Category Archive for 'darfur'

(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 WomenThe 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.

For the past six years, PHR Chapters across the US have led the annual Global Health Week of Action (GHWA) at their schools. Your GHWA can be part of a larger push for Health and Human Rights Education (HHRE) at your school, or it can be a short period of intense advocacy around a global health issue. Either way, you are educating others and encouraging them to act.

What are you doing for GHWA on your campus? We’ve got a couple ideas to get you started:

2010 Global HEALTH Act

A great option is promoting the passage of the 2010 Global HEALTH Act. Representative Barbara Lee will introduce the bill in the House of Representatives soon. As Helen Potts wrote in a recent post,

The bill’s consistent focus on equity, non-discrimination, participation and accountability indirectly promotes the incorporation of a human rights approach to health into the Strategy… It is essential that it obtain a large number of co-sponsors to demonstrate significant support for this legislation, which will help move this bill towards final passage. This is not only for the benefit of the populations in the countries receiving direct assistance but also for the benefit of the US. This bill has the potential to do more for the credibility of the US in the arena of human rights and global health than anything that has gone before.

During GHWA, set up a meeting with your Representatives to encourage them to sponsor the bill! If you’re not sure how, email Barbara at bcastro[at]phrusa[dot]org and she will help you arrange and prepare for a meeting. It’s a worthwhile experience. I’m planning to meet with Representative Michael Capuano in April, and you’re invited to join me.

Also, on April 7—World Health Day—please be ready to email your Representatives and encourage them to sponsor the bill!

Humanitarian needs of women and girls in Darfur

Another option for those who want to focus on the impact of conflict on health or ending gender-based violence, PHR recently released Joe Read’s Action Agenda for Realizing Treatment and Support for Women and Girls in Darfur. Since 2004, PHR has documented the systematic human rights abuses in Darfur, including displacement and killing. In March 2009, the Government of Sudan expelled 13 international NGOs who had provided lifesaving humanitarian assistance. A year later, the needs of women and girls are as urgent as ever. The Action Agenda has recommendations for addressing critical needs in Coordination, Humanitarian Access, and Programming.

The main action for a week focused on Darfur is to call the US Envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, at 202-647-4000. You could create a call-in table: invite people to sit down, call General Gration, and urge him to increase funding for programs that protect and promote women’s rights and support survivors of sexual violence. You could also have a reading group on your campus meet to discuss the Action Agenda, or work with another student group to host a panel discussion or photo exhibit.

The GHWA Toolkit

Whatever topic you choose for your campus’ GHWA, you’ll find tips and resources in the new GHWA Toolkit.

Please take photos during your Week of Action to share with PHR and inspire other Chapters!

The Save Darfur Coalition honored Darfuri women refugees at the Farchana Camp in Chad to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25 and to kick off a global campaign of activism against gender-based violence.

Women refugees in Farchana Camp in eastern Chad drew up a groundbreaking, one-page women’s empowerment document known as the Farchana Manifesto, which outlines the needs and challenges women face in the camp, along with demands for participation and accountability in shared decision-making.

The document was written in June 2008, after seven women suffered torture and public humiliation. They were bound, whipped and beaten with thorny sticks of firewood because they worked outside of the camp to earn money for their families. Shamed as prostitutes, these women had their goods, money and food ration cards taken away by force. Though there is no proof, it is likely that at least some of these women became pregnant as a result of rape.

In response, eight Darfuri women authored a one-page document in Arabic to shed light on the plight of women refugees and open a dialogue with the world. This document made its way from the Farchana camp into the hands of Physicians for Human Rights and is published on PHR’s site, along with a video about the Farchana Manifesto.

In November 2008, PHR sent a team of four experts — three doctors and one human rights researcher — into the camp to report on the lives and needs of the women living there.

The team discovered that out of the 88 women interviewed, 32 had experienced sexual violence. Many who shared their stories had never previously spoken about the attacks for fear of isolation, stigmatization or retaliatory violence.

“The women of the Farchana Refugee Camp have confronted and continue to suffer from violence,” said Niemat Ahmadi, a genocide survivor and liaison to the Darfuri diaspora community at the Save Darfur Coalition.

These women have greatly amplified the courageous voices of victims of sexual violence in the camps.  Despite the suffering, they remain determined to seek justice for themselves and for women around the globe.

For each of the next 16 days, the coalition’s campaign will honor a leader in the fight to empower, protect and uplift Sudanese women and promote a corresponding action. The campaign will conclude on December 10 (International Human Rights Day).

The Save Darfur Coalition is asking that activists observe the 1st day of the campaign by reading and sharing the Farchana Manifesto with their networks.

(Cross-posted on

Last Friday, the PHR team delivered to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a joint advocacy letter, urging that sexual and gender-based violence (SGV) programming be recognized as an urgent need in Sudan. Forty advocacy and human rights groups called on Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sudan Envoy Scott Gration to recognize the absence of vital SGV programming following the March 2009 expulsion of international humanitarian organizations and key Sudanese NGOs.  The number of supporting organizations has since grown to more than 60.

The team from PHR met with General Gration’s office, and with the office of the Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues on Friday, to present the letter and advocate for the inclusion of SGV programs in the Sudan Policy benchmarks.

The elimination of SGV services in Sudan is a perfect storm of collateral damage: when the 16 international humanitarian organizations and NGOs were expelled, these programs — and equally importantly, the network of SGV-focused personnel and leadership — disappeared. In a climate where remaining staff and organizations were afraid to rebuild or renegotiate their contracts for fear of Government of Sudan retribution, services for survivors of sexual violence in Darfur collapsed.

Despite this, and despite the fine work of the State department on a number of gender-based violence issues, the issue of sexual violence was not explicitly recognized in the administration’s Sudan Policy review, nor was it included in the details of US strategic objective #1, which deals with the humanitarian situation in Darfur. It was, however, recognized by the UN panel of experts in the recent report released on the humanitarian situation in Darfur, and has been a key sticking point for activists in the US at the recent Pledge to Protect conference.

Today — just in time for the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women on November 25 — PHR has launched  a congressional action for advocates and activists to urge Senators and Representatives to join us in our call to the State department on this issue. Partnering with our co-signatories, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, the Arab Coalition for Darfur, the Enough Project, Save Darfur Coalition and others, we continue to advocate for the restoration of services as basic as emergency assistance for injuries, documentation of injuries sustained during these brutal attacks, access to HIV/AIDS prophylaxis treatment, pregnancy testing and psychological and social support. We ask Hillary Rodham Clinton and General Gration not only to include SGV programs as a benchmark in the Sudan policy, but also:

  • To ensure that renegotiation of technical agreements between humanitarian organizations and the Government of Sudan takes place, so that international humanitarian organizations and NGOs can incorporate or SGV programs into their authorized operations in Sudan.
  • To monitor Government of Sudan obstruction of SGV services in Khartoum and on the ground: SGV services must be restored and made available to all IDP populations, including West and South Darfur, where humanitarian operations have historically functioned at a lower level than in North Darfur state.
  • To support and facilitate coordination between aid agencies, camp residents and UNAMID gender desk officers. The recruitment of gender desk officers must involve camp residents, and the work of gender experts should fully utilize the expertise and resources of aid agencies as well as camp residents, to ensure the establishment of culturally competent services.

We need action to protect the rights of survivors in Darfur: please let your US Senators and Representative know.

(Cross-posted on

The UN reported last week that six aid groups have suspended operations in eastern Chad. Nearly 300,000 Darfuri refugees have fled across the the Sudan-Chad border to escape violence in Darfur. Among the groups suspending operations are the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which reported the kidnapping of a French ICRC worker and five Chadian colleagues near the Sudanese border this week, and French NGO Solidarités, which lost a Chadian employee earlier this month.

As reported by PHR investigators in Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support, and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women, Darfuri refugees in the Farchana Camp in eastern Chad are entirely reliant on the aid provided by UN and humanitarian agencies and face daily threats to their health and security. A September report from Amnesty International supported PHR’s findings at Camp Farchana and further spoke to the volatile security situation in eastern Chad, where more than 50 armed attacks on humanitarian workers have taken place during 2009. Armed banditry has been a persistent security threat, and is cited as the biggest danger facing Darfuri women and girls when they leave UNHCR camps to collect water and firewood.

PHR and other groups have long called for the implementation of firewood patrols around UNHCR camps in eastern Chad, where women and girls have to travel up to 30 kilometers away from camp to collect firewood for cooking, water to supplement the inadequate rations available in the camps and hay or straw to feed animals they raise for milk and meat. Forced to leave the camp in order to satisfy basic human needs of themselves and of their family members, Darfuri refugees plead with peacekeepers assigned to their protection, with little effect. The MINURCAT peacekeeping force and Détachement intégré de Sécurité (DIS) police units fail to provide for the security needs of the refugees; as reported in the September Amnesty International report, refugees report rebukes by DIS, telling refugees to take up their issues with camp administrators.

It is clear from events in recent weeks that the security situation in eastern Chad is insufficient for humanitarian access: aid agencies providing life-saving assistance to Darfuri refugees must be assured security for their convoys and for their international and Chadian employees. The UN should immediately review MINURCAT operationality and renew calls to donor governments to ensure full deployment of MINURCAT uniformed personnel to protect Darfuri refugees and humanitarians in Chad, along with all necessary military and other material, including military helicopters.

PHR continues to encourage all troop contributing countries and police contributing countries to recruit female officers for protection units trained to address sexual and gender-based violence and to increase funding of humanitarian operations in Chad and Sudan, to ensure the provision of healthcare services to survivors of gender-based violence.

The World Health Organization’s representative to Sudan, Mohammad Abdur Rab, told reporters yesterday that 10 percent of children in Darfur and in South Sudan die before their first birthday, and that 15 percent of children in western Darfur were malnourished. This immense figure provides a quantitative background to PHR’s work on food security issues, as well as sanitation and health needs of displaced Darfuris living in UNHCR camps for the past five years.

In meetings held with members of Congress in Washington, DC last week, PHR doctors briefed co-Chairs from the House Commission on Human Rights, Congressional Women’s Caucus and Congressional Caucus on Sudan on the urgent health, food and security needs in Camp Farchana. The camp was the site of PHR’s 2008 investigation into the impact of sexual violence on survivors of the Darfur conflict (see the report here), which found high levels of malnourishment, lack of healthcare, insufficient sanitation and lack of protection for women and girls in the face of daily risk of attack.

The food security issues and the health needs are closely linked — and an integrated strategy between UN agencies and aid organizations on the ground is desperately needed — on both sides of the Sudan/Chad border. Although the World Food Program (WFP) target caloric intake of 2,100 kilocalories is formally being provided to the refugees by WFP rations, the type and quantities of food apparently are seriously inadequate.

WFP rations consist of only five items (sorghum, oil, salt, sugar, corn-soy blend) and the sorghum rations are distributed in an un-ground form, which means that the refugees themselves have to pay the cost of grinding the grain.

The lack of milk, meat or vegetables has consequences for the health needs of refugees, particularly vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women. Even where fortunate refugees receive the target caloric intake, they don’t receive sufficient nutrients because of the limited diet.

We must commit to reducing child malnutrition by providing milk and meat to pregnant women and children. PHR has been working to encouraging UN agencies to coordinate sufficiently so that refugees themselves can be involved in the solution to this issue.

Currently, women are forced to sell their meager sorghum rations for milk or meat, travelling to a local market where they receive a vastly reduced price for their sorghum due to market saturation. However, if UN peacekeepers would provide protection for women and girls outside the camps, they could collect the necessary hay and water and raise livestock around the camp. This would give them a supply of milk and meat to add to their diet, and also provide them with the opportunity to provide for their family’s livelihood.

In his briefing yesterday, Abdur Rab also mentioned that international donors need to increase their support for fragile health services in Sudan, with special attention to secondary and tertiary care centres. Next week PHR will be doing more work on the issue of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGV) programming, and the need to provide emergency assistance for injuries, documentation of injuries, access to HIV/AIDS prophylactic treatment, pregnancy testing, psychological and social support — none of which are currently being provided to women and girls in Darfur.

You may have seen the news last week that the Obama Administration unveiled its long-awaited Sudan policy.

PHR welcomed the renewed sense of urgency in the policy but took a skeptical position on the Khartoum genocidal regime’s ability to fulfill the role of trusted partner envisioned in the new policy.

The new policy relies heavily on offering incentives to the Bashir regime to improve the situation on the ground. PHR urged the Administration and international community to build strong multilateral pressure on the regime and give a higher priority to the accountability for genocide and atrocities.

As an independent medical organization which has documented, from 2004 to 2009, the Sudan government’s mass killing and rape, pillage, forced displacement and destruction of all means of survival for hundreds of thousands of Darfuri civilians, PHR has repeatedly called for an end to impunity for this genocidal campaign.

An immediate goal for US policy which is not explicitly addressed in the new comprehensive approach is an end to the gender-based violence occurring inside and outside camps in Chad and Darfur and an end to impunity for the crime of rape.

In line with US Strategic Objective #1, “a definitive end to conflict, gross human rights abuses and genocide in Darfur,” UNAMID and all UN agencies must be tasked with specific reporting on the problem of gender-based violence and must be free to report without obstruction by local authorities. The current system, which discourages women from reporting rape and seeking justice, must be reformed and existing rape laws must be strengthened.

The US and UN must also immediately demand a commitment from the Government of Sudan to cease impeding support programs for victims of gender-based violence and remove any obstacles to gender-based violence programming in technical agreements between the government and humanitarian NGOs. It is essential that the US monitor the ongoing situation on the ground in Darfur and not allow Omar al-Bashir’s government the opportunity to further deceive the international community over human rights abuses. The Government of Sudan must accept an independent fact-finding mission to assess the human rights situation in Darfur, and the State Department should immediately encourage a high-level congressional delegation to perform this role.

As the US engages with the Government of Sudan and international partners to attempt to reinvigorate the peace process, US policy must remain committed to safely return refugees in Chad and displaced in Darfur to their homes and rebuilding of their villages and livelihoods. This goal should not be lost in efforts to achieve short-term forward progress in the peace process and immediate improvements in humanitarian assistance to the millions of displaced Darfuris.

The renewed commitment by the Obama Administration to end the conflict in Darfur and move forward with implementation of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement must not deter the US from supporting the UN Security Council and the ICC in pursuit of justice by enforcing the arrest warrant for President Bashir.

More soon: PHR briefing on rape and sexual violence in Sudan/Chad in DC this Wednesday (Oct 28)!

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PHR News Updates

Check out the latest news from Physicians for Human Rights:

Visit PHR’s Health Rights Advocate blog and the PHR Press Room for more recent health and human rights-related news updates. You can also set up a Kaiser Health News personal RSS account to regularly receive major health care news stories.

(I originally posted this on the Daily Kos on Human Rights Day.)

The nation is emerging from a grim period in history when we reversed decades of advancement in civil and political rights central to American values and our Constitution. In recent weeks President-elect Obama’s transition team has received a flurry of calls and visits from human rights organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights , appealing for “restoration” of US protection and promotion of rights.

We are calling for the next president to prohibit torture unequivocally, to re-sign the Rome Treaty supporting the International Criminal Court for prosecution of the gravest war crimes, and to re-engage with international human rights bodies in Geneva abandoned by the current president. We are urging him to uphold the human rights treaties that this country has already ratified, including the Conventions Against Torture and Genocide. These are absolute priorities to re-establish U.S. credibility on human rights.

But we also have a chance to enter a new era of American support for human rights at home and abroad. It is time for a change in the policy that the U.S. has followed since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN in 1948 under the leadership of former First Lady and UN Ambassador Eleanor Roosevelt. The Declaration’s vision of the indivisibility of all rights (civil, political, economic, social and cultural) was blurred for decades — by the Cold War political and ideological divide. The U.S. has created and sustained a hierarchy of rights, promoting civil rights and shunning social and economic rights.

The Declaration’s blueprint and the international laws flowing from it, recognize that a decent standard of living, jobs, housing, health care, education and food are rights just as fundamental as voting, fair trials, and freedom of expression. These essentials for human survival are not matters of charity or benefits, but rights. When people have rights, governments have obligations and citizens can make claims upon them. Officials are accountable for delivery, budgets are transparent, and stakeholders must be able to participate in planning and provision of services. The international standard requiring “progressive realization” of these rights means that governments cannot backslide. It means that advocacy to assure rights is in order, not merely sympathy for the victims or half-measures to fill gaps when governments do not deliver.

The failure of a nation to provide the highest attainable standard of living adequate for health and well-being as guaranteed in Article 25 of the UDHR is a human rights violation. Hundreds of health professionals in Boston asserted this on Monday when they gathered at a “Town Hall Meeting” and honored Senator Edward Kennedy for his passionate advocacy of health care for all as a right, not a privilege.

To signal change, the next President should take a number of early steps. Obama should submit for Senate ratification the treaty on Economic Social and Cultural Rights which the U.S. signed in 1979. He should commit to a system to assure universal health care at home that is of good quality, affordable, appropriate, and accessible to all. He should invest in global health and development, addressing staggering health workforce shortages.

He must ensure continued U.S. commitment to universal access to life-saving treatment for HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, fulfilling a pledge to support one-third of those in clinical need in resource-poor countries. He should announce new efforts to support gender equality and comprehensive reproductive health, and an enhanced program to reduce preventable maternal mortality . One woman dying a minute in childbirth represents the single greatest disparity in health indicators between rich and poor countries.

As Eleanor Roosevelt understood so well, freedom from want is as essential to survival as freedom from the fear. Both deny the dignity and respect that every human being is entitled to by virtue of being human. The Obama administration should now commit to fulfilling the promise of the entire Declaration and its expansive understanding of universal human rights.

Susannah Sirkin is Deputy Director at PHR.

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Barbecuing for Human Rights

As founder of the student chapter at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, and one of only a handful of people who had even heard of PHR on the Medical Center campus (KUMC), I needed a way to inform people about PHR, recruit them to the organization, educate them about advocacy, and offer them a little fun. There are literally hundreds of student organizations on campus, guaranteeing that everyone receives twenty emails a day announcing every sort of activity – from a lunch presentation by Medical Students for Choice to weekly hip-hop dance classes. I knew that to attract a good group of people and get them to focus on PHR for a few hours, I needed to get their attention by doing something different. I decided on a “neighborhood” barbecue for Saturday, September 13. I promoted the event with emails and by speaking to each Medical School class. I asked around for sponsors – my school was more than willing to give a little money and a friend’s company (Guinness) provided drinks.

The day of the event, I organized my house into multiple “stations”. I had a few friends bring their laptops over, and used each to showcase a different PHR platform – for example, I showed a video of Farnoosh telling the story of Lathe at one of the stations, and spread out next to the computer were the Broken Laws, Broken Lives report and some other PHR material. At another station, I displayed the PHR slideshow about Darfur with some related picture books and reports. A third station promoted Standard Operating Procedure and provided a screening sign-up sheet. Another station was devoted to the type of actions that PHR takes, such as petitions and letter writing, as highlighted by the Free the Iran Docs campaign and the Women’s Rights platform.

When people arrived, I gave them a quick overview of PHR, offered them food and drinks, and encouraged them to check out the various computers. The different stations gave them a chance to ingest a lot of information quickly, sparking lots of conversation, and the relaxed social setting of the barbecue encouraged people to share their own experiences with international human rights issues. The result? My student chapter now has 25 members and four requests for officer positions.