Heading north on Wisconsin Avenue in the nation’s capital there lives a tattered banner that reads: “A call to your conscience.”
This sign is the creation of the organization, Save Darfur, and was tied to the metal fence in about 2004 when the first conscience call to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan gripped the American people and the government. In that order.
It’s been four years since intense diplomatic pressure on the Sudanese government finally resulted in a peace agreement for Darfur in 2006. Action came too late on Darfur and the genocide cost the lives of 300,000 and displaced nearly three million. Stories of mass rape committed against women and children were frequent and wide spread, human rights groups reporting that it was used as a method to control and humiliate the non-Arab groups.
Even today, the fighting continues between the region’s rebel movements and the government and three million remain in camps that are mired with water and food shortages, rape, and violence. You can read a more detailed account of the conflict here.
Here We Are Again
There has been some chatter in the media of late about a possible re-ignition of conflict in Sudan, this time between the north and south. The Bush Administration sustained substantial criticism for its foot dragging on Darfur, as well it should have. It remains to be seen how the Obama Administration will react to this most recent threat. But after meeting with George Clooney last week about Sundan’s dangerously precarious state, it behooves him to take the diplomatic lead. And fast.
The Big Picture
Sudan is the largest and one of the most geographically diverse countries in Africa. Mountain ranges divide the northern deserts from the plush green and swamps of the south and the Nile River splits the country east and west. Rich with natural resources like oil, water, land, gold, and cotton, Sudan is a country with promises of economic success and power if peace can be achieved.
In the first half of the 20th century, Sudan was jointly ruled by Britain and Egypt. Independence was declared in 1956 but tensions with the south over constitutional issues flared a civil war that the military-led government was ill-equipped to suppress. In 1972, a peace deal was signed and the government granted the south its autonomy.
Fighting broke out again in 1983, however. It took two years of negotiating for the two sides to come to another peace agreement that ended the conflict, agreed to an equal sharing of oil revenues, and allowed the south more independence.
This peace agreement also provided for a referendum on January 9, 2011 that will allow for a vote over the disputed Abyei region that sits between the north and south. If the voters are allowed to vote freely, the result will be an oil-rich southern Sudan. If the voting is disrupted, the north-south war that ended in 2005 could reignite.
George Clooney and John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, recently visited the region and found that President Omar al-Bashir’s regime (the same president considered to be responsible for the north-south war and the genocide in Darfur) is partrolling the northern and southern borders of Abyei. Not wanting to lose control of the entire south, the president sent his troops to distrupt the elections in the hopes that they will be postponed or called off completely.
“If I said to you right now that there’s gonna be an earthquake, that 200,000 people are going to be killed, what would you do? Well this isn’t a natural disaster this is man-made. It can be stopped,” he told Ann Curry on the Today Show last week.
“What’s important now is we know what happens when we don’t act,” Clooney told Larry King on “Larry King Live” last Thursday.
“We didn’t act fast enough in the Congo. We didn’t act fast enough in Darfur. We didn’t act fast enough in Rwanda. We know what happens when we don’t. And it costs us billions because we’re going to be there. So it’s better to do it now.”
A Focus on Sudanese Women
According to Stop Violence Against Women, a project of The Advocates for Human Rights, women in southern Sudan continue to face a myriad of injustices, including gender-based violence, armed violence, an inadequate justice system, and a lack of schooling and access to health care.
After 21 years of war, the accurate numbers of those affected are impossible to draw but the facts are indisputable. While cases of rape in southern Sudan are frequent, the judicial system tends to punish the victims rather than the perpetrators. And as history indicates, the two sides in Sudan do not hesitate to use rape as a weapon of war and this is certain to rear its head once again if conflict between the north and south is allowed to ensue.
What You Can Do
If the numbers are too numbing or the atrocities too hard to grasp, think of it this way. If we do nothing, if we sit and wait and watch the seemingly inevitable unfold in Sudan, we will send American forces in to clean up after the fact. That will cost billions of dollars and risk more American lives.
The people of southern Sudan are resolved. They want and deserve their independence. As Americans, we know all to well the importance of this fight.
We must take action now. This is an issue that democrats, republicans, independents, tea party supporters, and even the politically complacent care about. Please write to President Obama or your elected official and tell them that, as Americans, we care about the people of Sudan and we don’t want to see another atrocious genocide occur. Let’s not make the Abyei region a household name.