Apr 062004
Authors: Meg Burd

Called “arguably the most serious humanitarian crisis on the

African continent,” by Roger Winter of the U.S. Agency for

International Development, a growing crisis in Sudan is quickly

becoming “the most vicious ethnic cleansing you’ve never heard of,”

as Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times states. With the

horrible memory of the Rwandan genocide haunting the world yet

again as the 10th anniversary of the 100 day long killing spree (in

which 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu women, men and children were

slaughtered) is marked almost to the day, the troubling situation

occurring presently in Sudan should have particular resonance with

the international community.

Sudan has long been torn by civil war in the southern part of

the country between the central government (made up mostly of Arabs

and Muslims) facing off the animist and Black Christian of that

area, a crisis that many are hopeful may soon be slowing, thanks to

diplomatic action by the United States and others. This new crisis,

taking place in the Darfur province in western Sudan, however, is

going beyond civil war (as horrible as that is) and stepping into

the realm of genocide.

“The current conflict began 14 months ago when two new rebel

groups emerged,” said the humanitarian organization Human Rights

Watch in a recent report. “The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army

(SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) demanded that

the Sudanese government stop arming the Arab groups in Darfur and

address longstanding grievances over underdevelopment in the

region.” The response by the government to these rebel complaints,

as the Human Rights Watch report “Darfur in Flames” said, was to

recruit and arm over 20,000 ethnically Arab militia members called

“Janjaweed” or “men on horseback” to carry out an “organized

campaign of ethnic cleansing, with villages looted and burnt down

and food and seed supplies destroyed in a ‘scorched earth’ policy,”

the BBC reported.

Human Rights Watch states that the Janjaweed and the government

that trained and backs the groups (although this is denied by the

Sudanese government officially) are attempting to exterminate the

Black population of Darfur. “It’s a campaign of murder, rape and

pillage by Sudan’s Arab ruler,” says Kristof in his New York Times


United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said in

the same BBC report that his colleagues have witnessed “people

being killed, gang-raped, abused.” With a reported 800,000 forced

out of their homes already and the UN reporting 110,000 refugees in

the nearby nation of Chad, the crisis is only likely to worsen.

First, the “scorched earth” attacks have destroyed food and

livestock populations of the mainly agricultural Darfur residents,

triggering an epidemic of malnutrition and impending famine that is

slowly killing the population already driven from their homes.

Likewise, the situations in the refugee camps are causing further

suffering for the Sudanese people, due to their limited supply of

water and lack of pasturage for livestock. The incidents wherein

“the conflict has spilled into Chad… with cross-border raids that

have killed Chadian civilians,” as the UN reports, have only

worsened conditions for these already homeless, starving


With the hideous campaign of violence, rape, kidnap, terror,

murder, starvation and displacement taking place in the country,

the international community must act to stop the Sudanese

government from supporting (or at very least failing to stop) these


At the time of the Rwanda genocide, “the West – specifically

Britain and the United States – conspired to ignore the clear

evidence of genocide and refused to help,” says Mark Doyle of the

BBC, and with signs of the situation in Darfur already at levels of

unbelievable tragedy, this mistake must not be repeated.

With a UN call for global action and aid for the starving

refugees, it is time for the UN to call the Sudanese government

before the UN Security Council for a multilateral demand to end

this genocide, as well as “time for Mr. Bush to speak out

forcefully against the slaughter,” as Kristof suggested.

No longer should this be allowed to be an ignored, silently

watched campaign of genocide; voices must be lifted and action must

be taken to keep this situation from becoming one of the

international communities great regrets, as the memory of Rwanda

reminds us.

Meg is a graduate student studying anthropology. Her column runs

every Thursday.

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