Genocide and Mass Atrocities
Genocide refers to the systematic and premeditated elimination of all or a significant part of an ethnic, religious or national group. Well known examples include the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and more recently the Government of Sudan’s campaign in Darfur. The enactment of a genocidal campaign is not limited to mass atrocities such as the indiscriminate murder of civilian populations, and can be perpetuated through forced deportation, starvation, incitement of violence and other less overt means. Starting with the Nuremberg Trials following World War II, genocide has been recognized by the international community as a crime against humanity and has been prosecuted as such by the International Criminal Court (ICC) since the Rome Statute came into force in 2002.
The conflict in Darfur was first notably termed genocide by then Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 during his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has since been condemned as such by a multitude of governments and civil society organizations worldwide. International outcry over Khartoum’s indiscriminate use of force in Darfur culminated in the ICC’s 2008 indictment of Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, who was charged with 10 counts of war crimes, including 3 counts of genocide.
In spite of the prosecutor’s charges, al-Bashir has been able to travel unhindered to multiple countries that are parties to the Rome Statute, which requires them to comply with ICC arrest warrants. Such disregard for international law not only undermines the legitimacy of the ICC and the international criminal justice system, but also sends a message to war criminals everywhere that they can commit genocide with impunity, putting millions of vulnerable civilians in war zones around the world at greater risk.
Darfur Women Action Group (DWAG) is determined to address the issue of genocide and the lack of accountability for war criminals like President al-Bashir. Along with our partners, DWAG has undertaken multiple initiatives to raise awareness about the issue as well as pressure governments who fail to live up to their legal obligations. Most recently, DWAG and other civil society organizations called out the Government of South Africa for failing to uphold its domestic and international legal obligations by letting the Sudanese President attend an African Union (AU) summit unhindered. Furthermore, DWAG has sponsored multiple events addressing the issue of genocide in the 21st century and continues to work directly with survivors of genocide through our Rapid Response Network.
Violence against Women and the use of Rape as a Weapon of War
A multitude of armed conflicts around the world have featured the use of violence against women and specifically the utilization of rape as a weapon of war. Often overlooked as a spoil of armed conflict, mass rape has become an integral part of war strategies across several continents. In an interview given to the BBC, Gita Sahgal of Amnesty International explains how rape is often used in sectarian conflicts as a means for attackers to perpetuate social control over an ethnic group and quell restless minorities from lashing out. She goes on to say that ‘’...if one group wants to control another they often do it by impregnating women of the other community because they see it as a way of destroying the opposing community.’’ Such attacks cause women and children to flee from their homes, which in turn leads to further fragmentation of ethnic communities. Victims face a host of emotional, physical and social problems as a result, ranging from an increased risk of HIV/AIDS to social ostracization.
Amnesty International is among the sundry civil society organizations that has accused the Janjaweed, a Khartoum backed militia operating in Darfur, of committing mass rape as a means of punishing and humiliating non-Arabs. Sexual violence has also taken place inside internally displaced persons camps, and has been compounded by a dearth of reporting by humanitarian agencies, further stiffening targeted actions to help victims medically, psychologically and socially.
The sheer scale of sexual violence taking place inside Darfur was infamously illustrated by the 2014 mass rape in the village of Tabit in North Darfur. An investigation by Humans Rights Watch (HRW) concluded that over 200 women and young girls were repeatedly raped by government sponsored forces over the course of two days, whom subsequently warned local civilians from reporting the atrocity to peacekeepers from the joint United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur, also known as UNAMID. This sort of systematic intimidation and organized sexual violence has ceased to abate and remains an intricate part of Khartoum’s campaign of repression in Darfur.
Addressing one of the most heinous aspects of the genocide in Darfur remains a priority for DWAG. Our organization has consistently focused on speaking out about sexual violence against women in Darfur and the urgency with which such an issue needs to be dealt with.
Justice and Accountability
The atrocities of the 20th century have engendered the emergence of an international criminal justice system, illustrated when the International Criminal Court (ICC) began functioning in 2002 following the ratification of the Rome Statute. The international tribunal has jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The inception of The Hague based tribunal marked a decisive point in the development of international public law, with the stable and organized practice of relations among states no longer the sole objective of international norms. The court’s role now seeks to hold perpetrators of serious atrocities criminally accountable when sovereign legal authorities either can’t or won’t do so themselves.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) formally referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC in March 2005. The ICC subsequently issued arrest warrants for Ahmed Haroun and Ali Kushayb, the former Minister of State for the Interior and the leader of the Janjaweed, respectively. In March 2009, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC when the tribunal charged him with crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.
Despite the court’s indictments, al-Bashir has routinely traveled to various countries in his capacity as the Sudanese head of state and has yet to be arrested and surrendered to the ICC by any of his hosts. Most recently, al-Bashir attended an African Union (AU) summit in South Africa, where he was able to pose with other leaders for pictures before flying out of the country unhindered. South Africa is a party to the Rome Statute, and was obligated under international law to arrest and surrender the autocrat to the ICC’s jurisdiction. The failure of President Jacob Zuma’s government to abide by its international obligations presents a challenge to the ICC’s legitimacy and relevance.
The international criminal justice system is threatened by the inaction of world leaders in adhering to international standards, which in turn diminishes the ability of the international community to hold war criminals accountable for their actions. DWAG strives to bring attention to this issue, both through our observance of the World Day for International Justice and through our continued activism along with our civil society partners.
The genocide in Darfur has been particularly devastating to women. Women and young girls currently make up 80% of those who live in internally displaced and refugee camps. Moreover, the utilization of rape as a weapon of war has rendered innocent civilians into targets for government sponsored militias. While women continue to suffer the brunt of the war’s consequences, they have been able to successfully assert themselves in finding solutions to the conflict’s most heinous aspects.
In order to resolve the crisis in Darfur, we believe it is imperative to involve those who have been historically excluded from the decision making process. From economics to social affairs, women make up an integral part of Sudanese society, and it is therefore essential that they have the tools necessary to advance their interests. Without addressing the challenges women face, no society can feasibly sustain itself economically nor socially.
In addition to the struggle back home, Darfuri women in the diaspora also face a confluence of problems, specifically in integrating themselves in their new societies. DWAG's plan is thus to work with Darfuri women in the United States to overcome their challenges and equip them with the skills and means to lead dignified lives, while also encouraging women empowerment back home so that they too can have a say in the organization of their society. We further this end by supporting women NGOs both in the US and Sudan.
Institutional Capacity Building for Affected Communities
The ability of people to organize themselves politically represents an invaluable tool in checking the power of government and ensuring that public policy reflects the interests of the people. The crisis in Darfur has been compounded by the inability of citizens to meaningfully voice their grievances and hold the authorities accountable. Khartoum’s crackdown on independent civil society on the ground, however, has only amplified the widespread international opprobrium from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world.
Along with our coalition partners, DWAG is a firm believer in advancing human rights and fighting for Darfuri interests by supporting women NGOs at the grassroots and national level, both in the US and back in Darfur, as well as a host of other international civil society organizations. In keeping with this philosophy, DWAG has joined the efforts led by Bashir Watch, an international movement to pressure policymakers to support the ICC’s arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir.
By helping various NGOs build their capacity to lead desirable change, opportunities for the international community to hear directly from those most affected by the conflict will only grow and in turn sway public opinion in favor of Darfuri rights and justice for those who have continued to operate with impunity.