By Julia Berman (Monday, Jan 31, 2011)
(Part 1 of a 3-part series.)
PHR’s 2011 National Conference, entitled “Our Role, Our Responsibility: Defending Health and Human Rights” will be held in Boston on February 12. The conference focuses on both the duties of and opportunity available to health professionals, and the work they can do in three areas; as clinicians, as advocates, and as researchers. PHR Student Chapters and Physicians for Human Rights as an organization embody this responsibility and offer myriad example of health professionals and students fulfilling these roles. PHR’s evidence-gathering in Sudan provides a powerful example of the work medical researchers can contribute to human rights struggles.
With the referendum in Sudan in the news, and the likelihood of a new state in South Sudan high, we must not forget the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir remains indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in Darfur. All three Darfuri regions will, if South Sudan gains independence, remain under the rule of Bashir in the north. While international attention is presently focused on the southern elections, justice has not yet been done for the Darfuri people. A recent New York Times Q&A with President Jimmy Carter, who is on the ground in Sudan as the referendum takes place, echoed international opinion by saying that Bashir’s arrest warrant will not be dropped by the ICC as long as his government continues to resist an authentic peace agreement in Darfur.
Physicians for Human Rights was instrumental in the research that led to the ICC indictment against Bashir. PHR’s advocacy efforts on behalf of the Darfuri people included sending investigators to the Chad-Sudan border to interview survivors, as well as documenting the devastation of three Darfuri villages. PHR released three reports on Darfur: Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women, The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in the Conflict in Darfur, and Darfur – Assault on Survival: A Call for Security, Restitution and Justice. PHR’s documentation of three separate destroyed water sources was highlighted in the second arrest warrant by the ICC, which added genocide to Bashir’s charges. The ICC viewed deliberate government-backed contamination of “wells and water pumps of the towns and villages primarily inhabited by members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups” as an aspect of what comprised a genocidal policy. The full indictment can be read here.
In Darfur and other war-torn regions, PHR researchers have been instrumental in providing verified medical proof of genocide, torture, and abuse. While it is sometimes difficult to see the connection between medical research and human rights victories, the crucial role of medical professionals in securing an indictment against a genocidal regime demonstrates the real-world utility of health professionals as researchers.