Friday, December 23, 2005

Children Within Darfur's Holocaust (Eric Reeves)

"This is Sudan, suffering a long way off; too few care, and far too little."
Read the whole report HERE. Selections follow. --Jeff Weintraub
Children Within Darfur's Holocaust, December 23, 2005
Posted by: on Dec 23, 2005 - 01:35 PM
An overview of vulnerabilities particular to genocide’s youngest victims
Eric Reeves

The suffering and destruction of children in Darfur is an obscenity beyond reckoning, beyond redemption, beyond forgiveness. During the course of this genocidal conflict, the number of children who have been killed, raped, wounded, displaced, traumatized, or endured the loss of parents and families is well over 1 million. Most of these children have suffered multiple forms of violence, loss, and deprivation. Moreover, their futures are bleak in ways we can only now begin to discern, though that bleakness will come into steadily sharper relief as humanitarian organizations slowly withdraw their financial support for current efforts on the ground in Darfur.
Statistical assessments of suffering and destruction in Darfur, as is often the case in vast human cataclysms, tend toward aggregation, with only partial disaggregating of data that bear directly on populations under 18 years of age. [....] But there is a terrible distinctness in the suffering of children, even as their characteristic vulnerability in times of distress accounts for differences in both mortality rates and the likelihood of malnutrition. The deaths of Darfur’s children, of those least responsible for the evil that animates genocidal violence, bequeath to us a special opprobrium, a disgrace for which there can be no expiation. This analysis attempts to distill something of the peculiar suffering and destruction that has marked the experience of children in Darfur.
A very recent “Child Alert” for Darfur from UNICEF (the UN children’s fund) has done something to elevate the profile of children in Darfur, and for this deserves commendation (summary and full report available). But the report is too brief, and frequently too superficial, to offer any real insight into the experiences of children in Darfur; there are also signs that the text was poorly reviewed prior to publication. Little from the section on “Continuing Violence and Trauma” represents either new findings or prescient summary of the data and findings currently available. Nonetheless, an overview statement from this section is a useful point of departure:
“Humanitarian workers describe a kind of mass trauma in the camps [for displaced persons]. While the protective structure of the family is crucial to recovery [for children], parents feel hopeless and powerless, prompting a widespread sense of fatalism about a future they cannot control. Children talk of the violent events they witnessed and their continuing fear of armed men on horseback [the Janjaweed], who often remain on the outskirts of camps and settlements. Since many men have either died or are mobilized in rural areas, tens of thousands of women are raising their children alone, and often those of deceased family members as well. The daily stress for these mothers can seriously impair their ability to care for their children. Exhausted and depressed, they despair about their future and that of their offspring.”(page 17)
For children, their futures in the camps hold only the prospect of meaningless days defined by efforts to supplement what will be increasingly meager humanitarian supplies. The chances for sustained, meaningful education are remote. Many boys will drift towards urban areas in Darfur, Kordofan, even Khartoum in search of employment; they will be part of a very large pool of unskilled labor, much of it unemployed or underemployed. Girls will also be tempted to seek means of augmenting income for food, shelter, and critical “non-food items” (NFI) that will be in increasingly short supply. The relatively large salaries of the African Union force in Darfur have already produced what is for these devout Muslim communities an entirely uncharacteristic social problem, prostitution.
Until the people now in the camps, young and old, can return to their lands and villages, the land available in the camp surroundings is far too limited to allow for significant agricultural production. Many children are thus now missing key years in learning the ways of producing food in this harsh land, and will find the resumption of agricultural life increasingly difficult. Without seed-stocks, agricultural implements, safe water supplies, a renewed stock of donkeys (essential to agriculture in Darfur), food provisions to last until the first harvest---in short, all that has been deliberately destroyed by Khartoum’s army and its Janjaweed militia allies---a return to the land is pointless. And without meaningful security, it is simply too dangerous to return. For many children, life within camps is coming to dominate all sense of what their lives will be. Their dispirited and often angry views of the future will be attended in most cases by recollections of unspeakable violence. It will take a great deal to heal the spirit of Darfur’s young.
[For an excellent overview of the appalling fate of children throughout Sudan under the National Islamic Front regime, see UNICEF reports that "‘thousands and possibly millions of Sudanese children suffer from exploitation and discrimination,’ [according to] Ted Chaiban, UNICEF's representative in Sudan, at the launch of the ‘State of the World's Children 2006 Report,’” UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, December 14, 2005.]
The UNICEF Darfur report devotes far too little attention to the violence that has been directly experienced by children, and indeed in many cases is clearly directed again children, especially males. These violent outrages defy summary; reportage---however gruesome---must in its very partial nature stand as a grim synecdoche:
[1] “Kaltoma Ahmed, 16, described watching her six-year-old brother
Adam die. ‘[The Janjaweed] tied the children's hands and feet,’ she said. ‘They put them in the house, and burned it to the ground.’” (Knight Ridder news service, [dateline: Nyala], August 31, 2004)
[2] “So who killed 2-year-old Zahra Abdullah for belonging to the Fur tribe? At one level, the answer is simple: The murderers were members of the janjaweed militia that stormed into this mud-brick village in the South Darfur region at dawn four weeks ago on horses, camels and trucks. Zahra's mother, Fatima Omar Adam, woke to gunfire and soke and knew at once what was happening. She jumped up from her sleeping mat and put Zahra on her back, then grabbed the hands of her two older children and raced out of her thatch-roof hut with her husband. Some of the marauders were right outside. They yanked Zahra from Ms. Fatima's back and began bludgeoning her on the ground in front of her shrieking mother and sister. Then the men began beating Ms. Fatima and the other two children, so she grabbed them and fled---and the men returned to beating the life out of Zahra.” (Nicholas Kristof, New York Times [dateline: Tama, Darfur] November 20, 2005)
[3] George Wolf, member of a Refugees International fact-finding team to Darfur, wrote in a Washington Post op/ed of July 31, 2004:
“On the morning of July 12, hell descended on the village of Donki Dereisa. Shortly before sunrise, Fatima Ibrahim, 28, awoke to the deafening sound of exploding ordnance falling from the sky. As she emerged from her mud hut with her 10-year-old daughter, she saw fires blazing all around and scores of heavily armed men on horseback attacking from every direction. With bullets whistling past, Ibrahim and her daughter ran for their lives, ducking into a nearby ravine, where they hid without food or water for the next two days.”
“From the ditch, Ibrahim witnessed a horrific avalanche of violence that will haunt her for life. With Sudanese foot soldiers at their side, the mounted attackers shot the panicked and unarmed villagers in cold blood. Approximately 150 people, including 10 women, were killed. But the worst was to come.”
“Ibrahim told Refugees International about a week after the attack that among those captured during the assault were four of her brothers and six young children, including three of her cousins. As Ibrahim watched in horror, several of the attackers began grabbing the screaming children and throwing them one by one into a raging fire. One of the male villagers ran from his hiding place to plead for their lives. It was a fatal error. The raiders subdued the man and later beheaded him and dismembered his body. All six of the children were burned. Ibrahim's four brothers have not been heard from since.” (Washington Post, July 31, 2004)
[4] [The “civilians” referred to in the following Associated Press dispatch were subsequently authoritatively identified as school girls, chained together and burned within their schoolhouse---ER]
“Arab militias chained civilians together and set them on fire in Sudan's western Darfur region, where tens of thousands have been killed in a 17-month conflict, according to a report by an African Union monitoring team.”
“The immolation came during a July 3 [2004] attack on the village of Suleia by pro-government militias known as the Janjaweed, the African Union monitoring team said in its report. ‘The attackers looted the market and killed civilians, in some cases, by chaining them and burning them alive,’ according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated.” (Associated Press [Addis Ababa] July 29, 2004)
[7] “A recent United Nations investigation into war crimes in Darfur laid out, in page after graphic page, evidence of widespread and systematic rape in the two-year conflict. In one incident, a woman in Wadi Tina was raped 14 times by different men in January 2003. In March 2004, 150 soldiers and janjaweed abducted and raped 16 girls in Kutum, the report said. In Kailek, it said girls as young as 10 were raped by militants.” (New York Times [dateline: el-Geneina, West Darfur], February 11, 2005)
[8] (from “Report: A UN Inter-Agency fact-finding and humanitarian needs assessment mission, Kailek, South Darfur,” 24 April 2004):
“The stories that we [the UN Inter-Agency mission] have received from the survivors of the acts of mass murder are very painful for us and they remind us of the brutalities of the Rwanda genocide. [We found that] the circumstances of the internally displaced persons in Kailek [must] be described as imprisonment. [We found that] with an under-five child mortality rate of 8-9 children per day due to malnutrition, and with the Government of Sudan security representatives permanently located in the town without having reported this phenomena to the UN, despite it having taken place for several weeks, [this] also indicates a local policy of forced starvation.’”
[An under-five child mortality rate of 8-9 per day is four times the emergency threshold; in short, these very young children were being deliberately starved to death, at an extremely rapid rate, while being militarily imprisoned.]
[10] “Maryam Ahmad had travelled with her 21-day-old son, Ahmad, on another road controlled by Janjawid, between Tawila and Kabkabiya. The Janjawid had stopped her, taken Ahmad from her and cut off his penis. He died in her arms. ‘It’s what they do to boys,’ said Afaf, two months pregnant and preparing to return to al-Fasher to deliver.” (Julie Flint, Middle East International [dateline: Darfur], February 17, 2005)
These are ten reports; there are many hundreds more, in various human rights and other publications, representing violence directed against hundreds of thousands of children.
The aerial military targeting of civilians, including children---in the Nuba, in southern Sudan, in Darfur---is an entirely characteristic military response by Khartoum (see my August 15, 2000 op/ed in The Washington Post on the bombing of humanitarian operations in southern Sudan, and multiple analyses of bombing incidents throughout southern Sudan under the rubric: Briefs & Advocacy: Pre-Machakos).
There is nothing new in such barbarism by the Khartoum regime, unfathomably the host to the January 2006 African Union summit and the March 2006 Arab League summit.
The deliberate destruction of children, on an ethnic basis, is the known and calculated policy of Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia---the inevitable consequence of a counter-insurgency strategy of civilian destruction, by various means, chosen with full knowledge. This is the atrocity the international community has chosen to accept, and before which it daily continues to acquiesce---responding only with humanitarian assistance and a conspicuously, radically inadequate African Union cease-fire monitoring force.
This is Sudan, suffering a long way off; too few care, and far too little.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063