6 Oct 2010

Speaking out on Darfur: courage that humbles us all

Tonight I have to do something which renders us all humble in the face of someone else’s acute personal suffering and courage on behalf of others. I shall be at London’s Frontline Club to present the Anna Politkovskaya award to Dr Halima Bashir from Darfur in Sudan.


This is a prize established to the memory of Anna who was murdered four years ago tonight outside her flat in Moscow. I had the honour to know Anna and to have seen her courage at first hand. She bore critical and dangerous testimony to the actions of Vladimir Putin’s Russian soldiers in Chechnya and to the corruption of his regime closer to home. She died in the service of freedom and it is to the struggle for the cause of freedom that the prize established in her name is dedicated.

Dr Halima Bashir comes from the Zaghawa tribe of the western region of Sudan. In 2003, after her studies, she became the first person in her village ever to become a formal doctor.

In early 2004, as she treated the traumatized victims, Halima bore witness to the torture and rape of over 40 girls as young as eight, and their teachers, from a primary school in Darfur by the Janjaweed militia. The Sudanese secret police threatened her to keep silent or face the consequences. Halima refused to remain silent. She gave a detailed witness statement to the United Nations representatives about the rapes.

Several days later she was herself abducted by Sudanese soldiers, held hostage and gang-raped for three days, to punish her for speaking out. They told her they would let her live because “we know you’d prefer to die”. Knowing she would no longer be safe in Sudan, she fled the country, and sought asylum in the United Kingdom. Halima continues to advocate for justice for the women and girls in Sudan despite the danger to her own life. Despite the continuing threats to her life, she testified in 2009 against the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir who was indicted for crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court.

We shall be announcing the award on Channel 4 News tonight, and hope to interview Halima about the current situation in her homeland.

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32 reader comments

  1. adz says:

    What pushes a man to rape a woman? Rape has always been an act that gave me the shivers bordering on convulsions. I grew up with my Mum and it was always my nightmare that she should one day have to face one or more men wanting to rape her. I believe you should spend the rest of your life in solitary confinement and that should be a world law.
    With regards to Dr. Halima Bashir, I take my hat off to her for the rest of my days and Halima should be given an important humanitarian working role for the rest of her life as I am sure that is all she wants to do.
    adzmundo TVP

    1. Peter Stewert says:

      Short of killing, there are few crimes worse than forcing your will (in whatever way) on another human being so I’m sure almost everyone would share your fears Adz, I know I do. That said, I’m lucky being in the UK were chances are far lower of such crimes happening, but we still have a long way to go before such acts are as uncommon as murder; e.g., a 2 in 100K chance of murder versus a 21 in 100K chance of serious sexual assault (that could be far higher as under-reporting is between 75% and 95%).

      In the cases cited above the excuse was (I’d guess) that it wasn’t rape at all, as that would require the victim to be either a human being and/or not asking for it. Worst still the religious context of the Sudan conflict just made it all the easier to treat women (shockingly going for an education…) as far less than human.

  2. Kate says:

    Indeed it is very humbling, Jon – shaming really. I rant and rave about the world’s atrocities most often from the comfort of my armchair and these women are not only going out bringing them to the world’s notice but are prepared to put their lives on the line to do so.
    What guts they have!

    1. anniexf says:

      Hear, hear, Kate. One feels so useless, powerless sometimes; but we can help, if only by continuing to lobby for the UK to remain a place of safety for such courageous people.

  3. M. says:

    The atrocities that continue on a daily basis throughout the Central African countries sicken me to my core yet, as a western consumer of materials and energy we are all complicit in some way. Particularly so G8+ governments that on one hand condemn the actions of (state) backed forces and militia, and on the other fully support and host in their own countries the energy and mining companies that are directly complicit through lobbying and cooperation with the people running these monstrous regimes.
    I am indeed humbled by such a woman with the courage to continue her quest.

  4. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Why did she choose Bashir as her surname and then testify against that name ? fighting action , coincidence?

    Western Sudan has been a hard fact to face for the UK. How can we stop the Sudanese Janjaweed rioting villages , raping women, killing the vulnerable , diplacing millions? The answer is we can’t unless diplomatic relations continue/begin at the top.

    How can the tribal wars continue sanctioned by the government at all. Why should the Arab race be seen to be superior to the African race? Who is on whose side. Mayhem ,has become something of a game for these poor-land pirates , with women seen as lumps of nothing , but for the sexual gratification of animals.

    The basic instinct of man here is warped. Sex is seen as a violent act. It is primitive. It is continuing the line of the genetically violent should pregnancy occur and thus assuming the women are not killed .

    Halima speak out , continue speaking out, we will read your account , your voice will be heard and eventually will make a difference.

    Women such as Anna Politskovkaya died because they did not get away, staying amongst those who threatened her life, fleeing is an act of bravery ,fight on.

    1. margaret brandreth-jones says:
  5. Amadan Beag says:

    We owe an enormous debt to individuals like Halima and Anna.We can,t say we didn,t know anymore.Please ask Halima, what I as an individual can do to help.The enormity of the evil of using rape as a weapon seems overwhelming.

  6. Mudplugger says:

    The first sadness is that Anna Politkovskaya is not so widely recognised as, say, Mother Teresa or Mahatma Ghandi. Her courage and ultimate sacrifice deserve maximum and frequent exposure.

    The second sadness is the continued use of rape as a weapon of war. But it’s not new. The appalling conduct of the Red Army at the closure of the Second World War is now widely accepted, but who would dare suggest that other Allied troops did not do similar acts of outrage ? The fact is they did, but it is never reported, as the winners continue to write the history.

    Such treatment of women (and children) is never justifiable – just like adz above, I cannot imagine how any ‘normal’ man could do that in any circumstances. But war is a unique set of circumstances, where the normal traits of civilised men are engineered out by their military masters, hence such inhumane outrages become possible.

    Will it ever stop ? Probably not. Will the International Courts start addressing it as the appalling crime it is ? Not soon enough.

    1. anniexf says:

      Bravo Mudplugger.

    2. Moonbeach says:

      No sane person could disagree with this article and the award to Dr Bashir.

      But, Mudplugger, I would take issue with you regarding your views on war and “military masters”.

      Wars happen because politicians fail to do their job. They commit soldiers to the indescribable horrors of war in OUR name, Mudplugger. They never join up themselves and I have not seen too many of their sons on the front line.

      The role of ‘military masters’ is to ensure that soldiers have the best possible chance of winning and surviving any war.

      Rape, torture and other atrocities are not part of this training and are against British military law. But, as in other walks of life, these crimes sometimes occur. Unfortunately, evidence is often biased and, therefore, unreliable.

      If you wish to stop atrocities, Mudplugger, then campaign for the removal of the politicians’ right to commit soldiers to war in OUR name without asking us.

      Parliamentary democracy would only work if the politicians who want soldiers to kill each other were the first ‘over the top’.

      Now that would stop wars and, therefore, atrocities at a stroke!!!

    3. Mudplugger says:

      Moonbeach. Much as I may agree with your view on political failure, I suspect you have not analysed the methodology of military training.

      Basically it is all about inculcating a preparedness to obey orders without question. largely because some of those orders would raise serious objections from those of independent minds. The military know they need to do this because, in any war situation, there’s no time for a reasoned debate between the officers and the troops.

      An unfortunate side-effect of this approach is to insulate the serving personnel from the mores of the rest of the public. In consequence, some take that insulation to extremes in their actions at a personal level – in the subject matter of rape as a weapon, that has certainly never been a strategic tool for the UK military, but is seems to be for some other nations, especially in Africa.

      My own father served in WWII, Eighth Army, and reported horrific acts which some of his fellow soldiers (otherwise decent men) had committed on the advances from D-Day through to Germany. I know who I believe.

    4. Moonbeach says:

      Wrong again, Mudplugger. I have experienced military training and operations at all levels.

      It is true that all military men should obey orders on operations. But, in UK, a soldier has a right of redress should he or she feel that an order was unreasonable.

      You would also be making an error if you thought that our volunteer soldiers were a bunch of ignorant ‘Yes men’ who have been brainwashed. They are tough and professional but not stupid.

      Every act of aggression on the battlefield is horrific and inhuman. It is aimed at killing the enemy and terrorising him to destroy his will to continue.

      I wonder just how civilised you would be if you and your friends and family were in imminent and mortal danger. Soldiers, like most human beings, will do almost anything to survive and protect their friends.

      Believe me, whatever your father has told you will be true. But his words will not convey the true horror of what he will have witnessed; only living through it will do that.

      That’s why I say that if today’s leaders had to fight with bayonets, then politicians would not be so keen on going to war when the reasons were flimsy or even non existent.

    5. Jim Flavin says:

      ”Parliamentary democracy would only work if the politicians who want soldiers to kill each other were the first ‘over the top’.
      Now that would stop wars and, therefore, atrocities at a stroke!!!” — Full Thumbs UP .

      War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.
      Thomas Mann (1875 – 1955)

    6. Sadie says:

      ”Parliamentary democracy would only work if the politicians who want soldiers to kill each other were the first ‘over the top’.
      Now that would stop wars and, therefore, atrocities at a stroke!!!” ‘— Full Thumbs UP’ – Thumbs up. …. and help them focus not on the deceptive righteous drama politicians can put on war but the after effects of injury, grief, life as disabled, costs of all this in emotion and monetary terms – people that were not alive when the narrow thinking of going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan occurred, paying by parent with Combat Stress symptoms, and later via taxes for pensions and medical treatment of the brave Service personnel involved there now.

  7. coolpolitealex says:

    I just wish Jon Snow was just as outspoken against the Israeli crimes against the Palestinians that has now been going on for sixty odd years,and they have been living in refugee camps all this time.
    But there is no mileage in criticising Israel, is there Mr Snow ?

    1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      I was wondering whether you would care to elucidate Alex. I think I know what you mean , but am not 100% sure. Mileage?

    2. Jim Flavin says:

      You ahve it right – not to mention the legalised torture endored by Western govts – thro ” Rendition ” – what a nice word – and what t happend to the US soldiers who raped and muedered 500 ionnocent civilins at My Lai in 1968 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYzb9DH7YAE . They put forward the same excuse as the Nazis at Nuremberg ” we were following orders ”- only for them it worked . The leiutentant in charge was found guilty of 19 murders – he served THREE days after getting a pardon From President Nixon . Many of the women were raped – then shot – . Does anyone think this has cahnged ??

    3. adz says:

      The problem is that you have to go against Wall Street, they are the real war criminals in every sense from setting up 9/11 to war crimes against Palestinians and humanity in general. That is just this century by the way because as Cool says, its been going on for more than 60 years. They create wars and then profit from them.
      adzmundo TVP

    4. adrian clarke says:

      What, not the Palestinian crimes , like suicide bombing.I do not recall Israeli ‘s being accused of rape , yet it is OK for Arab Islamists to take more than one wife,and to stone any women guilty of adultery.

  8. Mohamed A. Yahya. says:

    Great news to hear a bout the recognition of Dr. Halima Bashir. She deserves to be honored for her outstanding support to her Darfuri people. Specially women as victims of rape and humiliation.

    Keep your work forward. We are very proud of you.

  9. Codo says:

    it doesn’t feel good afterall that well provided evidence to indict the most ever evil regime come to exist, don’t even think those of Hitlor or Stalin, well, beliefe me speaking from exprienced point of view as I’m a sudanese myself and i konw waht does it mean to be living in such country, my hope the International life up to it’s promises and show who is the real Dad is!!! and i meant it, because such regimes won’t let go easly, if you know what I mean and I’m not suggesting any war, as it’s clearly we can see what is happing in Iraq

  10. Codo says:

    it’s just disater to humanity still such regimes exist and not having any kind of real commetment from the international community, afterall promises towards the helpless Sudanese as I’m one of them, those of Dr Halima I salute you for courage,

  11. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    I hope all went well at the Frontline club.

    I also would like to thank CODOS contribution to the discussion for it is surely the international community who should be pressing more on these issues

  12. coolpolitealex says:

    Ah’ the Darfur atrocity is an atrocity,but jumping up and down a few times,and passing the hat around,and a few Celebs’ bought and on cue say whatever is asked of them,but watching how this media works,really does make me sorry to belong to this race.
    Something and some injustice is fueling the extremist’s argument,and when you have such an injustice going on and on ,and watching the lobbying powers at work and how they operate,it is a sad ,sad reflection on the West’s principles,because unless you bring before the courts any wrongdoer ,any country,any power,then everything you say means nothing.
    But because the politicians need certain access,and funding,then there will allways be a distortion of the Democratic process.
    So if we want honesty from the institutions that regulate the laws,then we have to fork out,and write, an allmost’ “new” constitution.

    Remember’ the Media is in a very ugly state indeed, and they are pulling out all the stops to survive, but sadly the lobbying powers in the background are even more in the ascendency,especially looking over at the BBC’ the last bastion of internatioinal media honesty,has been got at.

  13. margaret brandreth- jones says:

    Many are commenting with a ‘what about me,’ or ‘what about those theme’
    Yes! atrocities have gone on everywhere for years. Jim , from the way he writes seems to be angrier than most, Alex writes about the forgotten ones and suggests that it is more about survival of self than news,Codo mentions Stalin and Hitler, then the Palestinians and the Jewish folks who are being blamed, the British , the law courts ,the whole political system, the media are being blamed, the States, ethnicity , religion is blamed.I will let you make of it what you will.
    I blame anger , violence and mans inhumanity towards man.

    1. Jim Flavin says:

      ”I blame anger , violence and mans inhumanity towards man.”–
      Yes – of course , Money , Power and Sex is what rules on this planet . Its hard not to be angry – last nite on c4 news – if I heard right – there was talk of suspending civil liberties near the 9/11 site – well if they can be suspeneded in one place !!!!.
      Then we had two religous nutters saying the cause of US deaths in Afgahnistan was ” there is too much Sin ” – whatever ”sin ”is – Im sure they will have their definition to suit their needs – and now we have Israel saying that to be an Israeli – u must be Jewish – and the Rest of politicins on the planet – well if they all had fatal heart attcks – would we be worse off or better off – – a crowd of multi faced ” things ” – that do whaetevr is best for them and their masters . We are IMHO going forward techically – but backwards mentally. Hopefully the next species of animal that rules this planet – will do a better job than Homo sapiens .

    2. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      IV’E DONE THAT ONE JIM. Hope lies in individual kindness and love.Only hope ;and reinforcing again and again and again ad- infinitum

    3. coolpolitealex says:

      Sorry ,Margaret,meant to elucidate before now,but my anger only allows me out in small doses.
      But as to the mileage,well ,i suppose to anyone that follows the media,and the shenanigans surrounding what is allowed onto our radar, etc’ etc,then it is self evident.
      An eye for an eye,philosophy, is what is forced into our minds,by the clever manipulation of the fact’s,because fact’s given to us with vinegar,turns us into bitter human beings.
      So untill the fact’s are left alone,and allowed to speak for themselves,then i’m afraid things like Darfur and lovely people like Anna,will continue to bear the brunt of of the side effects of allowing this system that we have to continue.
      But as to what i mean about the mileage,well ‘is’nt the fact that 90% of the people that take in the rubbish, ‘are blind’.. have anything to do with it,because we can’t keep murdering and raping each other into stopping, “murdering” and “raping” each other.
      No’that is what makes us blind.
      So we must ourselves about the philosophy of an eye for an eye mentality, and I am sorry but those in charge of the power leavers, come from’ or were raised in that belief, an eye for an eye, can never be right.

  14. bdbcks says:

    more diverting rubbish wake up people we are and have been and no doubt will continue to all be raped on a daily basis by “money”. banknotes have no blood running thru them nor do coins have a pulse yet the system of fractional reserve banking has us all with our heads in a noose with no choice but to play along.

    tax payers money given to banks in trouble yet some time later government tell us there will be cuts and tax raises cos we owe money to the banks! go on pretend you comprehend this rubbish after all you wouldn’t want to be honest and admit you don’t understand. and for those that do and are unable to comprehend there must be a fairer way to our collective right to live, well you are brainwashed- either that or you fully understand the way of the beast but choose to perpetuate the charade at the expense of most others.

    go on! call me a commie! capitalism/communism mere traits designed to divide and conquer with the former pre-chosen to win so that the great unwashed would view the notion of living in commune as doomed to failure.

    listen to what pasolini once said… “open your eyes!”.

    1. adz says:

      Thumbs up!
      Pasolini was murdered because he told everyone to open their eyes, same happened to Kennedy, King, Lennon, Gandhi and more we don’t even know about.
      Investigate 9/11!
      adzmundo TVP

  15. Brian Steere says:

    The shining of spirit through those who do not succumb to fear is inspirational if we recognize the same discernment and willingness in our selves.
    But if we make other too ‘special’ then we are not like them and are relieved of responsibility.
    Fear and guilt are deeply embedded at a fundamental level of human consciousness, and manifest as conflicted identity. In civilised society, behaviors are managed or regulated to inhibit the acting out of the fear, anger and hatred that is the expression of guilt – (used to refer to a self-justified sense of unworthiness for love. But it does break out in actions in seemingly small ways – and in ways and places that become self-fuelling conflicts.
    For hate breeds hate – unless something other than reacting from judgement awakens and acts.
    Heartlessness is not always visibly barbaric but expresses a mentality that is quite disconnected from reality. A mentality all too normal in our world and which we tend to use as our guide and protector amidst the very conflicts that it itself creates. As long as we put our own hate on others – by whatever form of spin – then we give power to a disconnected ‘reality’ – and true value is masked and forgot.

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