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Targeting the Teachers of Darfur

Assault on Educated Class an Effort to Erase History, Observers Say

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 18, 2004; Page A12

OURE CASSONI, Chad

She pulled tattered socks over her bony legs and stared at the ground, trying to hide the dirty, torn clothing she is so embarrassed to wear. Before a militia drove her African tribe off its farmland in western Sudan, before she had to wait in line for food rations in this refugee camp in the desert, Armani Tinjany was a high school agriculture teacher. Now she is a woman whose pride and energy are disintegrating.

Six months ago, when she first arrived in Chad, Tinjany, her sister and a group of friends sat and wrote indignant letters to U.S., British and Chadian officials. They asked for help in Darfur, the region of western Sudan where a conflict has displaced 1.5 million Africans and left nearly 50,000 dead, according to aid groups.


Newly arriving refugees from Darfur, western Sudan, watch as a huge sandstorm nears the Oure Cassoni refugee camp outside Bahai in northeastern Chad. (Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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Photo Gallery: In Darfur in western Sudan, many of the educated Africans have become targets for the Arab government and their brutal militias.
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Transcript: Francis M. Deng, representative of the U.N. Secretary General on internally displaced persons, discussed the situation in Sudan.
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In an interview in February with The Washington Post, Tinjany said she had faith that she would return to Sudan, to the spacious compound of stone-walled huts where she lived at the edge of the Sahara desert, to her diet of fresh fruits and meat, to her job as a teacher.

Today, she has no hope. She writes no letters. She becomes sick easily. She has lost weight, and her skeletal shoulder pokes through her dress.

"I am a refugee now," she said, letting the words sink in. "Are they going to leave us like this forever? My life, as I knew it, is finished."

Standing in line for a ration of millet, she started to cry.

Violence began in Darfur about 18 months ago, when African groups rebelled against the government by attacking a military installation. The government responded by bombing areas of Darfur and by arming a marauding Arab militia called the Janjaweed, human rights and aid groups say.

Since then, the African residents of Darfur have been uprooted, beaten, raped and left hungry. But the educated among them -- teachers, students and community leaders -- say they are being particularly targeted. They have been singled out by the government, they say, accused of treason and support for the rebellion, and prevented from speaking out about the crisis.


Human rights investigators have called the assault on the educated an attempt to silence the residents of Darfur and a way to erase the community's collective memory and destroy its political strength.

"If you are a farmer, they will take your crops and kill you. If you are a woman, they will rape you. But if you are a teacher, then you have to run," said Sharif Ishag, who once taught geography and now helps run the camp's food distribution center for the International Rescue Committee. "They think anyone who can read and write and who can organize people and inspire minds are rebels."

Schools have been burned, desks broken and books shredded. In some areas, children have not been able to attend classes for nearly two years.

Olivier Bercault, a Human Rights Watch team member who spent three weeks touring Darfur, called the targeting of teachers and schools "a nasty way to stop a culture and prevent people from being educated."

"People are not able to send their child to school. They are now sitting in refugee camps," he said. "That lack of education, to me, is one of the purposes of ethnic cleansing. People keep debating if it's genocide -- we can leave that to the courts. But these are crimes against humanity."


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