U of C students camped out on the MacEwan Student Centre lawn in April 2005 to protest ongoing conflict in Darfur.
Gauntlet file photo

RCMP sergeant speaks out about Darfur

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University of Calgary students will get a chance to hear the stories of Darfur victims Wed., April 4.

Sergeant Debbie Bodkin, a police officer from Guelph, Ontario was one of 12 investigators who were part of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry into Darfur. Bodkin and her colleagues interviewed thousands affected by the crisis that has consumed Sudan and neighboring nations.

"The grassroots base of the war is that the Arab people who live there now are nomadic people who have livestock and cattle and move them to wherever the good land and the water is," said Bodkin. "Whereas the native African people are farmers who have to live where the good land and the water is. So you have the Arabs driving their livestock over the crops and land of the farmers. That's the base of the conflict."

Bodkin said the Sudanese government is heavily involved in the conflict.

"Those people out there don't have money," said Bodkin. "They don't have weapons on their own. Everything is coming from somewhere and Khartoum is where the government is; it's where the money is."

Bodkin lamented that interviewees' stories would always start off in the same way.

"Usually a government helicopter or plane would fly over and drop bombs," Bodkin said. "It would stop for a minute and then the government trucks with the guns would drive through and start shooting everyone. They would leave and finally the Janjaweed [militia supported by the Sudanese government] would ride in on horses and finish killing the men, steal the young boys--to make them look after livestock--hold some of the women hostage and rape them continuously until they were through. Then they would clear out the village, take all the livestock, belongings and everything and then burn the village. They were the final sweep."

Because most of the men were killed, the majority of those interviewed were women, said Bodkin.

"We tried to keep the privacy­--for the women especially who had been raped--because in their culture it's so taboo they call it being 'spoiled,'" said Bodkin. "Not only are you raped, you're spoiled. You're spoiled as far as your family's concerned, as far as ever having a husband and so on."

Bodkin told the story of a woman who sat in a courtyard in front of everyone, risking both her reputation and her life so she could be interviewed.

"She told the story of being gang-raped over the course of three days by about nine men along with a group of other women who were held captive," said Bodkin. "She cried throughout the interview but she was determined to tell every detail. She ended up being taken to a hospital and she said, 'They removed things from me,' so I assume she had a hysterectomy as a result of all the rapes. That [case] has always ate away at me because in the end I didn't do anything."

Bodkin said the members of the African Union she stayed with also voiced frustration about not being able to take action because of a lack of equipment and a mandate only to supervise.

"I'm a regular police officer," said Bodkin. "With my job here, when I interview someone and get the evidence that there's a crime going on we go out and arrest them. So for me to understand why we interviewed all theses hundreds of people and clearly have evidence of horrible things going on, why something can't be done. It's hard for me to understand."

Bodkin noted there is a problem with the vocabulary used to define the crisis. The definition of genocide is vague and can be interpreted in many different ways.

"In the end they deemed that the elements of a specific target group were missing as far as the definition of genocide," said Bodkin. "If the UN had deemed it a genocide it forces their hand more to take action. If it's 'crimes against humanity' it doesn't have this [sense of] emergency."

Shortly after she returned to Canada, Bodkin dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder. She said doing speeches helps her deal with living her day-to-day life while she knows so many are being slaughtered and raped.

"Because nothing is changing all I can think about is its still happening," said Bodkin. "All those thousands of stories that I heard, I could go there and hear them all over again and from different people because nothing's changed. I don't know what else to do anymore. That's what I find the most frustrating of all."

Bodkin is speaking about her experiences in ICT 121 Wed., April 4 at 4 p.m. Admission is free and the event is hosted by the Students Taking Action Now: Darfur club.