Report From Darfur
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH RESEARCHER DESCRIBES HER EXPERIENCE IN THE CRISIS ZONE
By PAUL WACHTER
April 23, 2008 (NEW YORK) - There was only one time during her stint in Darfur that she felt unsafe, said Jehanne Henry, a Human Rights Watch Africa Division researcher, recently returned from West Sudan, where she worked as a U.N. human rights officer. “I had missed a curfew, and it was getting dark and I drove by a checkpoint without seeing it,” she said. “I saw the men with guns and thought for a moment that they were going to shoot at me.” Fortunately, the guards held their fire.
Henry was speaking with students at an informal question-and-answer session organized by Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute. With few exceptions, the fighting in Darfur is not as intense as it was during the peak of the conflict in 2004 and 2005, she said. Still, the conflict between the Sudanese government, rebel groups and tribal factions continues, and there remains a need for human rights work.
“If you’re on the ground working with Darfurians, you get a real sense of accomplishment, even if it’s on a small, personal scale,” Henry said. She worked closely with judges and prosecutors on many issues, including seeking justice for sexual assault victims.
“Now that I’m in New York, I’m working on a larger scale, and the hope is to bring global players to bring about change in Darfur,” Henry said. She added that she wasn’t optimistic about the chances of the “international community” bringing an end to the fighting, given its previous inability to do so.
Henry told students that international human rights agencies are eager to hire people with law backgrounds. “I can’t say I’ve ever had to define what a tort is or draw up a contract in my humanitarian work,” she said. “But I have to be able to parse the difference between human rights law and humanitarian law, and these are distinctions that lawyers can make.”