Concordis: making a difference for Darfur

Peter Dixon, September 2004

No doubt you have been following the harrowing news reports emanating from the western

Sudanese region of Darfur, where over one million people have been displaced by heavy fighting between anti-government forces and militias linked to the government of Sudan . Armed marauders have systematically killed men, raped women, destroyed crops and livestock, and driven families from their homes. The human rights abuses have been made all too clear through media reports, but politically, the international community appears almost powerless to do anything.

The UN estimates that 350,000 lives could be lost through starvation and disease in the coming months. From our comfortable position in the West, it is hard to grasp the realities of such a situation, but the scale of the crisis has rightly raised international concern and even indignation. A major operation is under way to supply food, water and shelter, and to deal with disease. Agencies such as Tearfund are working on the immediate humanitarian needs and we are pleased that they appear to have had a successful national appeal in Britain.

However, little attention is being paid to the underlying causes of the conflict. A longer-term peace settlement, and resettlement of displaced Darfurians, will require agreement on the root problems, namely the issues of land tenure, grazing rights and the economic, political and cultural marginalization of the region in Sudan ‘s highly centralized society. Concordis International is increasingly active in helping Darfurians to resolve some of these issues.

A significant consultation

Working with the Sudanese since 1999 as part of the Relationships Foundation, we have built up a wide range of contacts. We are trusted on all sides as a non-partisan organization without a political agenda, although our work is always underpinned by values such as justice, truth and respect. In mid-September, Concordis brought an inclusive and representative group of Darfurians from Sudan and elsewhere to Cambridge for a three-day consultation on ‘Land use and tenure – a key to sustainable peace in Darfur ‘. This was a low-profile event, out of the public and media eye, where individuals – linked to the Darfur rebel movements, the Government of Sudan and Darfur civil society – met in their personal capacities. They were therefore able to speak their minds freely, without fear of being quoted out of context or persecuted for their opinions. Sudanese and international experts provided the technical expertise to support the dialogue.

The consultation was greatly blessed and we were most grateful, not only for the financial support of many individuals, churches and trusts, but also for those who prayed for the meeting. The atmosphere among the wide range of Darfurians and other Sudanese, often representing diametrically opposed viewpoints, was both cordial and constructive. Although a final document is not always possible or appropriate, in this case one was agreed upon and extracts are shown below. Its significance lies as much in the range of Sudanese who agreed it as in the detailed content.

Sudan and beyond

News reports of the Darfur conflict are now less frequent; international interest seems already to have moved on, as is often the case. However, we at Concordis try to look beyond the current crisis and take a long-term view of the issues, building relationships of trust across conflict boundaries. Although it is impossible to predict the effect of this consultation and of the process as a whole, nevertheless we feel very clearly that we are on the right track and we trust God, who has called us to be peacemakers, for the outcomes. Certainly, our Sudanese participants are very keen for us to continue facilitating dialogue from our trusted position of impartiality.

Earlier, we held two inclusive consultations in August on building long-term peace on the basis of the Naivasha Protocols, which were agreed between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement in May, but did not involve the many other regional, ethnic and religious groups in the Sudan. One meeting took place in the UK and focused on some of the constitutional questions. The other, in the University of Khartoum, was more concerned with social and economic matters. It was striking that the area that sparked most interest and concern from the broad range of Sudanese present revolved around the words justice, impunity, amnesty, apology, forgiveness, restitution and reconciliation. Why striking? Because we have been trying for some time to persuade funders to support our plans for building consensus on Sudanese solutions to the problems of post-conflict justice and reconciliation.

This latest consultation illustrates well the type of work we undertake and the principles that lie behind it, derived from fundamentally biblical values. Elsewhere, Concordis is continuing to seek funding for planned work with an inclusive group of influential individuals in Afghanistan, starting with a consultation on legitimate alternatives to the opium poppy. We are also facilitating dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians in a low-key, small-scale way in the UK, and following up proposals that we should bring our experience to bear on issues related to Zimbabwe.

Funding for the future

Concordis International became independent of the Relationships Foundation on 1 September 2004 and was granted Charity Commission registration on the same day. We maintain close links with the Relationships Foundation and the other ‘spin-off’ charities from the Jubilee Centre’s 20-year history of applying biblical concepts to the world around us. We do this through an informal co-operative association called the Jubilee House Forum.

It is both an exciting and a daunting time for us, as we see major needs and opportunities for our peace-building work ahead of us, and as we try to put sufficient funds in place to be a viable organization in the medium term.

There are many conflicts where our approach to peace-building is welcome. Although the national appeal for direct aid to suffering victims of the Darfur situation has understandably been successful, a public appeal is not really an option for us, as we take a very low-profile approach and observe confidentiality. Therefore we are reliant on funding from individual supporters to enable us to carry out the necessary background research and build up programmes to the point where governments might agree to support them. If you feel able to give towards this work, we would very much welcome your help. But we value your prayers too!

Peter Dixon is Chief Executive of Concordis International. If you would like to discuss funding needs, establish a standing order or make a one-off donation do please contact Concordis: (t) 01223 341282 (e) (street address is same as the Jubilee Centre).

Concordis International’s vision is to work alongside those affected by armed conflict in the world, building consensus on the issues that divide and thus enabling them to create lasting peace and hope for their shared future.

Conclusions of the Concordis Darfur land consultation (Extracts)

The current humanitarian crisis in Darfur must be resolved and conditions of security restored before meaningful progress can be made on a political settlement and on land issues. We recognise the long history of cordial relationships within and between ethnic groups living in Darfur over centuries, and we regret the gradual breakdown of relationships of mutual support and trust in recent years.

The question of land tenure and use has been a significant factor in the development of the current conflict. Land use is a long-term issue which needs solutions after a political settlement of the current conflict in Darfur is reached.

Proposals: immediate measures

  • Put in place security conditions and essential services so that affected people are able to return with confidence to land from which they have been displaced, and be reunited with their families (resettlement is key and there should be an appeal to the international community to help with rehabilitation, repatriation and reunion).
  • Rehabilitate and repair water sources (including wells and boreholes).
  • Assist in rebuilding and, where appropriate compensating for, loss of and damage to property.
  • Address the issue of appropriate mechanisms for tracing missing persons and for compensation for loss of life.

Proposals: short-term measures

  • Encourage the Government of Sudan to make a firm commitment that land from which people were forcibly expelled should be returned to the displaced former occupants.
  • Encourage the Government of Sudan to make a firm commitment that traditional forms of land tenure in Darfur (tribal dars) will be respected.
  • Examine ways of protecting those who have been displaced, from exploitation by those who offer to buy their land.
  • Seek ways of improving the balance of animal populations, e.g. through development of markets and through encouraging the possession of animals as an economic commodity rather than as a sign of social status.
  • Long-term technical improvement of land use.
  • Improve water supply and retention through increasing the number of wells and water boreholes, and irrigation (especially small and micro schemes, water harvesting, drought-tolerant crop and tree varieties).
  • Examine ways and means of improving the situation of pastoralists whose traditional homelands have become less productive.
  • Take appropriate measures, where necessary in co-operation with neighbouring countries, to reduce the net immigration of pastoralists to the Sudan.
  • Implement a full programme of civil registration.

Other issues

We recognised that the land issue is only one part of the complex range of issues that has led to the current conflict. The following areas also need to be urgently addressed:

  • Investment in infrastructure, such as communication and transport facilities,   to redress the chronic under-development of Darfur.
  • Further devolution and delegation of power to regional government in Darfur.
  • Improvement of education and health services.
  • Good governance, accountability and transparency.
  • Encouragement of increased activity in the private sector and civil society.
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Category: News and Reviews

September, 2004

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