Only a few years have passed, and it seems to be forgotten.Nevertheless, the mass murder in Darfur shook the world to it’s core.
This week’s feature reports and reminds us the effects this event has created.
by Hani Kaddah
The worst humanitarian crisis of our century captured the attention of the international community in previous years. Media covered the Sudanese conflict day in and day out, and it was the first genocide in history to be denounced as such by Washington as it was occuring. In recent years, Darfur has had little or misleading coverage by mainstream media. The conflict, raging on in it’s seventh year, is still very much a reality that most individuals have forgotten.
“I am unaware of the genocide,” fourth semester Pure & Applied student Viet Nguyen said.
Victims have been stripped of from their homes, relatives and their dignity. The roots of this violence are complex as they are the result of several conflicts. Sudan is composed of two groups: African-Christians of the south and the African-Muslims of the north.
The country was victim of civil war for 11 years after gaining its independence from the British Empire in 1956. In 1983, a second civil war broke out between the Northerners and the Southerners when the government of the north instituted Islamic law in all of Sudan.
This resulted in more than four million Southerners being displaced into neighboring countries or larger cities in Sudan. The displaced people were unable to earn money. As a result, malnutrition and starvation became widespread in southern Sudan. In the event of that humanitarian crisis, both parties entered negotiations to stabilize the country.
In 2005, a peace treaty was signed in Nairobi, which allowed the south to have autonomy for six years following a referendum on secession. The treaty also divided the oil revenues equally between the north and south.
Darfur is the western part of the country stretching both to the north and south of Sudan. Darfur is home to six million people and several dozen tribes. However, the region is split between two main groups: those who claim black-African descent and primarily practice sedentary agriculture, and those who claim Arab descent and are mostly semi-nomadic livestock herders.
As in many ethnic conflicts, the divisions between the groups are not always orderly. All Sudanese are technically African, and Darfurians are uniformly Muslim. Years of intermarriage have narrowed obvious physical differences between the Arabs and the black-Africans. Nevertheless, the differences are still present. In 2003, Darfurian rebels such as the Sudan Liberation Movement Army (SLMA) and the Justice Equality Movement (JEM) began accusing the central government of neglecting the Darfur Region. Indeed, Darfur was never represented in the peace discussion between the north and south. Thus, the region does not receive any financial aid from Khartoum, Sudan’s capital and Islamist government. The rebels were able to successfully attack a Sudanese airfield. Khartoum responded by arming irregular militia forces mandating them to eradicate the rebellion.
The militia was named Janjaweed; an Arabic word meaning ‘devil on horseback’ chosen to inspire fear. The Janjaweed set out to crush the rebellion. What followed was a campaign of violence that primarily targeted black-African civilians, particularly those who came from the same tribes as the rebel groups.
The Janjaweed burned African villages and killed thousands of Darfurians. Africans in turn joined the JEM and SLMA rebel groups. Scott Straus, an International Relation Professor at the University of Wisconsin indicates that US intelligence confirms 574 settlements being bombed by the Sudanese aircrafts followed by Janjaweed raiding the remnants. The Janjaweed will single out women, children and the elderly while the men are spared. Rape is the primary threat for women. Looting and destroying property is common once the Janjaweed have gunned down the civilians in a settlement. Violence is noticeably widespread in this conflict. Still, Khartoum denies direct involvement in the attacks against civilians and continues to downplay the violation of human rights. The U.N. estimates 300 000 deaths caused by starvation and murder.
Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, has often claimed that these numbers are exaggerated and that they don’t exceed 10 000 deaths. Strict Sudanese policies have made it difficult for international communities to discover how many victims have perished.
During the Rwandan genocide, spokespersons from Washington were instructed not to utter the word “genocide.” As a result, the world watched as the extermination campaign took three million lives. Under the Genocide Convention, international communities are required to undertake action to prevent and to punish genocide. Scott Strauss wrote in his report titled Darfur and the Genocide Debate in 2007 that “much of the debate has focused not on how to stop the [Darfur] crisis, but on whether or not it should be called a genocide under the terms of the Genocide Convention.”
This question overshadows the difficult, but more important issue of how to craft an effective response to mass violence. The US House of Representatives passed a resolution labeling the violence in Sudan ‘genocidal’ in 2004. The resolution called on the Bush administration to seriously consider intervention to prevent the genocide.
Never before had Congress or US officials publicly and conclusively labeled an ongoing crisis genocide invoking the Genocide Convention and urging the Security Council to take action. However, other world leaders and opinion makers have continued to show reticence about calling the events in Darfur genocide.
“It is a shame that such events are still going, and that U.N. is still unable to take effective action,” second semester social science student Marie Dory said. The international community has once more been slow and ineffective in responding to large-scale, state supported killings. Thus, the Genocide
Convention isn’t effective in intervening in violence.
“The most important thing to do is to educate people on how complex the situation really is.” Founder and Co-Director of the Montreal Institution for Genocide and Human Right Studies (MIGS) Dr. Frank Chalk said. “ One of the major problems in the conflict is that the region is being administered by foreigners,” emphasizes Dr. Chalk.
Educated Darfurians are not being hired; instead they are being recruited into the army, which leaves the educated Darfurians no way to get a job they are qualified for. “Administrators from other regions are parachuted in, who don’t know the local conditions, and thus unable to make important decisions regarding the welfare of the people” explains Dr. Chalk.
An important problem that needs to be resolved is Khartoum’s need to respect the Council of Elder for important issues such as the settlement of land, water and cattle’s disputes. Instead, these councils are often ignored and the results devastating for the civilian population. “Another prominent problem in the region is the fact that Darfurian rebel leaders are sometimes less concerned with the welfare of their people than their own advancement,” suggests Dr. Chalk. Essentially, one must find a group of young Darfurians who can be brought into a conflict resolution workshop to educate them on long-term resolutions. Among the suggested steps towards a peace settlement in the region.
“We [The International Community] must include negotiating with the Chinese to support a meaningful peace agreement,” said Chalk. “China, who exports large amounts of oil from Sudan, can exercise pressure on Khartoum to stop the violence, however China has allowed the security council to pass resolution, creating a U.N. military support in Sudan, but writing clauses that give soldier little power to take effective action.
Two weeks ago mainstream media