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Darfur Doctor and RFK Award Winner Speaks Out

Darfur Doctor and RFK Award Winner Speaks Out For Human Rights of All Darfur’s People

By Jeffrey Buchanan

For the past week the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial has had the privilege of hosting Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Abdallah, a leading indigenous human rights defender from the Darfur region of Sudan. Despite the many voices speaking out internationally about Darfur, it is not often we get to hear from those leaders born and raised in the region who are struggling on the frontline for peace and for the human rights of their brothers and sisters. Dr. Mohammed Ahmed has come to the United States to bring the message of the survivors of the atrocities in Darfur and to receive the 2007 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for his courageous efforts to rectify the region’s human rights crisis through serving victims of torture and sexual violence and providing leadership in the movement for peace in Darfur.

The RFK Human Rights Award honors the unsung heroes of human rights movement. RFK Memorial has recognized the courage and sacrifice of 37 human rights advocates, community activists, political prisoners, environmentalists, union organizers and local rights defenders in 22 countries. In addition to recognition and a monetary prize, the award marks the beginning of a partnership between the RFK Center for Human Rights and the award recipients. Together the RFK Center and Dr. Mohammed Ahmed will develop advocacy strategies, human rights projects and legal initiatives, to contribute towards Dr. Mohammed Ahmed’s goal for social change in Darfur.

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Below are Dr. Mohammed Ahmed remarks upon receiving the RFK Human Rights Award:

It is truly an honor to be here today and to see how you and so many other people in this country are responding to the suffering of the people of Darfur.

Without the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, this would never be a reality. I would not have had the opportunity to share the thoughts and dreams and hopes of the people of Darfur. Robert F. Kennedy did so much for human rights conditions in the United States, and I want to thank Ethel Kennedy for her dedication to his legacy.

I traveled a long way from my village in the fertile and beautiful area of Jabal Mara to become a doctor. I have traveled farther to represent my people as we struggled against attacks, discrimination and marginalization. I never thought I would be standing here in the United States Senate. I come here today not just as an individual RFK Human Rights Award winner, but as a messenger for my people.

Last week I met with the leaders of 27 tribal groups. I spoke with leaders in the camps of internally displaced people (IDPs) and civil society representatives. I even met with some rebel factions. Today, I speak on their behalf. I also speak on behalf of my patients – 14-year-old girls who have been gang raped in front of their families, men and boys thrown into the fire that also burned their villages and all their possessions, prisoners who have spoken out against the government and paid for it with awful torture and mutilation of their bodies.

I would like to speak to you about the situation on the ground in Darfur, to tell you about my work with survivors of torture, and, finally, about the Darfurian peoples’ hopes for peace.

During the past few months, there has been an absolute deterioration in the conditions in the IDP camps. There are many people who are now out of reach of humanitarian aid. In the hospital, we are seeing more cases of malnutrition and infectious diseases we have not seen in a long time, such as polio, measles and tuberculosis.

In July the United Nations passed a resolution to send an international peacekeeping force to Darfur with a strong mandate to protect the people who continue to be attacked by government forces and local militias. Soon after that, the government of Sudan announced to local media that by the time the peacekeeping forces arrive, no IDPs will be left for them to protect. For the past several months since the UN resolution, the Sudanese government has begun to carry out a campaign to forcibly empty the IDP camps. It is testing the international community, and intends to embarrass it once again.

The government has used a two-part strategy to liquidate the IDP camps. First, it has targeted humanitarian organizations so that they will leave. These groups have been subjected to assaults and looting. Just in the town of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur where I work, 4 to 5 aid vehicles might be stolen in a single day. These groups cannot tolerate the deteriorating security conditions, and many have been forced to leave or halt their activities. Their withdrawal creates a disastrous situation, because the civilians depend almost completely on aid from these groups for survival.

The second part of the government’s strategy is to attack the people in the IDP camps. Within the past few weeks, government forces have killed people in several different camps. They kill people to intimidate the rest of the survivors in the camps, and also to test whether the international community will respond. In addition to killing, they are using violence or the threat of violence to force others to leave the camps. In the last two weeks, at a camp near Nyala, soldiers and police carrying sticks and rubber hoses threatened IDPs, while tents were destroyed and property was carried away in trucks.

Approximately 1,000 IDPs were forced onto trucks at gunpoint and were dumped in the outskirts of the city. Some people have been removed to locations that the African Union forces are prohibited from visiting, so we cannot know their fate. Just two days ago, while I was here, the Kalma camp was surrounded by government forces. We do not know the fate of these people because all lines of communication have been cut. The head of the United Nations’ humanitarian operations in Nyala was expelled from Sudan for publicly objecting to these forced relocations.

I urge the United States and the international community to understand these camp liquidations for what they are: the final phase of the Sudanese government’s plan to exterminate the African tribes of Darfur. The fate of the people expelled from the camps is clear: they are left vulnerable to attacks by militias and left without access to the humanitarian aid they rely upon. Because of this situation, they will soon die of preventable disease, malnutrition, starvation or violence – unless they are protected!

This is a moment of great possibility and hope. The hybrid UN-African Union forces that are due to be deployed early next year are authorized with a strong mandate to protect civilians. But if the international community does nothing to provide the equipment they need to do their jobs, the result will be absolute disaster – we will have another Rwanda.

The disaster in Darfur has compelled many of us to form national organizations to help our people. In spite of the racial and ethnic aspects of the conflict, I am proud to say that our staff is African and Arab, Muslim and Christian, from all parts of Sudan. At the Amel Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture, we have organized doctors to treat the physical injuries, social workers to help our patients cope with the trauma they suffer, and legal services to seek justice and end impunity. Each aspect of treatment is interrelated, and we extend these services free to the survivors. One of our patients, an older man, broke down weeping when we arranged to send him to Khartoum for surgery. He was so traumatized by the attacks that injured him that he has lost all trust in human beings. He was genuinely shocked to receive attention, caring, support and assistance from anyone.

Providing psychological support is especially important for victims of rape, which has been a systematic weapon of the Government and its Janjaweed militias in Darfur. In our clinics we have seen women who have been rejected by their intended husbands and blamed for the rape. We work with the families to accept these women back into their communities. We have received mothers who cannot bear to see the child who reminds them of the violation—the child who is the result of the rape. We work to help them accept and care for these children. There are dozens of cases like this every month. Unfortunately, we have a very small staff, and can only help a small percentage of all the cases.

Ultimately, we all want peace in Darfur and throughout Sudan. I want to share with you the concerns of civil society and the IDPs, who are very well organized in their communities. I have met with them many times, most recently two weeks ago. Their message is clear: We need the immediate protection of civilians before peace talks can take place. Security will allow the humanitarian organizations to provide life-sustaining assistance to the IDPs, and enable those who represent Darfurians to come forward to the negotiation table.

But even after there is protection on the ground, several other things are required for peace negotiations to take place. First, it is of the utmost importance that the people of Darfur be fully represented at any talks. Civil society, IDP representatives, and all of the main rebel groups must all be at the table. Also, representatives from the women’s sector must be present, as women constitute at least 70% of the IDP population, and they bear tremendous burdens in this war. Second, all stakeholders must be consulted about the time and place of the talks and their representation. The peace talks attempted recently in Libya failed because the Darfurians were not consulted. Finally, the location of the talks must be neutral. Libya will never work as a host country, because it has been deeply involved in the Darfur conflict from the beginning and is not trusted. Parties must agree on a more neutral location such as South Africa, Kenya or Ghana.

After the parties gather at the negotiation table, there will be many steps left to take to rebuild Darfur. We strongly believe that once civilians are protected, the peace process will follow very easily. The people of Darfur know how to reconcile through international remedies as well as traditional and inter-tribal methods used since long ago.

But it is important that those who committed the gravest offenses be tried by the International Criminal Court. It is the only place where there will be independent justice for them. The smaller crimes can be dealt with in national tribunals or through local tribal remedies.

Today, Darfur has no infrastructure. We have very few roads, no schools, no clinics. The people of Darfur look to the international community for help in rebuilding.

It will be very important for the victims and survivors of this conflict to be compensated. They must be provided the things they need to start their lives over with dignity. The Government that is responsible for so much destruction has the responsibility to provide this reparation, to right wrongs and to help make people whole.

In addition, we will need to see special programs for the many widows, orphans, and children born from rape.

In Arabic, the word for doctor is Hakim. But Hakim does not just mean a doctor who treats patients. It also means a wise person in the community. He can be a doctor, or a philosopher, but always someone with a wide perspective on life. And the role of the Hakim is not only to treat the patients but to protect his community. Robert Kennedy in his life was a Hakim to his countrymen, leading the way in protecting the human rights of all Americans and standing up for social justice. In Darfur, my role is not just that of a doctor, but someone who must work to protect the human rights of the people of Darfur and work towards peace. This is my goal.

To learn more about Darfur and Dr. Mohammed Ahmed please visit, http://wwwrfkmemorial.org/legacyinaction/2007_ahmed/ to read articles, watch video and listen to audio interviews.


Jeffrey Buchanan is a freelance writer, human rights advocate and Information Officer with the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights

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