Monday, September 06, 2004

Sudan: The Invisible Atrocity

By Jim Elve
Crossposted to Officially Unofficial and the E-Group

Humanitarian crisis in SudanAddressing the Darfur Emergency Summit at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, noted author, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said:

Sudan has become today’s world capital of human pain, suffering and agony. There, one part of the population has been – and still is – subjected by another part, the dominating part, to humiliation, hunger and death. For a while, the so-called civilized world knew about it and preferred to look away. Now people know. And so they have no excuse for their passivity bordering on indifference.(Full text of Wiesel's speech)

Wiesel delivered those remarks on July 14, nearly two months ago. Since then, little has changed with the exception that more innocent civilians have been killed, raped and displaced from their villages.

The West, particularly North America, continues to play dumb. Although an estimated 20,000 civilians have been murdered and 1.2 million have been driven from their homes, the situation rarely comes up on US or Canadian network news. The Democratic and Republican conventions made big news, even though the candidates had already been chosen before the conventions began. Whether or not John Kerry deserved medals he was awarded more than 30 years ago was imminently newsworthy. And then there were those hurricanes...

One US newspaper, The Indianapolis Star, did devote some space to the crisis in it's op-ed section today. Incredibly, the editorial writer, Rishawn Biddle, suggested that the West should do nothing at all. Eventually, he says, the free market system will straighten out this whole African problem.

There is a tendency to look at tragedies such as Darfur and Africa's AIDS pandemic and demand that something be done. Sometimes, though, the best solution is to sit back. And do nothing.

Catastrophes are often more complicated than they appear. Thus quick solutions won't work.

As the Sudanese government and its Janjaweed allies have helped slaughter 30,000 innocents in Darfur, so have rebels such as the Sudan Liberation Army, who perceive their Gimr tribe rivals as government allies.

And while medicine and condoms would help the infected and retard the spread of AIDS in Africa in the short run, the long-term cure is free markets. Slowly and painstakenly, free markets foster middle-class society, which brings monogamy and the sexual empowerment of women. (That's the whole piece! j.e.)

Thankfully, the BBC and some other major news organizations have not allowed the world to completely ignore the Sudanese atrocities. BBC Television's Hardtalk program has interviewed Sudanese government figures on at least two occasions that I have seen. BBC reporters on the scene have talked to refugees, government officials, UN monitors and members of the tiny African Union force that is protecting the monitors.

The picture we get is one of abject fear on the part of the refugees who are unanimous in their assertion that their persecutors are backed and aided by the government. Government officials continue to hold with the line that conditions are nothing like what the refugees claim despite photographic evidence that supports the villagers' accusations. Again and again, we see Sudanese government spokesmen look straight into the camera and lie through their teeth.

On July 30, the UN set a deadline of 30 days for the Government of Sudan(GOS) to disarm and prosecute the Janjaweed, the Arab thugs and rapists who have been at the heart of the slaughter and terrorism, first in the Darfur villages and now in the refugee camps to which their helpless victims have fled. That deadline has come and gone and both the UN and the African Union(AU) have stated categorically that the GOS has failed to do as it had promised.

Just last Thursday, Gethin Chamberlain, writing in The Scotsman (probably the best mainstream source of information of the Darfur crisis), said:

Attacks against civilians continued throughout August despite a United Nations resolution calling on the government of Sudan to disarm the Janjaweed militia and bring its leaders to justice.

Last week the Washington office of Human Rights Watch told The Scotsman that it had evidence of a catalogue of incidents which had taken place after the UN resolution, including rapes, attacks on villages and the involvement of government troops.

Monitors from the African Union are investigating reports that Sudanese helicopter gunships bombed the village of Um Hashab last Thursday.(Full Scotsman story)

Apparently, Tony Blair was prepared to send up to 5,000 UK troops into the region. Recently, however, that commitment was withdrawn. Serious allegations are being made that the British have been supplying the Sudanese with arms and raw materials for chemical weapons manufacture. Perhaps, this is the type of free trade that the Indianapolis Star was thinking of.

Maybe, as some commenters on this site have suggested, Canada is unable to act militarily to ease the suffering in Sudan. Maybe not. As far as I know, the question has not even come up in the corridors of power in Ottawa. Those in a position to know what we can or cannot do have not been looking into the possibilities. Or, if they have, they've been very low key about it.

What can we do?

For one thing, as bloggers, we can help keep the issue on the radar screen. As citizens, we can write to the Prime Minister and to our MP's. As well-fed and secure Canadians, we can contribute money for humanitarian aid.

Songs for SudanMusic lovers can even buy a new downloadable CD . The benefit compilation includes18 songs by Ash, REM, Jet and David Gray, Badly Drawn Boy, Faithless and others. £5 (about $10Cdn) from the £7.99 price goes to Oxfam for Darfur relief.

Here are some links to blogs and news sites that are following the humanitarian disaster in Darfur.

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