Physician Honored For Work In Darfur

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 16, 2007

Mohammed Ahmed Abdallah, a Sudanese physician, will receive the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award today for his assiduous work in Darfur, where he provides medical care and assists survivors of torture and violence.

As head of a center for the treatment, documentation and counseling of victims of torture and rape, Abdallah, from Darfur's majority Fur tribe, became a target for scrutiny by the Sudanese government.

He was the first physician from his region of Jabal Marra, and Abdallah later built a network of doctors in Darfur to help document rapes and other abuses that victims were too afraid to report to local police.

Though officially appointed to represent his region in formal commissions and forums with the government, Abdallah said in an interview this week that he is not immune to harassment or the occasional reminder, delivered sometimes by the most courteous of ministers, that he actually is at the head of a list of wanted men.

"This prize will offer some form of protection. . . . They keep reminding me to watch myself," he said with a smile.

Speaking in interviews Monday and Tuesday, Abdallah predicted that failure by an expanded U.N. force of 26,000 peacekeepers to deploy in Darfur by Dec. 31 would probably lead to more suffering and starvation, especially if humanitarian groups are not protected.

The Kennedy award comes with a cash prize of $30,000, coupled with a partnership over five to six years for comprehensive support, human rights projects and advocacy with the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights organization.

At age 54, Abdallah has a receding gray hairline and crooked teeth, more a reflection of a hardscrabble life than his years.

As a child, he walked for three days to reach his middle school, where he was a boarding student. As a teenager, he walked for five days to reach his high school.

His pursuit of a medical career took him to the only university available then, in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.

He is now medical director of the Amel Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture in Sudan, a leading human rights group registered with the Khartoum government.

Abdallah said he fears the worst is coming to war-torn Darfur, in western Sudan.

He said delays in the deployment of the beefed-up African peacekeeping force -- including recent announcements by State Department and U.N. officials that 24 badly needed helicopters still have not been pledged -- will spell disaster.

"It is time to resume negotiations, but without the protection of civilians in the camps, nothing will happen," he said, explaining that the government of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir "had succeeded in fragmenting rebel factions" fighting against the Khartoum-backed militia and Sudanese forces attacking their villages.

"And if the [U.N.] force is not properly equipped, that will be another huge failure. There is a plan in place to liquidate the camps," he said.

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