‘Wanton destruction’ in Sudan’s Darfur region, ‘blatant violation’ of international law

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On 19 June, a group of protestors ransacked the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Graida office, in South Darfur, stealing an unspecified amount of money and vandalizing four vehicles. They also invaded and destroyed offices and properties of the humanitarian organization, World Vision International (WVI).
“This behaviour is totally unacceptable, especially the looting and destruction of humanitarian property causing serious disruption to the work of humanitarians providing lifesaving assistance to the most vulnerable people of Graida”, said Gwi-Yeop Son, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan.
“These actions constitute a blatant violation of international humanitarian law”, he spelled out.
Attacks against civilian populations in Darfur continue and appear to be increasing in severity. Some 1.64 million internally displaced persons in Darfur remain especially vulnerable and sexual and gender-based violence continues to restrict women and girls’ freedom of movement in IDP camps and areas of return, according to Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), who briefed the Security Council last week.
She noted that this is part of a resurgence of grave crimes by former ‘Janjaweed’ militia fighters that are now part of the Transitional Military Council-sanctioned Rapid Support Forces and who were responsible more than a decade ago for many alleged atrocities in Darfur.
For his part, UNAMID Joint Special Representative/Joint Chief Mediator, Jeremiah Mamabolo, decried the limited support given to UN entities facing dangerous attacks that risk the lives of staff and local citizens.
“This looting incident in Graida comes just a few weeks after a similar intrusion took place in El Geneina, west Darfur”, he pointed out. “Such wanton destruction of UN property and assets cannot continue with impunity”.
Although the situation has been brought under control and evacuated UN staff have safely arrived in Nyala, South Darfur, the Organization stressed the critical need to respect humanitarians assisting the most vulnerable in Darfur and the rest of Sudan.
“The UN further reminds the Government of Sudan, as a member of the United Nations, and its citizenry in general, that they have a standing obligation to protect UN and other international staff operating in their country, including the organisation’s assets”, Mr. Mamabolo emphasized. “It is the responsibility of the of the Government of Sudan to be accountable and to protect all UN staff operating within Sudanese borders”, he underscored
In line with the protecting of civilians, UNAMID continues to monitor and facilitate humanitarian access in Darfur, as mandated by the Security Council.
When it comes to the letter of the law, a few words can mean the difference between having your rights protected – or not. This is why human rights advocates are celebrating this month: after a worldwide campaign, and many long meetings and legal arguments, the new draft of the international crimes against humanity treaty has lost an outdated definition of gender that could be used to limit protections for women and LGBTIQ people in war.
On 7 June, the International Law Commission – a body of experts set up by the UN in 1947, to help develop and interpret international law – formally recommended this draft for adoption by states. Finally this treaty, which heads to the UN General Assembly later this year, holds the promise of justice for all victims of the world’s worst atrocities.
Previous drafts of this treaty included a definition of gender borrowed from the Rome Statute (which governs the International Criminal Court (ICC)) that isn’t clear on who is protected. It says: “the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society” – overlooking trans and gender non-conforming identities and leaving it open to dangerous interpretation.
Law scholars and the ICC’s own Chief Prosecutor do understand this definition to include LGBTIQ people, and more broadly, women and men persecuted for not following oppressive dress codes, or ‘traditional’ gendered roles. However, the new draft crimes against humanity treaty doesn’t come with an international court – it’s left up to states to implement. And some consersvative governments may try to take advantage of the definition’s opacity and ignore conflict-related gender-based crimes.
The story of this treaty, and its language, is long – as was the process of removing this controversial gender definition from the text. It took immensely coordinated campaigning from rights advocates and lawyers. This is a significant legal victory for women’s and LGBTIQ rights – and three groups that came together to push for the definition’s removal: MADRE and CUNY Law School, where I work, and OutRight Action International.

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