(19 February 2007) The UN High Level Mission on the human rights situation in Sudan’s Darfur region, led by Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, continued its fact-finding activities in Chad. Sudanese officials failed to issue visas for the six-member team of investigators to enter the country.
“The mission will proceed and collect all relevant information from locations outside the country,” said Williams last week while in Addis Ababa for the first-leg of the team’s two-week trip.
The High Level Mission was decreed by the UN Human Rights Council and began its work in Geneva on 5 February 2007 with briefings, interviews and discussions with many individuals and organizations involved in Darfur, including Darfurian NGOs. On 10 February, the Mission departed for Addis Ababa, where they had additional briefings with African Union and UN officials, including an AMIS military briefing.
The team planned to proceed to Sudan for the second part of their mission. However, the Government of Sudan continued to be uncooperative regarding the issuance of visas to Mission members. The Mission as a group decided to continue its work to assess the situation by visiting Darfurians outside of Sudan, as the prolonged uncertainty regarding visas would jeopardize completion of its work.
The Mission is currently in Chad, where it is meeting with various Darfurians, including refugees in camps near the border.
The Mission will return to Geneva this week and proceed with its plan to prepare a report to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its Fourth Session beginning in March.
An update from Jody Williams from From N’Djamena, Chad
Yesterday, Sunday, 18 February, I was in a refugee camp near the border with Darfur. I asked to have time alone with Darfurian women. Another woman on our team was with me, along with a female translator. When we first entered the steamingly hot building and sat on the floor with the 30 women, there was one woman at the side, sitting in a chair. She had wrapped her shawl — blue with black designs — all around her face, and then over her head. She was too ashamed to show her face. She had been so traumatized by gang rape during an attack, that she would not talk. About one-half hour into our ongoing discussions, she unwrapped the shawl and showed her face. In the space of the little over one hour of time we had with the women, we were told stories of eight rapes — six of those women were in the room. All were from different villages and all had been gang raped.
The ages of the women in the room who had been raped were 15-17-20-21-35 and unsure of the one whose face had been covered. The thirty-five year old woman had eight children. When her husband learned of the rape, he divorced her on the spot. The story of the two women who had been raped but were not in the room was told by an older woman who had been with them. They were four women together when their village was attacked by the Janjaweed. The old woman in the group was thrown into the fire by the attackers and she burned to death. The woman telling the story was badly beaten, as the two younger women were repeatedly raped. One of them got pregnant and when she had the child, it “died” immediately. She has “been sick” ever since. That was three years ago. She has four children and her husband was killed in the attack. One woman had been raped outside of the camp. She’d gone to get firewood and was raped by a group of Chadians.
When we had met with the camp’s leaders for about an hour and a half discussion before I went to speak with the women, one of the men talked about the raping of the women by the Janjaweed. He said, “Especially the raping of women — how can they do this in the name of Islam?” All of the various tribes and ethnic groups in Darfur are Muslim, as is, of course, the Government of Sudan. Only South Sudan, which fought for over twenty years for autonomy, is a mix of Christians and animists.
From N’Djamena, Chad,
Jody Williams with Sudanese women displaced in the Gaga Camp in Chad (above)
UN rights team cancels Darfur visit over visa row, 14 February 2007, Reuters.
UN mission on Darfur to carry out work without visit to Sudan, 14 February 2007, UN News Centre.
Read about Darfur at our Sudan Issue page.