Monday, 13 July 2009

Two-day International Conference on the
Challenges Facing Women of Darfur

Dr. Mozammel Haque

El-Fasher: Two-day International Conference on the Challenges Facing Women of Darfur, organized by the Sudanese Women General Union in collaboration with Sudan International University and the British Muslim Initiative, was held at the Assembly Hall of the Governor’s House at el-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, on Saturday-Sunday, 23rd and 24th of May 2009.

Dr. Nimaat Mohammad Bilal
Dr. Nimaat Mohammad Bilal presented a paper on “Information Handling and its Impact on Darfur Issue” at the first session of the second day of the conference on Sunday, the 24th of May, 2009. Dr. Nimaat said, “The Darfur news, for instance, are conveyed negatively only from inside the IDP camps. No positive news about the efforts exerted to relieve these people are disseminated. All the operations dedicated to modernize large towns and villages are ignored.”

“The Sudan’s image is distorted by the Western media because of the inability of our local information to race these media,” alleged Dr. Nimaat and said, “The International Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) working in the fields of voluntary actions are part of the sources which provide the information organs with inaccurate and pointed information. They have become key communicators of intelligence information. Notwithstanding the role played by most of these NGOs in human aid, some of them, however, transfer false information to external circles, which have led to the expelling of 13 organisations from Sudan.”

Speaking about the crime of rape, Dr. Nimaat said, “The allegations of wide and systematic rape crimes against Darfur women constitute a type of war against Sudan and its values, heritage and against the facts on the ground.”

The National Investigation Committee, established by the government to investigate the situations in Darfur, reported that the data and facts collected from the people could not be taken as concrete evidence that the rape crimes were committed in a wide systematic range, by one group against the other group.

The National Committee reported, mentioned Dr. Nimaat, “that the rape crimes were limited, and the doers were prosecuted before the specified judicial courts, the crimes committed, according to the committee report, do not constitute crimes against humanity, according to the definition which determines rape as a human crime in accordance to the International Law Standards.”

Dr. Nimaat also mentioned, “Propagation of rape crimes aims to confirm the practice of ethnic cleansing which is one of the weapons used against Sudan. The far end of all these allegations is to halt the progress of Darfurian women, through disheartening, intimidation, humiliation and exclusion, after the Darfur Women have become significant social and economical figure which preserves the values and heritage.”

“This confused understanding of the dispute and describing it as the dispute of domination, marginalization, ethnic cleansing and other similar terms is one of the main obstacles of the negotiation track,” said Dr. Nimaat and added, “This confused understanding has also resulted in some international request to solve the dispute.” Dr. Nimaat described those requests as “exaggerated, non-realistic and fanatic, and have given wrong signals to the armed factions”.

Dr. Nimaat also made an allegation saying “They ignored many reports about the anti-human atrocities committed by the rebels, focusing only on the government actions, even if these actions were made as self-defense actions.”

Sister Yvonne Ridley
Sister Yvonne Ridley, former reporter of Daily Express and a revert to Islam; said, “As a journalist I believe it is my duty to report on the ground what is happening.” She spoke about the lies, distortions which were made in the media.

“Telling the truth is revolutionary in the region” said Sister Yvonne and mentioned about the minority “persecuted and demonized in the media.”

Sister Yvonne also talked about Hollywood stars. “I don’t know how many of you have seen the Cartoon – Aladdin.” After mentioning the way the Arab world/the Muslim world was portrayed as ‘barbaric and primitive’, Sister Yvonne said, “People in the West are very na├»ve to understand, for example, international relief charity it first accepted without questions.”

Sister Yvonne said, “No doubt, charity organizations did a most commendable job most of the times but at times Charity has also been failed.”

Sister Yvonne said, “As Lord Ahmed suggested, you come to London and hold free discussion and let the world see you are not wretched; you like to move forward and take your culture and situation. No one could help more than you can.”

Mentioning about Save the Darfur Campaign, Sister Yvonne said, “the biggest distortion of the fact that I have said before come from Hollywood.”

Sister Ali Guwn
Sister Ali said, “I want to talk about how it will make a difference. I am here, not only as a woman, but someone who has been working in the media, New York, London and Australia, for 20 years. I am here with you to hear your voice, the voice of the women. Finally, I want to say one thing the most important thing to do is to move forward. I’ll talk to Lord Ahmed when I will back to London, and I will see how that could be happen. I can assure you one hundred and one thousand per cent that we will do good in making your message spread through the internet, through the face book, through the Television and through any other media.”

Sister Glyn Strong
Sister Glyn Strong, a British journalist and part of the delegation, said, “I cannot say one hundred percent seriously. In fact, for me, it is the most significant element of this conference and I show you how clearly I read it and marked it up last night while I was reading it again. It is a very powerful piece of work.”

Sister Glyn also mentioned, “I can speak from my heart because I feel very strongly about it. I am a journalist for 30 years. I worked all over the world in conflict zones; particularly the women rights issue like yours. I worked in Afghanistan quite recently. One thing I would like to appeal to you is: please don’t judge media all the same; we are not all the same. Some journalists have an agenda; some don’t. Some journalists are neutral, open-minded, willing to learn, keen to learn and they think the world is one for education, not propaganda.”

“We are here in a spirit of humanity and we feel it privileged to be welcome as one of your community,” Sister Glyn said and added, “One of the things I do apart from writing is to teach media; explain people how to use media and I have to say that Western media is very well-organised and very well-funded. They are also very well-trained and they invested money in the training.”

Speaking about the alternatives to mainstream journalism and mentioning about using internet, face book, networking sites, sister Glyn said, “This may be new idea or may not but it is something you should explore because it questions information into the public domain; challenges the statistics you get from NGOs, you get from another journalists and you get from the government. This is something that is vitally important that the people who are challenging information.”

Sister Glyn also mentioned, “Press freedom is very valuable thing but the free press works nothing; that’s why journalists talk about integrity; I will say to you; don’t underestimate media or the power of the media.”

Speaking about her understanding of the Darfur issue, Sister Glyn said, “I knew very little about Darfur before I came here. What I learnt here in the last few days has changed my mind completely. It has been a very valuable experience. Anything I could do to help you to tell your story I will do and my final word for you: don’t accept what appears in media, fight it.”

Dr. Mrs. Basirat Ali Niasse
Dr. Basirat Ali Niasse, Founder/President of Women Advancement for Economic & Leadership Empowerment in Africa (WAELE) visited Sudan first time last year “to support President Omar al-Bashir in the ICC indictment.” “We tell the British media that followed our brothers here that they have a lot of works in their hands. You have to go back to your country and make sure that the world knows what is actually happened here. You have come, you have seen and you should be able to help us to tell the rest of the world what you have seen,” said Dr. Basirat.

Dr. Basirat also said, “We are continuing to raise our voices against the indictment and in support of the Sudanese women and we will continue to do so on different international conferences. I will be going to Nairobi next week on the same issue and I pledge my support and my organization support to make sure that we continue to fight. It is not only against you and your country. I tell the African leaders that today this is against the President of Sudan and tomorrow is my leader. It is not going to stop. We will continue to fight this; we will continue to raise our voice against it and we will continue to speak in support of our Sudanese sisters.”

“They should think of their rights and the time is right now. Nobody can fight for you. You have to fight yourself,” Dr. Basirat advised Sudanese women.

Mentioning about her experience of the past conferences where there was no action plan, Dr. Basirat said, “I thought and pray that this conference will not be like other conferences. I hope that there would be action plan for this conference. I hope Lord Ahmed will be happy to continue to support and represent Sudan people and Sudan government.”

Lord Ahmed
While thanking the organizers, Sister Rajaa Hasan Khalifa, Secretary General of the Sudanese Women General Union, Minister of the State Sister Halima and Sister Helen for chairing this very critical session (Applause), Lord Ahmed said a few words in conclusion: “This is being an amazing, inspiring, exceptional and extraordinary conference.”

Lord Ahmed also said, “I know each one of you has an amazing leadership quality that you want to make a contribution. So let me ask sister Khalifa to hold a women’s parliament in Darfur, in Khartoum, in Southern Sudan, in West of Sudan and in the North of Sudan. A Women’s Parliament is necessary so our sisters can express their views and so it should be over 38/48 hours or even beyond that so they can have the opportunity to be able to speak on other issues instead of just concentrating on peace in Darfur.”

Lord Ahmed also mentioned, “We all know that for some war has become an industry and we know that peace missions have become political tourisms for some organizations and Hollywood stars. But what we have to do is as individuals, as groups and as organizations in this country and abroad is to work for peace and these recommendations that have been made today, I can tell you that I will be your advocate. Tonight my colleagues and I shall be meeting the President of Sudan and Insha Allah, we will be expressing.”

“It is good that we have heard the discussion in relation to rape. There are those who deny that there is any rape and there are those who want change in law to make the case as easier so the people can be prosecuted in this country,” said Lord Ahmed and added,” We have a similar debate in the United Kingdom too. I don’t think anyone should denying rape that there was no rape. Of course there is rape and of course, we got to admit it. Where there are problems, where there are shortfalls, whether they are done by the government, whether they are done by those who resort to armed struggle; and those who are just bandit and thieves we have to acknowledge that these are problems that we have to deal with them.”

The leader of the British Muslim delegation also said, “I think, for the next step, you have choices with your recommendations and you have choices you can either me in The Hague and invite or come forward to come and visit you and you can also address me and I would be very happy to organize that with my colleagues. You can come to London and address the international media and the press and my colleague will help me to do that. You can come to Brussels and address the European members of Parliament and talk to them and we can organize a conference for you at the UN in New York and so that you can address the rest of the world as well.”

Lord Ahmed also said, “The recommendations have to be from yourself and you have to be being prepared and you have also to campaign. But we would be very happy to work with our partners in this country and in London to organize this for you so the voice of Darfur can be heard at the level in the international community.”

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