Several things this week have me thinking about Darfur.
One – reports from the ground reveal that the Government of Sudan has begun bombing in Darfur again. Though some Sudan experts suggest that the Darfur crisis is over, I fear that this has been only a lull in the storm and that as the rainy season ends, we will again see violence spike during the months of November – January as we have always seen.
Two – the UN General Assembly as been in session. As the US takes over chairing the UN Security Council, I find myself delighted that Obama mentioned Darfur in his speech this week, and dismayed that we seem no closer to a level of effective intervention to achieve peace in Darfur and prevent the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement from falling apart. At the same time, the outgoing commander of UNAMID is claiming the crisis is over and our own Envoy to Sudan questions whether it was even a genocide.
Three – my friend Rabbi Lee Bycel just returned from a trip to eastern Chad and a visit to Adam Musa. Adam is a passionate advocate for his people and a tireless educator on human rights. Adam is also a Darfuri refugee who has been living in a refugee camp with his family for 6 years now. Four years ago when I met him, I promised him I would help him achieve his vision of creating a human rights library in his camp, home to around 15,000 Darfuris. Various complications from regional violence to the requirements of the UN have prevented us from doing so. But I am hopeful Rabbi Bycel will help us find a new partner on the ground in Chad who can facilitate making this possible.
Four – A friend shared a post on Sudanwatch.blogspot.com by Sudan expert Alex de Waal, which critiques the Darfur movement, proposes that the crisis is over and that Darfur is a “sideshow” to the issues surrounding the CPA in South Sudan. First of all, I highly respect Alex de Waal. I do agree that it is a very strong possibility that Sudan will go to war over the South’s vote for indpendence next year, and that experts should be watching the deteriorating situation there very closely. But I have to strongly disagree with his calling Darfur a “sideshow”. Though the intensity of the attacks that my brother witnessed in 2004-2005 has diminshed, Darfur is by far over. In fact, reports that we have been getting from Darfuris on the ground report that bombing has begun again in Darfur by the GOS a week ago and continues. Not all of the aid groups who were expelled have been allowed back in – the GOS has used this tactic before, allowing refugees to starve or die from disease in camps as a silent continuation of genocide.
There is obviously a significant amount of political negotiations, peace-building, security, and reconstruction that will be necessary. But the underlying forces that resulted in the conflict have not disappeared. Though reports show small numbers of individuals killed each month, and I know the violence is significantly lower than it had been, we should also keep in mind that the violence is still likely underreported. When my brother served in Darfur (Aug 2004 – Jan 2005) only 3-4 of the 80 or so reports they issued in 6 months made it through channels to higher authorities, and even the reports they did issue were diluted by the GOS members of the monitoring team. What will be terrible, is if the international community allows their attention to move elsewhere without ensuring a solid peace agreement, security for the millions of refugees that have been displaced (3.5 million?), and justice for the perpetrators.
I do agree with some of de Waal’s complaints about the Darfur advocacy movement and its creation of an engine that increasingly has to focus on sustaining its own need for money and publicity. And to enhance its credibility and authenticity, it needs to demonstrate its connection with the people of Darfur more than its connection with celebrities. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “philanthropic imperialism”, as the underlying intentions of the leaders of the movement are good, and aim to support the people of Darfur and obtain a sustainable solution to the entire regional conflict. I think the Darfur advocacy movement needs a way to transition to a Sudan advocacy movement or a broader genocide / atrocity movement. Those that have done so – Enough, Genocide Intervention Network, have a broader vision and understanding of the complexities of the political situation there.
But at the end of the day, I do not believe that Sudan alone can ensure a peaceful end to either of its conflicts, and I remain concerned with the ability of the UN to protect human rights before the national security and economic interests of its members. I’m neither a leading Darfur activist nor an international policy expert, but I think that the whole of Sudan could benefit from a proactive, strategic and well-structured international coalition to operate in both Darfur and the South like the Friends of the Nuba Mountains and the role it played in reaching the CPA and monitoring the ceasfire. Most of all for me, so long as my friends like Adam Musa are still living in refugee camps going on their 6th year and whose health and spirits are suffering each day, then our responsibility as global citizens to do what we can to seek a peaceful resolution remains.