After a decade of Darfur it’s time to stop appeasing Sudan’s criminal cabal

The number of victims continues to rise.

The UK has appeased some extremely dubious leaders of oppressive regimes over the years. Today, as we mark the tenth anniversary of the start of systematic ethnic cleansing, killing, rape and torture of Darfur’s population, it’s fair to say we have the measure of President Bashir. After all, he remains the only sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide. This is a man – and a criminal regime – we should not do business with.

Yet Her Majesty’s Government continues to do so – from providing taxpayers money to train Sudanese military, police and security personnel to hosting trade delegations to boost UK economic links with the country. Just this month the UK participated in the Doha aid conference which aims to reconstruct war-torn Darfur – committing to continue the £25m the UK has provided yearly. Few would deny that Darfuri’s urgently need reconstruction funds and aid. But the Doha process works directly with the Khartoum regime – the same criminal cabal which continues to bomb Darfuri villages, ethnically cleanse civilians with the wrong religion and skin colour, and deny access to international humanitarian agencies.

This is not only an absurd waste of taxpayers’ money – it’s also insulting and totally disrespectful to Bashir’s victims. No one knows the true figure – the UN stopped counting in 2008 – but estimates suggest at least 200,000 people have so far been killed, with more than 2 million displaced. Just this week, renewed government air strikes and fighting between rebel forces and killed dozens and displaced many more. Working with the regime, on reconstruction, business, or human rights, gives it the international legitimacy it desperately craves, re-focusing attention away from the very reason why Darfur – and the rest of the country – needs our help. Bashir and his cronies have systematically destroyed the potential of an entire nation. Under his iron rule, Sudan has become a ruthless police state, extreme Sharia law is violently imposed, and the ruling party has worked consistently towards a unified pure Arab Islamist state. Millions of citizens have been killed, thousands are still in refugee camps across Sudan’s border with its neighbours, and the stability of the entire region continues to be shaken by his warmongering.

In 2006 William Hague, now Foreign Secretary, lamented that: ‘International attempts to stop the government in Khartoum from killing its own people have been thwarted by other countries more interested in pursuing their economic or political advantage than in promoting human rights.’ We aren’t the worst offender – but the UK insists on continuing to engage with the regime despite the fact they have not kept their word on any of the numerous – worthless – peace agreements they have signed.

The Darfur10 campaign – led by charities and NGO’s like Waging Peace – is a stark reminder to the UK and international community, that the conflict is far from over. Until we see real progress towards peace the UK must take a much more robust stance. This means pressuring the UN to finally implement its many resolutions – starting with freezing the finances of those who orchestrated – and profited – from the genocide and imposing travel bans for high-ranking officials. More importantly, no-fly zones would finally put a stop to government's gunships which continue to bomb Darfuri citizens, and an increased, more active peacekeeping force in the region could start to offer civilians protection from government sponsored violence.

Today should be an opportunity to remember the thousands of Darfuri civilians who have suffered because of this conflict. Yet the fact that the number of victims continues to rise ten years after it began is a sad indictment of the entire international community’s continuing appeasement of this abhorrent regime.

 

Two girls in Darfur, who lost their homes to the conflict. Photograph: Getty Images
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Why orphanages are not the answer to Hurricane Matthew’s devastation

For this year’s New Statesman Christmas charity campaign, we are supporting the work of Lumos in Haiti.

Two weeks after Hurricane Matthew made landfall, I found myself driving along the Haitian coast, 40 miles north of Port-Au-Prince. The storm had barely impacted this part of the country when it hit in early October. There were a few days of rain, some felled trees, and locals complained that water ate away at the beachfront. But nothing remotely comparable to the devastation in other parts of the country.

In an odd turn of events, I found myself traveling in this relatively untouched central zone with two young American women – missionaries. “And there’s an orphanage,” one pointed out as we zoomed by. “And here’s another one too,” the other said, just on the opposite side of the road. They counted them like a memory game: remembering where they’ve popped up, their names, how many children are housed within their walls.

The young women spoke of the neglect and abuse they witnessed in some of them. No matter how “good” an orphanage might be, it simply cannot replace the love, attention, and security provided by a safe family environment. “And it doesn’t matter if the kids look OK. It doesn’t mean anything. You know it’s not right,” the younger of the two quietly says. She was a volunteer in one that cared for 50 children at the time. “Most people who live and work in Haiti don’t like the orphanage system. We keep getting them because of Americans who want to help but don’t live in Haiti.”

In the quick mile of road that we covered, they identified nine orphanages. Two of the orphanages housed less than 10 children, six averaged around 40 children. One housed over 200 children. All but one was set up in the months following the 2010 earthquake. There was a significant increase in the number of orphanages across Haiti in the next four years.

The institutionalisation of children is still the go-to response of many Western donors. US funders have a quick and relatively cheap access to Haiti, not to mention an established history of support to orphanages with nearly seven years’ investment since the earthquake. Many local actors and organisations, international NGO staff, and others in the child protection sphere share the same fear: that many new orphanages will crop up post-hurricane.

But it’s not just orphanage donors who do not understand the true impact of their interventions. Humanitarian relief workers have a gap in institutional knowledge when it comes to best practice in emergency response for this particular vulnerable group of children.

Nearly two months on from the hurricane, rain and flooding continue to hamper humanitarian relief efforts in the south of Haiti. Over 806,000 people still need urgent food assistance and 750,000 safe water, and 220,000 boys and girls remain are at risk, requiring immediate protection. But what about the virtually invisible and uncounted children in orphanages? These children cannot line up to receive the food aid at relief agency distribution centers. They cannot take advantage of child-friendly spaces or other humanitarian services.

We must find a way of reaching children in orphanages in an emergency, and bring their situations up to an acceptable standard of care. They have the right to clean water, food, medical attention, education, and safe shelter – like all other children. But therein lies the catch: orphanages cannot just be rehabilitated into perceived best options for vulnerable families. A balance must be struck to care for institutionalised children in the interim, until family tracing and reunification can occur. Simultaneously, families must be strengthened so that they do not see orphanages as the only option for their children.

We know that nine orphanages per mile does not equal a good emergency response. Housing children along an isolated strip of road segregates them from their families and communities, and violates their best interests and their human rights.

Since I visited Haiti last, Lumos, in partnership with the Haitian government and local partners, has documented over 1,400 children in 20 orphanages in the hurricane-affected South. Vulnerable families have been strengthened in efforts to avoid separation, and we are working with the government to ensure that no new children are placed in orphanages.

We are all worried that, without concerted messaging, efforts to raise awareness among donors, relief agencies, and families, the orphanage boom will happen again in Haiti. And though Haiti is susceptible to natural disaster, its families and children shouldn’t have to be. In seven years we cannot find ourselves repeating the same sorry mantra: “and there’s another orphanage, and another, and another. . .”

Jamie Vernaelde is a researcher with Lumos, based in Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter: @jmvernaelde

This December, the New Statesman is joining with Lumos to raise money to help institutionalised children in Haiti return to family life. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, funds are needed to help those who have become separated from their families. Please consider pledging your support at http://bit.ly/lumosns

Thanks to Lumos’s 100 per cent pledge, every penny of your donation goes straight to the programme. For more information, see: http://wearelumos.org