Children's drawing. Waging Peace UK, Wiener Holocaust Library Collections
Children’s drawing. Waging Peace UK.
Wiener Holocaust Library Collections

A guest blog post written by Waging Peace UK.

How do wars affect people’s daily lives? How do they affect children’s memories and perceptions of life, and how do those affected reflect those memories and events?

The war in Darfur, which began in 2003, has claimed more than 300,000 lives. Sexual violence was widespread, and the scorched-earth policy adopted meant that many villages were destroyed and burned. As a result, 2.5 million Darfuris have fled their homes in search of safety and security internally or in neighboring countries.

This drawing is a sample of 500 drawings drawn by the children of Darfur and obtained by Waging Peace and archived in The Wiener Holocaust Library. 

In 2007, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity; in 2010, she added criminal responsibility for genocide as a result of atrocities in Darfur. Ahmad Harun, Ali Kushayb and Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein are wanted by the ICC.

Chad has hosted more than 230,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled the conflict in Darfur, living in 12 refugee camps run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2007, researcher Anna Schmidt visited Sudanese camps in eastern Chad for three weeks, as part of a fact-finding mission, to assess the humanitarian situation, human rights and security in the region, and to collect testimony from Chadian refugees and displaced persons from Darfur.

It was part of Anna’s interviews with mothers who told her about their children’s experiences during the conflict, which motivated her to talk to the children, and then, in order to think about their memories, gave them papers and pencils to express.

Their drawings reflected the horrors of the conflict in Darfur, as well as they reflect the shock of these children. As part of an interview with Ananmosa, he published Deflagrations: Children’s drawings and adult wars, a book containing 150 drawings of children in different conflict areas dating from World War I to current conflicts in Syria and other countries, including the Anna Collection of Darfur, he said:

I remember a very young girl, maybe six years old. She had painted a woman lying on the ground with a red face. She told me that this woman is dead. I asked her why the face was red, and she looked at me as if I were stupid. “Because they shot her in the head,” she said. She was six years old and she said so naturally and quietly. I don’t know what kind of trauma it passed.

Children have gone through many painful experiences that were difficult to capture orally, but were more easily expressed through art. Their drawings also bear the power of martyrdom. In 2007, the ICC accepted the drawings of Darfur’s children as a contextual evidence of crimes committed in that region. These drawings have been exhibited in many places around the world.

Anna Schmidt also collected testimonies and a petition bearing 60,000 signatures from Sudanese in the camps who were calling for international intervention by the United Nations to protect the people of Darfur. The petition provides valuable documents on crimes in Darfur, and people explain why they want international intervention, explain their grievances and sense of injustice.

In December 2018, Waging Peace co-directors visited the area and met Sudanese from the Nuba Mountains who fled across the border to South Sudan during the regime’s former terror campaign against the Nuba people. Similar scenes of horror are depicted in the Nuba children’s drawings obtained by Waging Peace 11 years after their collection from Darfur. What does this explain? The Darfurians were not alone in suffering the atrocities committed against them by their government. As well as it was Nubia. Children’s drawings collected from children from the Nuba Mountains provide a further step forward in documenting the dark, disturbing and largely unreported part of Sudan’s history. Since December 2018, Nuba children ‘s paintings along with those of Darfur children have been exhibited in numerous exhibitions and galleries related to events related to Sudan.

In August 2019, The Wiener Holocaust Library, the UK’s leading Holocaust archive, agreed to store a 60,000-person petition in partnership with Waging Peace. We are now in a long process of translating and arranging these documents for future generations. On January 23, 2020, Waging Peace and The Wiener Holocaust Library plan a joint event where researcher Anna Schmidt reviews her experience in collecting petition signatures and drawings of Darfur’s children.

These unique testimonies of Darfurians point to abuses and brutality of Bashir’s forces. Their drawings embody the fears and dreams of these children, who should not be forgotten, and whose dreams should not be ignored. Documenting the testimonies of Darfur is an urgent task to build a collective memory that recognizes the war in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, which reminds all its victims, and paves the way for a real process of transitional justice.

While Sudan is witnessing a slow but hopeful democratic transition after the December revolution that toppled the Islamic regime and formed a transitional government, the issue of transitional justice remains at the heart of this process. The first step requires concrete documentation of abuses and atrocities committed by militias associated with the former regime and other government forces. We hope these drawings and testimonies will form part of the journey of recovery and transformation in national consciousness.

Our archivist is currently accessioning the collection which will be available to researchers at some point in the future.

This blog is also available in Arabic here.

Suggested further reading:

The Wiener Holocaust Library holds a number of works regarding Darfur and The Sudan Peace Act. Some of this material is listed below:

For more related sources, try a search for any of the following keywords in our Collections Catalogue: Darfur; Sudan; Genocide; Crimes against humanity; Conflict management.