Eyewitnesses to Atrocities Along Frontier of Chad and Sudan
By Nora Boustany
Wednesday, June 30, 2004; Page A17
The organization Physicians for Human Rights is calling for international intervention "to save lives and reverse injustices" on the border of Chad and Sudan. John W. Heffernan of the Boston-based organization said his group has identified "indicators of genocide" in attacks by Arabic-speaking militias against displaced refugees.
Heffernan has just returned from a field trip to the Chad-Sudan border with fellow PHR researcher Jennifer Leaning.
"The conditions there are extremely harsh not only for refugees who are traumatized and have walked and not eaten for days," but for international staff as well, Heffernan said.
Heffernan said he and Leaning traveled east and south along the border, across desolate mud and sand roads, then through rocky desert terrain to the north and through dust storms in 110-degree heat. The researchers collected testimony about atrocities and human-rights violations from fleeing refugees.
About 300,000 people have died in the crisis in the Darfur region since February 2003, and an estimated 1.2 million people have been displaced, according to international agencies. The physicians' group said that about 200,000 people are in camps in Chad and have access to international aid, but supplies cannot be guaranteed during the rainy season, which is about to start and lasts until October.
There are an additional 300,000 refugees in what human-rights groups refer to as prison enclaves in Sudan, with no access to international relief. Another 400,000 are in camps inside Sudan and those areas are in better shape and are accessible by international aid organizations, Heffernan said.
He and his colleague saw refugees suffering from hunger, lack of water and sanitation, and attacks by Janjaweed, an Arab Sudanese militia.
Water is scarce in refugee camps, Heffernan said. Crude wells were dug in wadis, or dry river beds, which are shared by people and animals. He said there were thousands of cases of severe diarrhea, probably from water-borne diseases, reported in one camp alone.
"You just saw these refugees load onto the border, taking refuge where they could," he said.
Heffernan said that when men in Darfur would flee when they knew a Janjaweed attack against their village was imminent.
He said that refugees moved into Chad, knowing that they had no other choice but trying to survive in refugee camps. But they knew that women were being frequently raped by the armed militias. "To have to make that choice" to flee "particularly in that society, goes to show how truly serious the danger levels are," he said. Heffernan said dozens of women, who had been raped and who managed to flee, said they had been turned away by Sudanese doctors at health clinics and hospitals inside Sudan.
"Rape is just one part of genocide. Usually women who were out gathering firewood would be raped as a sign that the onslaught on horseback and with militiamen in land cruisers was about to begin," he said. In one area, 70 young women were seized, raped and then returned the same day, he said, according to interviews with women in Chad.
Heffernan said subsistence crops and livestock have been pillaged, destroyed or hauled away and sold. At the Farchana refugee camp, he reported, one woman told him that five male members of her family, including her husband, were killed. The Janjaweed also took 39 cows, 1 camel, 2 horses, 4 donkeys, 42 goats and 50 chickens.
Several human rights groups have said that the United States has taken the lead at the United Nations in highlighting the plight of refugees and displaced persons from Darfur. Richard Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor of the U.N. criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, has publicly corroborated the conclusions of the physicians' group. Heffernan said the authorization of force by the U.N. Security Council might be required against Sudan.
"If it comes down to the use of force, so be it," Heffernan said. PHR's board has called for such action three times before, during crises in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Taking the Long View on Iraq
Sameer Shaker Sumaidaie, a member of the former Iraqi Governing Council, was in Washington last week emphasizing the future, not the past. He projected positive changes with the U.S. handover of political authority to Iraq.
"I want to look at things in the historical sense, to judge what happened through a looking glass," he said in an interview last Friday. "What will people think in 20 years?
Sumaidaie said many people had made mistakes during his term as interior minister, but he preferred to see the future through a much brighter lens.
"I see an Iraq that has transformed itself, a nation that has come out of a monumental trauma into the modern world," he said. Iraq, he added, "has begun to enjoy its freedom, a country that has just started to flex its muscles in experiencing normality and utilizing its wealth for all the right things.
"Of course, every step should be colored by an understanding of the past, but more so by what still can be achieved," he added, noting that lessons learned in recent months should be kept in mind. However, he explained, "Iraqis will eventually realize what a fantastic decision it was for the United States to come over and help."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company