Bullshit Philosophy

Half-assed political and religious commentary from a cynical left-winger

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Don’t Forget Darfur

Posted by Kevin on December 20, 2008

[originally posted 5/15/08]

Here’s another essay of mine that I wrote for my Amnesty local group, which is in no danger of getting published anytime soon. Looking on the bright side, at least at this rate I’ll have plenty of material for a book of rare/unpublished works if I ever become a famous writer… which begs the question of why I’m giving it away for free here. Oh well. Consider yourselves lucky.

Congress: Don’t Forget Darfur

The conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has produced suffering on an appalling scale. Since beginning in 2003, over 200,000 Darfuri civilians have been killed and over 2.6 million have been internally displaced, with over 240,000 of these fleeing to neighboring Chad as refugees. Some have described the situation as genocide; it almost certainly constitutes ethnic cleansing.

The Darfur conflict began with attacks by Darfuri rebel groups, citing political and economic marginalization by the central government, against Sudanese government troops. In response, the government began arming and funding the Janjawid, a militia that has been responsible for most of the human rights abuses in the conflict. The Janjawid’s crimes have included indiscriminate killings, systematic rape and other forms of gender-based violence, torture, destruction of crops and livestock, and the emptying of villages by force. The atrocities are ethnic in nature, committed by the Arab-dominated military and its Janjawid proxies against the mostly black residents of Darfur; the vast majority of their victims have been innocent civilians.

In response to this crisis, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1769 last year, which authorized the deployment of 26,000 peacekeepers to supplement an African Union mission already in place. However, the joint UN-AU mission (known as UNAMID) has been plagued with problems. Only around 9,000 of the total authorized peacekeepers have actually been deployed, due partly to lack of support from international donor countries. The mission lacks funding and essential transport equipment, such as helicopters needed to reach the remote areas in which the atrocities.

In addition, the deployment of peacekeepers is hampered by the foot-dragging of the Sudanese government. Although they have made some concessions, they still have no apparent interest in protecting the people of Darfur. Khartoum has erected obstacles to UNAMID at every turn, for instance by refusing to approve troop contributions from outside Africa and attempting to place curfews and freedom-of movement restrictions on peacekeepers.

And still the violence continues. The Sudanese government recently renewed air strikes in Darfur, and Janjawid attacks on civilians are ongoing. The Darfur conflict threatens to destabilize neighboring countries deluged with refugees. Resolving the conflict is as critical now as ever.

In the hope of encouraging greater American involvement in resolving the conflict, I joined with other concerned Aledo residents to contact our elected officials as part of the national Darfur Lobby Week organized by Amnesty International, a Nobel Peace Prize winning human rights group. Our goal was to see what Congress has been doing on this issue and to press them to keep Darfur a priority. To that end, we visited Pat O’Brien in Congressman Phil Hare’s Moline office and spoke with Elizabeth Olson, a staffer in Senator Barack Obama’s Washington, DC office.

I was pleased to learn that both Hare and Obama have been active on the issue. Both have committed to funding and equipping UNAMID and providing humanitarian assistance to refugees. Among other legislation they have supported or cosponsored, both voted for a law to authorize states to divest from companies doing business with Sudan and prohibiting them from receiving federal contracts.

Hare and Obama have also signed letters urging President Bush to become more engaged in ending the conflict by appointing a single official to coordinate policy on Darfur and sending a full-time diplomatic mission to the region, both of which we currently lack. They also encouraged Bush to use all diplomatic means to bring the international community together on the issue.

In addition, they have signed letters urging the government of China to stop obstructing effective action to halt the atrocities in Darfur. As Sudan’s biggest trading partner and a major arms supplier to the country, China has a special role to play in putting pressure on the Sudanese government. Although the Chinese have made some moves in the right direction in recent months by sending humanitarian aid and contributing troops to UNAMID, China has still mostly acted as Sudan’s enabler in its capacity as a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council.

During my group’s conversation with Olson from Obama’s office, I was especially impressed with her knowledge of the Darfur conflict and her passion for the issue. I gathered that Darfur is definitely a priority for Obama and his staff. I am very grateful to both Obama and Hare, as well as to Senator Dick Durbin who has also been a leader on this issue, for their role in helping to end the nightmare in Darfur.


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