February 2010


A hot day at work. August, 2007.

A few meters from the interstate road from Flagstaff to Tuba City  lies a field of dinosaur tracks.

Under a wooden stall Navajo men wait for curious travelers to follow a small handwritten sign leading from the road deeper into the Arizona desert. Once there, the tracks of instinct creatures complement the story of indigenous people in the US.

Foto: Katja Gönc

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Sexual violence is a weapon of war. In Darfur, rape became the main military strategy of the government-backed militias. Sometimes, only the threat of this horrific act is enough to make people flew from their villages; abandon their homes, community life, and their place of economic independence.

Nevertheless, even when everything is left behind, people in Darfur cannot escape sexual violence. Once in camps for internally displaced near the border of Chad or in refugee camps in Chad, civilians are still under the constant threat of rape, sexual slavery, sexual torture, mutilation and rape-resulting pregnancies.

Traditionally, the collection of firewood is a women’s task. UNHCR supplies camps with food, blankets and tents, but not with fuel needed for the preparation of food. Therefore, women have to leave the protected land to collect branches and bush wood, exposing themselves to rape. Sexual violence does not only leave a trauma and medical consequences, but it also excludes women from their social network. In Sudan, no matter the context of a civil war, the women are still blamed for the rape.

Women who become pregnant as a result of rape are at risk of being abandoned by their husbands, rendering both the women and their children extremely vulnerable. Some infants may be abandoned or neglected by their mothers due to attitudes within the community or the response from the local authorities.” (Human Rights Watch, 2005)

As human rights activist Tomo Križnar explained, the stigma of rape pushed many women out of their communities. Now, they wonder through the region avoiding rebel factions and trying to survive. On his recent trip to the border area of Chad and Sudan Križnar meet a group of out casted women. “I was completely astonished on their capability to survive by subsisting upon roots,” he told.

When negotiations for peace between North and South Sudan started in 2002, a new conflict escalated in the western Sudan. There is no better description of the Darfur crises, observed by so many, than the one of the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. From the tribune at the UN General Assembly he delivered the following words describing Darfur:

“Where continuous spectacle of men and women, and children driven from their homes by murder, rape, and burning of their villages makes a mockery of our claim as international community to shield people from the worst abuses.”

In 2006, many world leaders expressed similar words of outrage. The term genocide was in the air. Darfur became a synonym for murder, rape, abuse, and torture. Non-governmental organizations became involved in the border region of Chad and Sudan, where civilians were forced to flee from the violence of the government allied militia Janjaweed. For nearly three million people and counting, a new life began in the camps.

“Although the crisis in Darfur has generated more commentary, reports, and media coverage in recent years than the twenty violent years of the second Sudan civil war in the South, few have understood that the disaster is not some spontaneous eruption against neglect, misgovernment, and racism, but the latest episode in the forty-year tragic conflict for control of the great basin of the Lake Chad.” (Robert O. Collins, A History of Modern Sudan, p 272)

Last week news agencies reported on the meeting between Sudan’s president al-Bashir and his counterpart from Chad Idriss Deby. (Reuters, 9.2.2010) To find a compromise that will end the agony of the Lake Chad basin conflict, it will probably take more than just one high-level tea party. While war crimes accused leaders sip their tea, the rest of the world should re-play the Kofi Annan’s speech to the General Assembly.

In a decade the international community was not able to provide for human security in the region. Only their reports have been updated, because the death and IDP numbers are continuously rising.

Some conflicts get all the attention and others just do not. What makes a conflict newsworthy? Why do we read more about an earthquake in Haiti than about conflicts in Eastern Sudan, Congo, Darfur, Central African Republic, Philippines, Pakistan, and Columbia? Who decides what is important for us, readers?

Especially, conflicts that are complex, prolonged and cruel beyond imagination are not the favorites of the news editors. A prolonged armed conflict is like a soap opera TV show with huge cast, complicated family and love relationships, fishy business deals, corruption, some characters interested in power, others pursuing their high moral standards. For viewers that tune in every day, the saga is easy to follow; they know character’s long personal history and are shocked to find out that the women he married is actually his half sister. For those, who want to see what the fuzz is about every now and then it is almost impossible to understand.

Therefore, we hear about a conflict when it starts, maybe when it turns into genocide, and maybe when a peace agreement is reached. The rest, according to some media people, is not newsworthy. Well, I claim the opposite. Instead of baby-sitting its reader- and viewership, media should let them follow violence around the world. So far, only when people saw and read daily about the killing fields, they raised their voice against war. Consequently, their governments were reminded of human security and responsibility to protect.

This week Prospects of Peace will host the soap opera Darfur, with its world famous ICC indictment winning actor al-Bashir (NCP), also starring Minni Minnawi (SLM) and Khalil Ibrahim (JEM). Special guests: civilian population and international community. Stay tuned!

Weekly market in Antigua, Guatemala. July, 2008.

Astonishing variety of food items offered on this market is not reflected in the  daily diet of the Maya.  Unfortunatelly, these products are usually too expensive for the local population. In Antigua, that became a magnet for Americans eager to learn Spanish, quality vegetables and fruits are sold mostly to restaurant chefs and tourists. In the mean time, one of the main problems in Guatemala remains malnutrition.

Foto: Katja Gönc