To what extent can the violence imposed by the government on citizens in the Darfur area be considered human rights violations?
The Rwanda crisis (April - June 1994)1, the Cambodian crisis (1975 -1979)2, and the actions of the Nazi regime in Germany inflicted upon the Jewish population (1938 -1945)3 are a few past examples of occurrences in which a government perpetrated violence against individuals and groups, hence violating human rights. Today in the Sudan, the world is witnessing violence imposed on citizens in the Darfur area. The conflict is rooted in racial and ethnical disputes between Arab and African and violence is seen in a physical and psychological form. Individuals live in fear of abuse, rape, and death and are having to deal with the constant threat of being attacked and losing their homes. The extent of the violence in Darfur has resulted in an estimated 300,000 deaths and 2,5 million displacements4 since the beginning in 2003, violating human rights on multiple levels. The question is to what extent the violence imposed on the citizens of Darfur by the government has violated human rights. However, one has to consider how a government is responsible for violating human rights if it is withholding the rights of its citizens, but on the other hand plays the role of the enabler of human rights. To answer such fundamental questions, the breadth of the human rights violations in Darfur due to the violence imposed by the government, can be measured, evaluated and analyzed in the following three ways: with regard to the context of the Universal Human Rights Charter, the African Constitution and culture, and lastly by taking a philosophical approach. These three methods can help to determine to what extent the violence seen in Darfur can be considered human rights violations. In the interest of this essay, ‘violence’ is a term not only pertaining to the physical facet in association to brutal treatment, but also displacement, psychological threats, and inhuman treatment through a verbal medium. Two of such most common acts in Darfur, yet not necessarily palpable, are rape and the continuous displacement which the citizens of Darfur have to endure. Because these two forms of violence are so different in form and nature, they will be the basis of analysis throughout the essay.
Human Rights violations in Darfur with regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established by the UN on the 10th of December 1948, consisting of 30 articles describing civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights that “all human beings should enjoy”5. The Declaration provides a standard towards which countries can be measured with regard to universally accepted human rights. However, the Declaration can be considered fundamentally flawed as it only takes the position of a set of guidelines. The Universal Declaration poses numerous ideas how human rights violations are evaluated, specifically how violence towards humans qualifies as violations of the Universal Declaration model. The acts of rape and the growing displacement numbers in Darfur, examined under the pretext of the Universal Declaration, will provide clearer and specific information on the extent of the human rights violations.
Rape is one of the most predominant forms of violence being used in Darfur towards women. It does not only affect female individuals, but also has devastating effects on societies and communities, as females are suddenly shunned and the community loses its reputation. It is a violence which is being set forth by the Sudanese government as well as the Janjaweed militia. However, the main aggressor is the Government, as the Janjaweed is being supported by the Sudanese government and the military. “In Darfur, says the NGO Human Rights watch, women and girls live under constant threat of rape by Sudanese government soldiers, members of government-backed Janjaweed militia…”6 Even though the violence is ultimately being practiced by the militia, it is primarily imposed by the government due to it supporting the militia. To further the analysis of the violations statistics on rape would be to the benefit of this essay. However, as the Sudanese government has been withholding realistic numbers, a clear indication of women being raped in Darfur is not present. In the context of the Universal Declaration rape violates a number of basic human rights listed in the charter7, specifically now that the UN has declared rape as worthy of being considered a “weapon of war”. A resolutions passed by the UN on the 19th of June 2008 states “…women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, included as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.”8 From such a statement there are clear implications that rape violates Articles 1 and 5 of the Universal Declaration. Article 1(See Appendix 1, p. 14) implies that all humans should be treated equally and with dignity, however as rape is used to humiliate a sex as well as dominate individuals there is no evidence of dignified treatment. Being born in equal dignity implies that every human is treated with such dignity9. Yet rape is not dignified treatment and hence the basic right of a human is violated. To counter such an argument one can assume that to be able to obtain human rights, one has to be acknowledged as a human. This only occurs when one is treated as such, in other words with dignity and equality. Under this aspect, women who have been raped, or not treated with dignity, are not recognized as human and therefore would not be able to obtain their rights. Rape also violates Article 5 (See Appendix 1, p. 14) which is included in those setting forth civil and political rights. Rape does classify as cruel and degrading treatment, and referring back to the UN statement, humiliation is a method used to degrade. Inhuman treatment would mean that one is not treated with dignity and equality, which is a standard that all humans should enjoy. Hence, inhuman treatment is a violation as every human has human rights. A different aspect to look at is the idea of governments being enablers of rights. This means that the State primarily has to accept a right so that the people are able to enjoy the right. Therefore, if the state has not recognized aspects of the Universal Declaration, then there practically are no human rights violations in such a context. From such a perspective the government has not violated any human rights and the rebels are the main source instigating violence towards the citizens of Darfur.
The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Darfur has risen drastically since the conflict started in February 200310. The estimated number currently is over 2 million in the three regions of Darfur11, resulting from attacks on villages by rebel groups, government, and the government backed Janjaweed. The refugees have fled to the main cities of Darfur where they live in camps that do not meet adequate safety standards. “Janjaweed patrol outside the camps and Darfuris say the men are killed and the women raped if they venture too far in search of firewood or water”12. The confidence and hope in the governmental authorities has diminished due to numerous attacks coming directly from the government itself and there is no trust in the authority’s ability to protect the refugees. The IDPs have resulted from the counter-insurgency attacks started and performed by the government in 2003 in an attempt to fight the rebel groups, however targeting civilians. Early 2008 “…the government was accused of aerial bombardment and ground attacks that drove thousands from their homes.”13 Yet the question is to what extent this type of violence has violated human rights in the context of the Universal Declaration. The act of displacement due to the attacks violates numerous article of the Declaration, under which fall Articles 17 and 25. Starting with the violation of Article 17 (see Appendix 1, p.14), the individuals are arbitrarily deprived of their property, as these were deliberately destroyed in attacks by the government and Janjaweed. As a result people were displaced by force because of being deprived of their property. Because the violence is coming from the government human rights have been violated as the state is not fulfilling the role of being the protector of human rights. Secondly, due to the IDPs living in camps where the threat of the Janjaweed is omnipresent, Article 25 (see Appendix 1, p.14) is violated. The idea of the Article, being that every human has a right to an adequate standard of living for the health and wellbeing of the family and individual, is violated in Darfur as these camps are “prisons without walls” conveying “an acute sense of insecurity”14. The fact that the IDPs are still threatened in the area where they are supposed to be safe, indicates that the living conditions provided by the state are not ample. Once again the state is not fulfilling its role of protecting its people, hence violating human rights. However, one could look at the situation from such an angle that it is the citizen’s choice to flee from their home to different living conditions. Yet from the evidence given, it is clear that due to the counter-insurgency attacks, the citizens of Darfur had no other choice but to flee as they had become the target of the campaign.
One can conclude that both of the acts of violence violated Articles of the Universal Declaration, therefore also universally accepted human rights. However, one must not forget that in many cases the government was not the primary perpetrator, but that rebel groups also put forth violence towards the citizens of Darfur. Furthermore, the idea of acceptance of the Universal Declaration is important to consider due to its ineffective role as a set of guidelines. Yet, looking at the nature of the violence it can be inferred that the Darfuris are not being treated with concern, respect and human dignity which Article 1 highlights. Therefore, in the context of the Universal Declaration, the violence imposed by the government on the citizens of Darfur violates human rights on numerous degrees and only minimal counter examples and theories can be found.
Human Rights violations in Darfur with Regard to the Sudanese Constitution and Culture
With the independence of the Sudan in 1956 came a period of continuously changing governments from democracy to military dictatorships. Hence the country saw numerous transitional constitutions that never lasted and only set the stones for the establishing of an actual constitution. The current constitution of the republic of the Sudan was signed 1998 and is an amalgamation of the previous transitional constitutions. In Darfur, it is important to compare the violence imposed by the government to the country’s own constitution to gain a local perspective, also considering the cultural facets which have shaped this conflict and the extent of human rights violations.
From having looked at sources in the previous paragraph on rape, it is clear that this violence is being imposed by the government. But the extent of rape as a human rights violation must also be examined in the context of the Sudanese constitution and with regard to the role of culture. The Government of the Sudan declared Islam as the main religion in Article 1of the constitution (see Appendix 2, p.15). Often it is assumed that in Islam the women do not play a significant role, not having access to a number of rights. The question is whether the rape on the women of Darfur is therefore justified, seeing that the Janjaweed is largely made up of Islamic men. Assuming that this assumption has certain validity, the Janjaweed as well as government may not see the rape as a distinct crime, whereas in a national and international context it is. However, even through culture, the violations also expose legal consequences. This is seen through the Islamic Sharia law, which makes pregnancy out of “wedlock” illegal15. Through rape many women in Darfur have become pregnant, bringing numerous social consequences as the women are shunned and voted out of their communities. There seems to be a clear clash between cultures, and the battle of power between these is reflected in the rape of the women of Darfur. In many ways this violence consequently goes against the country’s constitution and the rights which the state grants to protect. So the perception of the government and Janjaweed through the Islamic culture completely contradicts what the government established in the constitution. Article 21 (see Appendix 2, p.15) “The state shall… liberate women from injustices in all aspects of life”16 exposes this potential contradiction to the culture which is so explicitly defined through religion by Article 1. The State has not protected this right which the women of Darfur should have access to. Furthermore, the fundamental right to liberty and security, Article 20 (see Appendix 2, p.15) has been violated as the women are being tortured and held as sex slaves. The Article grants that no one should be degraded or tortured. Yet through the government not acting against such tortures, it is breaking its constitution. It is interesting to note that in the constitution only one Article concentrates on the protection of women. Hence, the question rises whether the rape and the violence against women in Darfur are consequently considered matters to which only a limited amount of attention should be devoted. Therefore, in both a cultural context and that of the Sudanese constitution, it is clear that human rights are being violated in Darfur.
The ongoing crime of the government and government supported militias displacing the citizens of Darfur is considered a human rights violation as the fundamental right to property is breached. In the context of the Sudanese constitution the act of displacement is not explicitly listed as such that should be prevented or that protection against is granted. However, when looking at Article 28 (see Appendix 2, p.15) on the topic of the right to property and that such will not be confiscated by the state, the following interpretation is found. As the displacements are the consequence of the attacks and deliberate destructions of villages and communities, one could infer that the government is indirectly taking away the Darfuri’s property with the intention of “counter-insurgency”. Hence, it can be assumed that the taking away of property through the deliberate attacks may be the equivalent to the confiscation of property by the government. In this sense, the government is violating individual rights of the Sudanese constitution, giving an indication of human rights violations. However, when looking at the cultural implications of the situation one has to consider the Arab versus African conflict which has deep roots in the history of the country. The Arabs where always known as being nomads, therefore the free movement through the country was significant17. Because of these roots, the Janjaweed and Government, being mostly Arabic, may not consider the displacement as a violation of individual rights as such movement may appear normal. Yet this nomadic characteristic contradicts the fact that the IDPs live in camps that are surrounded by soldiers and the Janjaweed, not allowing the IDPs to venture too far out, with the threat of death if done so. Hence, it can simply be concluded that in such a war between cultures, many perspectives do not play a role anymore as the battle for power is prioritized before any cultural morals or values.
Ultimately, in the context of the Sudanese constitution and cultural perspectives, the extent of human rights violations is further debatable in comparison to the context of the Universal Declaration. The constitution states that rights of women will be protected, equality is established, and the value of property is brought forth. In all three cases the Sudan has violated these rights of individuals in the situation of Darfur, showing that human rights have been greatly violated. However, this extent of violation may be impeded by the fact that if the president calls a state of emergency he has the power to eliminate all individual rights (Article 131/132 see Appendix 2, p. 15/16). Yet there is no distinct evidence that a state of emergency was called in 2003 and then renewed after 15 days to have lasted for the past five years. The cultural biases portrayed could somewhat justify the actions of the Janjaweed and Government; however these are based on specific interpretations. One can come to the conclusion that in this context the extent of violations is great, yet not as clear as in the context of the Universal Declaration.
The extent of Human Rights violations from a philosophical approach
The philosophy of human rights can throw further light upon the situation of human rights violations in Darfur. Thomas Hobbes is a philosopher who posed philosophical theories as to why human rights exist, and what the nature of these existing is. Hobbes observed that the human condition is “of war of every one against every one, in which case everyone is governed by their own reason…”18 meaning that there can be no safety to man. Because of this condition, there requires to be a fundamental law of nature stating that everyone should endeavor peace and if it cannot be found one can use the advantages of war for defense. Hobbes contends that due to the human condition, there is the law of all men described as following “What you do not want done to you, do not do unto others.”19 As the human condition implies that there is no safety for humans, Hobbes brings forth the idea of a commonwealth being elected by the people to protect their rights and who consequently has the responsibility for the peoples well being. The human condition and therefore the safety of all humans can consequently only be controlled by a commonwealth.20
The violence imposed on the citizens of Darfur shows how Hobbes’s observation on the human condition is valid. Hobbes defines the human conditions as being destructive in nature as every individual works and lives by their own moral reason. In this sense, the rape of the women of Darfur by the Janjaweed may in itself not be seen as a violation of human rights. The reason with which the members of the Janjaweed are governed may seem appropriate for them and from their view, in comparison to that of other individuals. However, Hobbes believes that this reason leads to the destruction of humans, which is why the law of nature “What you do not want done to you, do not do unto others” is necessary. Yet the government and Janjaweed did not and are not following this basic law applying to all men, as seen in the attacks and violence such as rape and displacement imposed on the citizens. Hobbes’s theory on liberty can also be linked with the role of the individual’s reason. This theory means that everybody has the liberty to do what they believe is best for them. Suddenly a conflict between theories is posed as the Janjaweed has the liberty to rape, but the women (and people) of Darfur have the liberties to be free from attacks and violence. On a different note, the counter-insurgency campaign of the government against the rebel groups in Darfur is justified as everything should be done to keep peace, even if this requires taking advantage of and using war as such a method. Hobbes also states the idea of the commonwealth, being elected by the people, having the full responsibility and power to protect the rights of the people. In Darfur this was not the case, as president al-Bashir of the Sudan did not fulfill his role as being the commonwealth of the whole of the Sudan. This is reflected in the fact that the ICC21 sought “charges against president Omar al-Bashir of Sudan for…war crimes and crimes against humanity…”22 A commonwealth, who the people initially trusted, should not be convicted of anything having to do with “crimes against humanity” as he is chosen to be the protector of human rights.
Hence, one can see that from taking a philosophical approach different general ideas are conveyed that determine the extent of human rights violations in a specific situation. The different theories of Hobbes prove that there are many views on judging the situation in Darfur. Human rights have been violated because the fundamental natural law was not respected by the government or the Janjaweed. Furthermore the “commonwealth”, or president of the Sudan, did not fulfill his role as the protector of human rights. On the contrary, he is one of the main sources supporting the violence perpetrated towards the people of Darfur and initialized the suppression of the people. Yet one may not forget that in the context of reason the extent of human rights violations is minimized, as seen by Hobbes’s observations. Everyone has their own perception and reason for their actions. Because of this reason and the need for violence seen in the form of the counter-insurgency attack, the violence imposed on the Darfuris is justified to some extent. Hence, human rights have not been violated in every aspect, but a number of Hobbes’s theories prove that in the case of Darfur human rights are being violated on numerous levels.
Conclusion of the extent of Human Rights Violations in Darfur
After having examined the violence imposed by the government on the citizens of Darfur on three different levels, (international context, local context and philosophical context) one can come to a final verdict on the extent of human rights violations. Keeping in mind that the validity of the sources used can be questioned, as the Sudan has withheld and censored various statistics, and emotions of eye witnesses may impede the validity of occurrences, it is believed that most helped greatly in analyzing the situation in its full scope.
In the international context, it is clear that human rights have been violated in nearly every aspect. This is seen in the violation of numerous Articles of the Universal Declaration, being Articles that are universally accepted. Because the government is the main perpetrator of violence, even though rebel groups also launched attacks, the human rights are being violated as the state has the role of being the protector of human rights. In Darfur, it is clear that the individuals are not being treated with dignity and equality as Article 1 of the Declaration states. Therefore, in the international context of the Universal Declaration, human rights have been violated in Darfur.
When looking at the Sudanese constitution it is clear that the country itself is violating the rights of their own people. However, the state has also been clever in integrating articles which play to its advantage, portraying that human rights have not been violated as seen in Article 131(see Appendix 2, p. 15). Hence, when considering culture, the human rights of the people of Darfur have only been violated to a certain extent.
Lastly, the philosophical approach based on Thomas Hobbes’s theories showed that human rights have been violated in this context as well. Due to different fundamental laws which humanity has based its morals on, it was identified that in this theoretical view the rights of individuals are being violated by the government. However, one may not forget theories based on reason and liberty which do counter the argument that human rights have been fully violated.
It can be assumed that due to the Universal Declaration becoming more important in solving today’s humanitarian crises, the international context proves to be the most paramount in which to evaluate the situation of Darfur. Consequently, after having conducted extensive evaluation and analysis, one can come to the verdict that the violence imposed by the government has lead to the vast violations of human rights in Darfur.
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Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
United Nations, "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." United Nations . 10, December 1948. United Nations . 22. 08.2008 .
Constitution of The Republic of Sudan(entered into force 1 July 1998):
The Guiding Principles of the State
Article 1 Nature of the State The State of Sudan is a country of racial and cultural harmony and religious tolerance. Islam is the religion of the majority of the population and Christianity and traditional religions have a large following.
Freedoms, Rights and Responsibilities
Chapter One Individual Rights
Article 20 Liberty and Life Everyone has the right to life and liberty and security of person in accordance with the law. Everyone shall be free and no one shall be held in slavery or servitude or degraded or tortured.
Article 21 Liberty and Right of Equality All persons are equal before the law. Sudanese are equal in the rights and duties of public life without discrimination based on race, sex or religion. All persons are equal in eligibility for public office and civil service positions without preference due to wealth.
Article 28 Right to Property Everyone has the right to monetary earnings and to his ideas, and retains ownership over his earnings. The state may not confiscate his money, land, invention, production or scientific or literary products, except by law to enforce public sharing, for the public interest and only in exchange for just compensation.
There may be no taxes or fees or other financial impositions except in accordance with law.
State of Emergency
Declaration of a State of Emergency Whenever there is a event that poses a threat to the state or any part of it, whether by war, invasion, siege, catastrophe or epidemic, or any other event threatening the public safety or the economy, the President of the Republic may declare a state of emergency throughout the country or in any part of it in accordance with the Constitution and the law.
A declaration of a state of emergency shall be presented to the National Assembly within fifteen days of its date of issue and if the National Assembly is not in session it shall be called for an extraordinary session to consider the declaration.
If the National Assembly approves the declaration of the state of emergency any law or exceptional order constituting a part of the declaration shall remain in force.
Exceptional Powers of the President of the Republic The President of the Republic may take any of the following measures by law or exceptional order, during a state of emergency:
Suspend some or all of the provisions in the Chapter on individual rights and liberties, except the following: the prohibition of torture, the prohibition of slavery, the prohibition of discrimination based on race, sex or religion, freedom of thought, the right of access to a court, the presumption of innocence, or the right to defense.
Suspend the laws or powers of states according to the Constitution and vest in himself the powers and authorities provided for by these laws and the practice of these powers or decide the manner in which the affairs of a concerned state shall be administered.
Issue any measures, which shall have the force of law, that is necessary to deal with the state of emergency.
"Constitution of the Republic of Sudan." 1, July 1998. 31.08.2008 .
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7 Articles 1 and 5
8 Unknown. “Rape: Weapon of War.”
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12 Unknown , "Q&A: Sudan's Darfur Conflict ." BBC News . 15 July 2008. BBC. 19.08.2008 .
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19 Hayden, Patrick (62)
20 Hayden, Patrick (66)
21 International Criminal Court
22 Plaut, Martin. "Judicial noose tightens around Bashir." BBC News 14.07.2008. (21.07.2008) .