On the ground in Darfur

As the production of In Darfur enters its final week, on Sunday, March 13, Timeline Theatre patrons had the opportunity to gain a dynamic insight into the realities and complexities of the Sudanese conflict via a forum with Human Rights Watch researcher Jehanne Henry. It was an a engaging and informative hour-long discussion with In Darfur director Nick Bowling and dramaturg Maren Robinson.

A law graduate, Jehanne has spent much of her career advocating for international human rights, holding positions with the United Nations, USAID in Cambodia as well as American Refugee Committee in Kosovo. She now finds herself working as the Sudan senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, an international organization which seeks to promote worldwide social justice. Through investigating, documenting and advocating, they endeavor to combat “patterns of human rights abuse.”

Those who have had the opportunity to experience TimeLine’s production of In Darfur by Winter Miller have gained knowledge of just some of the horrific atrocities that are transpiring all over Sudan. Spending up to half the year in Sudan, Jehanne examines many cases which are comparable to the murderous violent events represented in Miller’s play. She explained the all-too-common occurrence of women being attacked and assaulted when fetching wood because male village members are unable to leave the village due to constant impending threat. This gender-based act of violence is just one of the issues amid an intricate web of complexities that Jehanne is striving to repair. Interacting with local diplomats and policy makers, she continually provides recommendations that endeavor to improve such states of affairs.

Having worked both on the ground level as well as a policy level, it was very interesting to hear Jehanne’s experiences of working in these two contrasting environments. She articulated that though engaging with the civilian population of Sudan endowed her with an intimate understanding of the personal issues people were facing, it was only when she worked at a policy level that she could grasp the “bigger picture” of the turmoil. A “distance” from the ground gave her an ability to further comprehend the extent of the daily problems confronting the Sudanese people, and in the process assess the best approach to the circumstances.

“In Darfur” director Nick Bowling (from left) with Jehanne Henry and Human Rights Watch’s Chicago Director Jobi Cates.

During the talk, Jehanne also helped audience members better understand one of the key issues to emerge in the play  In Darfur — the question of genocide. She carefully educated us about the many legal mechanisms involved in using that particular term when assessing atrocities perpetrated in the world. Organizations such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC) have launched inquires into the bloodshed, but she explained that it often can be difficult to prove such human rights abuses. Despite those difficulties, the countless murders in Sudan have been declared a genocide by the ICC. Yet the subsequent obligation for nations to assist has not yielded enough action to restore order and achieve justice.

This process of repairing instability is often a challenging and somewhat backwards one. In one example, a cease-fire peace agreement between warring parties in Sudan was quashed when the sole rebel party to sign the agreement quickly denounced its involvement in the treaty. In another, rebel forces that initially formed to oppose the government have over time turned their guns on each other. It is evident that such conflicts and obstacles have continuously hindered the possibility of a true unification of Sudan and its people.

Listening to Jehanne truly re-iterated and shed new light for me on the enormity of this crisis. It is an issue that still needs much attention and support so the process to create stability and peace in Sudan can continue to move forward. TimeLine is honored that Jehanne could join us to answer questions and educate us about the subject of the Sudan crisis and the many problems that surround it. The work Jehanne and Human Rights Watch do is truly commendable and vital to ensure basic human rights are upheld worldwide.

You can listen to this brief audio excerpt to hear Jehanne talk about what it’s like to do her research in the various parts of Sudan, including Darfur:

For more information about this and other conflicts worldwide and to get involved please follow the links below to our four In Darfur partner organizations:

Hiroki Kobayashi is TimeLine’s newest marketing/communications intern. A citizen of Australia, he is in the United States to develop a global perspective on the arts.

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