Darfur The Cost of Silence

I awoke before dawn in southern Sudan to what I thought was the sound of a rooster crowing. As I slowly came to, I realized the high-pitched echo breaking through the stillness and the distinctive Sudanese night sounds of crickets was no rooster. I had heard this sound only twice before, but now I was sure. For there is no other sound like that of Sudanese women crying for their dead.

I had met the recently departed woman the day before at the Samaritan’s Purse Hospital in Lui, Sudan. Like many treated in hospitals in south Sudan (typically staffed by aid and mission organizations), she was a casualty of war. She was dying as a result of complications from a bombing some years earlier—shrapnel still embedded in her chest. She occupied one of the 60 or so beds in the wards of the Lui hospital. There are fewer than 1,500 medical beds serving the population of nearly 8 million in southern Sudan. Her bed would not long remain empty. There is no shortage here of victims of war and its side effects.

In the wake of nearly twenty-three years of brutal civil war, the population of southern Sudan lies shattered and strewn across the Central and East African landscape. More than 2.5 million people have been killed, and another 5 million have been internally and externally displaced by the conflict.

Since January 2003 a new exodus has flooded the western border region of Darfur in Sudan with displaced persons fleeing the same regime responsible for the southern tragedy. Despite the fact that the United States has formally labeled this diaspora “genocide,” the killing continues unchecked, threatening to shed blood on every grain of sand.

The government of Sudan continues to conduct a vast military campaign against civilians of the African tribal groups of the Darfur region. Khartoum is using many of the same tactics and much of the same hardware (Antinov bombers, tanks, helicopter gunships) seen over the years in the fighting in the South. It has also retained the assistance of the Janjawid, Arab militia groups that usually travel and fight on horseback, terrorizing, looting, and burning villages.

The justification offered by the government is that these destructive means are necessary in order to put down the region’s two major rebel movements, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. Khartoum’s forces are, however, reportedly arbitrarily attacking all of Darfur’s civilians, not just the rebels.

Over the years the government has masterfully restricted humanitarian and international observer access within Sudan. Its modus operandi remains the same in Darfur. Using the carrot of a peace agreement with the South to hold the international community at bay, it has reallocated its war machine to Darfur. The thinking seems to be that as long as a peace deal is on the table, those within the international community with the power to say or do something about the genocide in Darfur will remain silent.

Despite a partial peace agreement brokered in May 2006, the violence in Darfur continues to escalate. Government-backed militias still attack civilian populations with impunity. In August 2006, the United Nation’s top humanitarian official, Jan Egeland, stated that the situation in Darfur is “going from real bad to catastrophic” (www.savedarfur.org).

According to the Save Darfur Coalition, since January 2003 “more than 2 million innocent civilians have been forced to flee their homes and now live in displaced-persons camps in Sudan or in refugee camps in neighboring Chad; and more than 3.5 million men, women, and children are completely reliant on international aid for survival. Not since the Rwandan genocide of 1994 has the world seen such a calculated campaign of displacement, starvation, rape, and mass slaughter.”

No one knows how many have been killed, but recent estimates suggest at least 400,000 have died as a result of the ongoing genocide. These figures are shameful reminders of our own obligations and responsibilities as members of the most affluent and influential societies on the earth.

A genocide is unfolding before the eyes of an impotent, dithering world. The cost of doing nothing is one humanity can never afford.  n

Darfur Synopsis

When did it begin? Most international observers cite January or February 2003.

Who’s involved? The military of the Sudanese government along with the Janjawid, an Arab Bedouin militia group supported by the government, are fighting the region’s two major rebel movements: the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. Khartoum’s forces are, however, reportedly attacking all of Darfur’s civilians, who are mostly farmers.  

Why are they fighting? While Sudan’s long-running civil war pitted Muslims in the north against Christians and animists in the south, this conflict is primarily over land rights and power struggles in the western Darfur region. In both cases the persecuted have been the indigenous black Africans making up the majority of the population in Sudan—the architects and perpetuators of the conflicts have been the government made up of the ethnic minority Arab population. The Arab-led government wields its killing machine to maintain a hold on power and the resources which come with that power.

How many people have been affected? Recent conservative estimates put the death toll at 400,000. More than 2 million civilians have been forced to flee their homes. And 3.5 million men, women, and children now depend completely on foreign aid for survival.

CRWRC in Sudan

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (www.crwrc.org) has been working in Darfur since 2004. Its program targets 90,000 refugees living in camps in the El Geneina area of West Darfur, providing them with food, vegetable seed, livestock, latrines, wells, fuel-efficient stoves, tree seedlings, and health-related services. The work is done in cooperation with World Relief, World Concern, Food for the Hungry International, MAP International, and Northwest Medical Teams International.

In October, 28 vehicles (two purchased by CRWRC) were successfully delivered to aid workers in the region. The trucks replace vehicles stolen from aid organizations by rebel groups.

www.crcna.org/pages/justice_front.cfmwww.crwrc.org/justice/index.html

Speak Up

  • Here are some ways you can help stop the killing in Darfur:
  • Educate Yourself and Others
  • Learn more about this crisis from the following websites:
  • www.savedarfur.org (Save Darfur Coalition)
  • www.icg.org (International Crisis Group)
  • www.genocideintervention.net (Genocide Intervention Network)
  • www.msf.org (Medecins Sans Frontieres – Doctors Without Borders)
  • See information under Sudan and Chad.
  • www.standnow.org (STAND: Students Taking Action Now: Darfur)

Raise Awareness

Raise awareness by hosting Ryan Spencer Reed’s photo exhibit on Sudan in your community (contact groupm35.com).

Contact

Contact your local or national government representatives with inquiries about their Sudan policy. (You can find out how well U.S. congressional representatives rate on the crisis at http://DarfurScores.org.) Tell them you want to remind them that you know what is happening in Sudan today and want to know what their office is doing about it. Demand coverage of the crisis in your local and national news media.

Support

Support the organizations listed above and others, such as the Christian World Relief Committee (see box), that are working to either ease the crisis or come to the aid of refugees.

Ryan Spencer Reed is a documentary photographer from Ludington, Mich. After graduating from Calvin College in 2002, he traveled through Sudan, Kenya, and Chad, documenting the civil unrest in those countries. He co-founded Group M35, a New York-based photographic agency representing documentary photographers from around the world. The pictures on these pages are part of Reed’s exhibit on Sudan, now available for hosting through Group M35 at www.groupm35.com/reed.

for discussion
  1. Look deeply at the photos. Discuss their impact on you.
  2. Are these photos and this story appropriate for the Christmas issue of The Banner? Why or why not?
  3. Discuss the complexity of the situation in Darfur and your Christian response. What are your frustrations? Where is your hope?
  4. What can the global community do when one part of the world is being persecuted?
  5. What is the most important realization you take away from this discussion?
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