Victims of silence in Sudan [Archives:2004/746/Opinion]

June 14 2004

By Jane Novak
For the Yemen Times

In this age of the opinionated populace, where's the nattering, the pontification, and the outbursts demanding international protections for Sudanese civilians? Where are the righteous protest marchers, the invective, and the sermons when real people urgently need real help? The intellectual/academic contingent has little bluster and fewer solutions regarding the world's worst humanitarian disaster. The media that broadcasts Abu Ghraib photos with such gusto seems to have little interest in actual atrocities without good footage. A half a million Sudanese civilians may die within short months and there is a notable lack of urgency among regional alliances. The world that averted its eyes from the machetes in Rwanda turns its back again as thousands of families are slaughtered in the Sudan. Is self-interest this shallow in the 21st century?
In the last year, the Sudanese government has systematically targeted its black population in Darfur, an Iraq sized area of six million. Ariel bombings, crop destruction, well poisoning and mass executions are thoroughly documented, as is rape, torture, and starvation. The Janjaweed, a government backed militia, roam the Darfur region on horseback pillaging like Genghis Khan. They massacre men, rape women, and torch villages and mosques with complicit governmental support. They call themselves mujahideen.
Over a million Darfurians have fled from their own government to the edge of the Sahara and into neighboring Chad. They need “acute assistance” according to the UN. The Sudanese government has used its administrative powers to block international monitors, aid, medical supplies, and the media. Kidnapped youngsters have become chattel in the thriving slave trade. Six hundred children were recently rescued by UNICEF. An estimated 40,000 children remain enslaved in government held territories.
Five percent of “displaced” children under five have died in the last three months. Most deaths are from treatable maladies like starvation, malaria and diarrhea, and 21% of these children are already suffering from acute malnutrition. Aid delivery, already a political challenge, will become a physical challenge with the onset of the monsoon in early June. Unsheltered and starving in the rain, hundreds of thousands will die, mostly women and children, the UN predicts.
As a reward for its assistance in antiterrorism efforts, the Sudan has recently been removed from the State Department's list of those states 'not fully cooperating' with the War on Terror. The heavy hand of US soft power has had a positive impact in the south of Sudan. The fragile peace agreement between the Arab government in the north and southern Christian and animist rebels occurred after strong US involvement in ending the twenty-one year civil war. Credit is due. In the western Darfur region, the Islamic government has been targeting primarily black Muslims. The new promise of peace does not reach into Darfur.
Bureaucratic inertia reigns on all fronts as states and inter-national organizations have little motivation to defend this population. With a candidacy sponsored by the African regional group, the Sudan became a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission last month. Kofi Annan “is following the situation in Darfur closelya_|and with great concern,” his spokeswoman reports. With substantial pressure from the US, the Security Council recently passed a resolution strongly condemning “indiscriminate attacks on (Sudanese) civilians, sexual violence, forced displacement and acts of violence.” The Arab League is concerned with the actions of its member state, the Sudan. The EU has lost its taste for multilateral responsibility as time has nearly run out in this race against the rains. Unlike during the Bosnian slaughter, France is not urging NATO to breach state sovereignty to rescue these civilians.
Considering today's Victims of a Lethal Regime are Starving, Black, African, Muslim, Women, and Children, in theory they should have widespread popular support. Yet the liberals are not championing these victims and the neocons have no army of liberation to spare. The feminists do not cry for these children. “Never Again” does not apply to these families. Community leaders do not express outrage for these Muslims. Perhaps humans have not yet established a collective identity as earthlings, as civilians, and as allies.
September 11th produced the first spontaneous global statement of morality: billions objected. The connectivity of that moment has been strengthened by the media and the internet. The power of public opinion impacts foreign policy internationally as never before. Constituents thus empowered are more complicit by silence and face a choice. The new global power struggle is between the civilians and the terrorists, the civilians and the lethal regimes. As Sudanese children die, our children become more vulnerable.