Elder statesmen paint bleak picture of Darfur

International elder statesmen, including two Nobel Peace Prize winners, said on Thursday that Darfur was rife with violence and deeply divided after returning from the Sudanese region.

They warned rape was widespread and being ignored by the Sudanese authorities and also urged Khartoum to hand over war-crimes suspects for trial at the International Criminal Court.

The group included Nobel laureates South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former United States President Jimmy Carter, veteran women and children’s rights advocate Graca Machel and British tycoon Richard Branson.

Darfur has witnessed mass or widespread rape, a problem Khartoum denies, trying to muzzle rape reports by the world’s largest aid operation.

“Every woman told us, we are raped, we are beaten and we are harassed,” Machel said. “We are very concerned that it doesn’t seem to have changed for the better; on the contrary it has changed for the worse. We were even told that yesterday [Wednesday] a girl as young as 10 years was raped.”

Machel said the Sudanese government had to accept the fact that there was rape and then help form a plan to combat it.

But she said bringing up the issue of rape with Khartoum officials was discouraging.

“I must confess it was one of the most depressing moments of discussion.
The government doesn’t have any understanding of what it means when women have to say repeatedly to different people ... we have been raped, we are being beaten, we are being brutalised, we are fearful.”

Atrocities

Carter said Washington’s use of the term genocide to describe the situation in Darfur, where international estimates say 200 000 people have died and 2,5-million been driven from their homes, was unhelpful.

“There is a legal definition of genocide and Darfur does not meet that legal standard. The atrocities were horrible but I don’t think it qualifies to be called genocide,” he said.

Washington is almost alone in branding the four-and-a-half years of violence in Darfur genocide. Khartoum rejects the term, European governments are reluctant to use it and a United Nations-appointed commission of inquiry found no genocide, but that some individuals may have acted with genocidal intent.

Carter, whose charitable foundation, the Carter Centre, worked to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC), said: “If you read the law textbooks ... you’ll see very clearly that it’s not genocide and to call it genocide falsely just to exaggerate a horrible situation, I don’t think it helps.”

He said Khartoum should hand over to the ICC a junior government minister and militia leader wanted for war crimes.

Carter said it was unacceptable that Khartoum had appointed the suspect, State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Haroun, as head of a rights committee.

Tutu said the delegation had received a “tale of two countries”, from different sides, outlining the complexity of Sudan’s multiple conflicts.

“I thank God for the humanitarian workers,” he said. “They run the gauntlet of being assaulted, abducted but yet they come back for more. They are superb, they make me proud to be human.”

On forming the group of “Elder statesmen”, Branson said: “There are some problems in the world that need a group of people who are maybe ... beyond politics, beyond ego and who have got great wisdom.”

Mainly non-Arab rebels took up arms in 2003 in Darfur accusing the central government of neglecting the remote western region. Khartoum mobilised mainly Arab militias to quell the revolt.

The African Union mediated a peace deal in May 2006 but only one of three rebel negotiating factions signed it. Since then the rebels have split into a dozen factions.—Reuters

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