The IJP, with support from the Marilyn S. Broad Foundation, has launched the Emergency Response Network, which addresses the direct and immediate health and other needs of women and children who experienced genocidal and other violence and trauma in Darfur, The Sudan and who are now living in the United States. Since its inception, the IJP has worked to obtain justice for the victims of the Darfur crisis at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. Through this work, the IJP encountered many members of the Darfurian Diaspora in the United States, especially women and children, who were in urgent need of medical care and who were at risk of becoming disenfranchised without relevant assistance.
The Marilyn S. Broad Foundation is named after an inspiring businesswoman, who understood that the right kind of support at the right time could change the course of a person’s destiny. Therefore, it is fitting that the Marilyn S. Broad Foundation has joined with the IJP to spearhead the Emergency Response Network.
Over the course of the next year, the IJP will host a Marilyn S. Broad Fellow, who will create a reliable network of interpreters, physical and mental health care professionals, social workers, educators, lawyers, and others who will work to meet the urgent needs of Darfurian women and their families and convene to determine how to best address the larger psychological and health challenges of Darfurian refugees living in the United States.
In Darfur, violence against civilians has resulted in the deaths of around 300,000 civilians and the displacement of 2.7 million people since 2003. The atrocities committed in Darfur are so gruesome that the President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, has been charged with perpetrating genocide on his own people by the Prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
To date, an estimated 1500-2500 refugees from this conflict have fled to the U.S. Although now safe from the violence, it is apparent that these Darfurians continue to suffer from different kinds of trauma: The medical or psychological trauma directly related to the atrocities they have suffered, the challenges resulting from displacement from their homes, and the difficulties from resettling and adjusting to a new country and society. Many of these refugees have lost family members, possessions, connection to the lands, their way of life, and their community.
The Women of Darfur
Darfurian women are particularly vulnerable members of an insular community that often lacks access to decent health, social or legal services. These women are at risk of being disenfranchised because of mental or medical health problems, discrimination in the community because of past sexual violence or because of poverty due to a lack of income generating skills. Some even face homelessness. Many Darfurian women are in critical need of assistance, both for their own sake and for the sake of their children and their communities. This need is made even more pressing by the fact that the next calendar year is likely to see an additional influx of Darfurians to the United States.
It is clear that access to the right kind of legal, medical, or social support at the right moment can make a radical difference in the lives of these women. The IJP is already very active in this area, and in the past, it has provided individual emergency aid on a case-by-case basis. Now, we are expanding to provide aid on a case-by-case basis as part of a larger emergency response mechanism to reach more women and families.
Our goal is to coordinate an organized network of health care, social services, legal professionals, and others to assist Darfurian women and their families in the United States. And, ultimately, our hope is that this Network will be sustainable and function on a peer-to-peer basis, being led by Darfurian women themselves and making the IJP’s response actions unnecessary.
Why the International Justice Project?
In the spring of 2005, the Prosecutor of the ICC opened an investigation into the crimes committed in Darfur after the United Nations Security Council referred the matter to the Court. To date, the ICC has issued arrest warrants against four members of the Sudanese government, including President al-Bashir, for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Shortly after the arrest warrants were issues, the IJP founders, Wanda M. Akin and Raymond M. Brown, began working with members of the Darfurian Diaspora in the United States who wanted to know more about the legal proceedings at the ICC. Akin and Brown soon took on the task of gathering the stories of the genocide victims and submitting their applications to participate in the trial against President al-Bashir. Today, Akin, Brown, and the IJP team have interviewed close to 100 Darfuris in the United States and other countries around the world.
For many Darfurian women, the IJP is often the first and only place where they share their stories. It may be their first opportunity to break their silence and discuss the horror of witnessing family members die, sexual violence, and/or domestic violence. Recognizing that the IJP might be the only organization the women ever talk to, we feel obligated to expand our activity from listening and recording these experiences to addressing the most pressing needs of the women, such as healthcare, mental health care, temporary lodging, legal advice, and more.
The Marilyn S. Broad Fellow
Our vision is that this Network will ultimately function as a peer-to-peer-network, where those who have received help in the community1 can identify other individuals in need of assistance and refer them to the same resources and actors. As a community traumatized by genocide, many Darfurians are inherently suspicious of people from outside of the community. Therefore, we would like to provide the opportunity to the community to form a stable, trustworthy network of interpreters, physical and mental health care professionals, social workers, educators, and lawyers to cooperate. Creating this network allows many Darfurians working in relevant fields to take an active role for their community.
At the core of the Network is the coordinator–Kristin J. Rosella, the Marilyn S. Broad Fellow–who possesses the necessary cultural, legal, and social knowledge to be able to:
- Reach out to individual Darfurian women in need;
- Quickly assess the situation of beneficiaries and coordinate the response;
- Study the issues Darfurian women and the community face in order to develop our understanding and calibrate our response;
- Raise awareness of the plight of the Darfurian community in the United States;
- Develop relationships with medical and mental health professionals, lawyers, interpreters, other individuals, and human rights and refugee rights organizations to broaden the Network; and
- Organize and coordinate Health and Human Rights Workshops for the women and their families.
Rosella also calls on key professionals to conduct the initial assessment and ensure that the beneficiaries receive referrals to the right kind of assistance and that their views and needs are respected in the process. The descriptions below highlight why having the right professionals in these positions is crucial.
Mental Health Care
A mental health care assessment can be extremely costly. Refugee families who often live on a single low-wage income cannot afford such expenses. Yet, the trauma with which many Darfurian women are dealing is deep.2 Group victimization, gender-based violence, and racially-motivated violence, which many of these women have faced, have all been found to exacerbate crime-induced trauma. The physical manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression often include: Sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches, paranoia, and hallucinations. In our experience, it has been extraordinarily difficult for Darfurian women and their families to find adequate mental health care services on their own.
Mental health problems are more stigmatizing than medical health problems, and persons suffering from them may not come forward and may face pressure from their families to stay silent. Another issue is that many Darfurian women often carry primary responsibility for large households with many children, and thus, they may not have time to “sit around and talk about their problems.”
We work with professional therapists who can offer initial mental health assessments to the women we encounter and determine whether a further referral might be in order.
Although most of the Darfurian refugees in the United States speak Arabic, there are some who only speak tribal languages such as Fur, Zaghawa, or Masalit. Few of those who have recently arrived from Darfur possess sufficient language skills to communicate about complicated issues without an interpreter. It is not easy to find an interpreter who is well-versed in the local Arabic spoken in Sudan or even in the tribal languages mentioned above.
In addition, for Darfurian women seeking to talk about intimate issues, finding the right person to interpret is at times extremely challenging. For example, based on our experience, some women, who are victims of gender-based violence, prefer to discuss their experiences through a female interpreter who they know and who is part of the Darfurian community. However, in other instances, women prefer discussing their experiences through an interpreter who is not familiar to them and who is not from Darfur or even Sudan.
Lack of good interpretation can lead to misunderstandings, misdiagnosis in the health care system, and lack of adequate representation in the administrative and justice systems. Our Network relies on the assistance of reliable translators and interpreters who work with the Marilyn S. Broad Fellow to assist these women.
The Emergency Response Network will deal with the presented issues on a case-by-case basis. It seeks to galvanize local, national, and international support for immediately alleviating the needs of the Darfuri an Diaspora by way of example. However, the Network is also a part of a larger IJP project, entitled–The Darfur Community Health and Reparations Project (HARP)–which aims to deal with the issue of community-wide malaise in the Darfurian Diaspora in the long term.
Through HARP, we are assessing and documenting specific pressing medical and mental health and welfare needs in the Darfurian community. Additionally, the project will produce data on the specific types of harm from which the Darfurian refugee community is suffering to inform the discussions on reparations both in the context of the ICC and as part of potential larger diplomatic solutions. This effort will include fostering a planning process to incorporate reparations into the support for Darfurian communities. Finally, we hope that this project will help the Darfurian community to embrace restorative and transitional justice mechanisms and reawaken their sense of community and purpose.