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Efforts begin in area to raise consciousness about Darfur

Recognizing that there is a low consciousness and there is confusion among Americans on the plight of people in Darfur in western Sudan, Pat Moseley, director, and Abi Weaver, both of the Inland Northwest Chapter of the American Red Cross, joined Elliot Fabric and Kateri Caron, both of Interfaith Council of the Inland Northwest, to describe the humanitarian crisis there at the recent legislative conference.

Roots of the conflict
Elliot, who is from the lo
cal Jewish community, reviewed roots of the conflict since Sudanese independence from Britain in 1956.  The North and South fought for years, until the recent peace accord, which does not include the crisis in Darfur.

The government in the North fought “rebels” in the South who wanted power and autonomy.  The land in the South is fertile.  In the North, land is arid. 
In a 1983 coup, the government imposed Islamic law, so the conflict has religious and ethnic dimensions.

Since 1956, more than 2 million Sudanese have died and 4 million have been displaced by wars—20 percent of the world’s displaced people, Elliot said.

“Since the 1970s, land has been over-harvested, trees have been cut for firewood, drought has spread the desert and there has been conflict over water. 

“Local tribal courts formerly used to settle conflicts in traditional ways were dismantled,” he said.  “People began to self-identify as Arabs and non-Arabs. 

“The ethnicities that were previously dissipated by intermarriage, trade and business re-emerged.  Arabs tend to be and nomadic herders of cattle and camels.  Non-Arabs tend to be farmers and ranchers.”

Arabs are mostly Muslim, and non-Arabs, Christian or animist.

Elliot said oil is also a factor.  Wells now produce 500,000 barrels a day.

Government kills thousands
“The current holocaust in Darfur was triggered in February 2003 when the rebel Sudanese Liberation Movement Army (SLMA) killed 100 government soldiers.  That became an excuse for the government to crush tribal people in Darfur, torching villages, raping women and killing people.”

The government has let Arab tribes in the Janjawid—men on horses—militia kill thousands.”

The Justice and Equality Movement aligned with the SLMA.  In March 2003, the government sought to crush the revolt by dropping old cars and trucks as bombs and then unleashing Janjawid to rout and torch villages and to maim, rape and murder people. 

“The government says there is no holocaust, but has delayed relief efforts, citing logistics in the rainy season,” Elliot said.

The United Nations has called the government to disarm the Janjawid and apprehend perpetrators of atrocities.  In January, Kofi Annan said atrocities continue as people leave camps for water and firewood, but he did not label it genocide, as the U.S. House of Representatives did in July 2004.

Aid workers are at risk

Red Cross

Abi Weaver and Pot Mosely

Pat said the International Red Cross and about 60 humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) work in Darfur despite dangers.
Volunteers work under the guidelines of the International Red Cross for response to disasters.
The Red Cross and the faith community work with local partners to deliver food and shelter, and deal with the stress and trauma, she said.

“The crisis in Sudan was the largest relief operation until the tsunami,” said Pat, who met with colleagues about it in the early 1980s. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is responsible to assure that war prisoners and conflict victims are treated according to the Geneva Convention, she said.

Photos show conditions
Abi showed photos of ransacked villages, refugees in camps and relief operations.

“Often we only put a bandaid on a situation.  We can’t resolve the problems, because we are not a government agency,” she said.

Aid agencies set up three camps in Darfur, housing a million people. About 100,000 fled to camps in Chad.

In camps, families have food, shelter, blankets, water, latrines, clothes, housing supplies and health care, Abi said.

Unable to plant crops in the rainy season, people forage in the wild for food and wood.  When they leave the camp, women are raped, and men are killed. To replace wood for heat and cooking, the Red Cross hopes to bring solar energy to the area.

“Daily life is unbearable.  Aid agencies provide only so much,” Abi said.  “In rural areas, aid workers discourage people from going to camps by providing seeds and tools, so they can grow food.”

Red Cross assists people
Camp hospitals care for the sick, wounded, maimed and malnourished.  They provide artificial limbs and vaccines.

In war areas where families are separated, the Red Cross has tracing services to reunite them. 

It also encourages the use of local resources for small enterprises, such as weaving, because people cannot earn a living from normal jobs.

Pat said much work is funded by private donations, but in major relief efforts, the Red Cross also channels government funds.

“When we set up a camp, our goal is to close it so people can go back to their own communities,” Pat said.

Council responds to call
On July 14, 2004, the Committee of Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Jewish Federation called the situation in Darfur “a genocide emergency.” They have urged people of faith to join in interfaith gatherings to raise issues to U. S. officials. 

The Interfaith Council of the Inland Northwest responded, agreeing to join efforts and create efforts to call for an end to the killing, to alert people in this region and to write to U.S. officials to urge them to work to end the genocide.

“It’s one thing to sit in a room and receive facts about genocide and another thing experience it,” said Kateri, who was born at the end of the Holocaust that killed half the Jewish people.  “We have lived through genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, Yugoslavia and now Sudan.

Genocide is complex issue
Kateri lived in Guatemala during the genocide there.

“Fear was so thick you could touch it.  You did not know whom to trust.  The government forced village men into the military and into genocidal acts.

“They were not monsters. They had the same desires we have,” said Kateri, telling of attending a Mass with military people she knew had committed atrocities—wiping out villagers and dismembering a pregnant woman and cutting her baby out.  “The men walked into worship with their wives and children.  They looked like good family members.  It made me realize that every human being has choices and is capable of doing genocide.

“Often people have only the choice of murdering or being killed.  It’s not the simple matter of bad guys and good guys,” she said.  “Fear leads to genocide.  When we fear an enemy, we stop thinking of them as human beings.”

Speaking out can stop it
Kateri urges people to act as individuals and churches:  “We can write media to ask for more news about the genocide in Darfur.  In Guatemala, the genocide stopped when enough people in the world said to stop.  The government was shamed into action,” she said.

“Much in the world rises and falls on what we do with our military and money.  We need to talk to and write to our government leaders and ask them to end the genocide,” Kateri said.

For example, she said that state and local officials can divest funds in corporations doing business with the Sudanese government—as was done to help end apartheid in South Africa. 

For information, call 326-3330.

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - Copyright © March 2005