While Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations, and several members of Congress were in government-controlled areas of Darfur a few weeks ago, I crossed into Darfur's rebel-held territory. This is the part of Sudan that the regime doesn't want anyone to see, for good reason.
I expected to see a depopulated wasteland rife with deteriorating evidence of the ethnic cleansing campaign pursued by the government of Sudan. The regime, in response to a rebellion begun by primarily non-Arab groups in early 2003, armed the Janjaweed militia, giving them impunity to attack.
Last month, in the town of Mershing, South Darfur, there was chaos and carnage. On a scorching day in February, four hundred Janjaweed militiamen attacked, firing indiscriminately on civilians, destroying homes, and looting livestock. Eight hours after the initial onslaught, the Janjaweed returned for a second round of mayhem, assaulting women and children and looting the town's main market.
Following a terror-filled night, the 55,000 residents of Mershing fled for their lives. Thirteen infants were trampled to death and 220 children separated from their families in the exodus. The day after, here in Washington, a senior State Department official told journalists that "there isn't large-scale organized violence taking place" in Darfur.
In this eerily depopulated area of war-ravaged Darfur, a woman named Ayesha explained to me why she and a handful of others refused to become refugees. "We fear another attack," she said, "but we brave the situation and come back to be near our village." Why, I ask. "Because this is where we belong."
Most Darfurians, however -- more than 2.5 million displaced within Sudan and in neighboring Chad -- cannot go back where they belong, because the government still supports the Janjaweed militias, who continue to rape and pillage across Darfur and eastern Chad.
While the Group of Eight (G-8) leaders meet this week to discuss challenges to peace, security and development in Africa, the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, continues unabated.
The international community's response so far to the tragedy of Darfur - where at least 200,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in western Sudan and more than 2 million others have been driven from their homes by government-backed Janjaweed militias - has been largely confined to a small African peacekeeping force with a limited mandate that will take months to deploy fully.
Despite repeated pledges to stop the violence, the Sudanese government has utterly failed to do so. Political negotiations have stalled and, despite the presence of African Union (AU) troops and the U.N. Security Council's demand for accountability and sanctions, Darfur's civilian population continues to be the target of indiscriminate killing, looting, mass rape and displacement.
Negotiating the end of a war is tricky enough. But in the case of Darfur, mediators were also faced with the implicit task of ending what the Bush administration calls genocide, and what nobody can deny have been gross crimes against humanity.
Such a tall order, coupled with an abrupt negotiating deadline, produced an agreement that leaves more questions than answers. And unless a United Nations force is deployed immediately to guarantee its implementation, it will also leave over two million homeless Darfurians vulnerable to further exploitation.
This post --- a bit of a sidebar to the multi-blog Rumble started here in the (virtual) halls of Change.org --- ended up being quite long, so I've divided it into three parts. Part I introduces the debate and covers the U.S. State Department's 2004 report on Darfur, Part II covers the 2005 UN report, the ICC indictment application against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and the issue of genocidal intent. Part II discusses possible implications of an indictment (or lack thereof) of Bashir on the genocide charge. The ICC is scheduled to announce its decision on the arrest warrants for Bashir on Wednesday.
Among the many points of criticism levied against the Save Darfur movement is the assertion that the conflict in Darfur is not, actually, a genocide. (This criticism is often thrown by many --- not all, but many --- in such a way as to seek to invalidate the movement as a whole.)
RELEASE: Not on Our Watch Catholic Companion and Discussion Guide
WASHINGTON, DC, FEBRUARY 27, 2009 – The Enough Project’s Darfur Christian Action campaign today launched a new study guide designed to introduce Roman Catholics to Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond by Enough Project Co-chair John Prendergast and actor/activist Don Cheadle.
The study guide was written to foster deeper engagement and action by the 67 million American Catholics, the nation’s largest religious community – which has a strong tradition of social justice and faith in action based on Catholic social teaching - to bring justice and peace to the people of Sudan. The 47-page Catholic study guide, a companion to the 2007 bestselling book, is available for free at www.DarfurChristianAction.org. Click here to download a pdf of the study guide.
“As a Catholic, the underlying notion that I am my brother's and sister's keeper is fundamental to the way I live my life,” said Mr. Prendergast, a longtime expert on Africa and a co-founder of the Enough Project to end genocide and crimes against humanity. “There may be no more compelling test for this than how we respond to the ultimate crime of genocide. We need to strengthen Catholic participation in building a sustained anti-genocide movement, beginning with ending the crisis in Darfur,” he added.
The study guide, which is entitled Not on Our Watch Catholic Companion and Discussion Guide, was written by Jane Deren and Sister Katherine Feely, SND, with Bill Griffin and Elizabeth Leipold. Cory Smith, Faith Outreach Advisor at the Enough Project, served as contributing editor. The guide was published by the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress and the Education for Justice campaign at the Center of Concern.
Not on Our Watch Catholic Companion and Discussion Guide is designed to help Catholics understand the issues of Darfur from a Catholic perspective. With quotations from Catholic scriptures and from Catholic social teaching documents, the readings and related questions will help Catholics reflect on what is happening, why it is happening, what has been done, and what still needs to be done to bring justice and peace to the people of Darfur. Each segment includes short prayers with which to begin and end each group or individual session of study and reflection.