra gave us, especially given that they had spent the day outside of Addis in a strategic retreat and were willing to come back to the AU for the meeting at 6:30 in the evening.
Between the press conference and our final meeting at the African Union, members of our delegation split and some of us went to the US Embassy where Ambassador Yamamoto had arranged for us to meet with various Ethiopian women leaders, while Mia and Wangari and others had gone for a meeting with Ambassador Nakaha Stanislas, who heads up the Darfur desk at the AU.
We also had the opportunity to spend time with Ethiopian First Lady Azeb Mesfin, who currently presides over the Council of African First Ladies and who is committed to having that important group of women tackle issues confronting the continent. She has also been a champion of proper treatment for the mentally ill and under her patronage, a 1,000 bed state of the art facility is being built. She also is a strong advocate against violence against women.
Now, we are sitting back in the airport in Addis waiting for our flight to Juba, South Sudan. I’ll get back to you later from there.#####