Competing Tragedies – How ISIS and Boko Haram help Sudan’s president Omar Al- Bashir pursue genocide
At one time, the genocide in Darfur was a primary topic of conversation, and dominated buttons and protests, slogans and banners. The genocide in Darfur was spoken about by politicians and celebrities alike – with pictures of dead families ravaged by men on horseback accompanying powerful speeches and anti-genocide campaigns. It was a central topic of conversation at dinner parties and in university classrooms. But like all news stories, the media must move on, and today, Darfur is a story that rarely makes the 6 o’clock news. Conversations have transitioned to ISIS and other equally pressing topics and buttons have been replaced with slogans imploring Boko Haram to “bring home our girls.” This displacement of world attention away from Sudan has left a vacancy for Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir to pursue a new chapter in his genocide in Darfur. A chapter that is left un-scrutinized by a distracted media.
Darfur’s Dark History
The conflict in Darfur began in 2003 when the Arab- led government, based in Sudan’s capital city Khartoum, began attacks on the predominantly non-Arab agrarian tribes of Darfur. These tribes formed rebel groups who continue to battle against Khartoum led forces for control over Darfur, which is comparatively, the size of France. In 2007, the UN deployed the African Union/UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which sent 16,000 troops and police across Darfur. This small force has had limited success in halting the fighting between rebel groups and the state, and putting a stop to the genocide. The United Nations asserts that since the conflict began 12 years ago, over 300,000 lives have been lost and millions of people have been displaced.
In October 2014, as the world watched the United States and Canada join the fight against ISIS, a series of escalated attacks occurred in Darfur where Human Rights Watch reports that the Sudanese military and Janjaweed, now rebranded the Rapid Support Force (RSF) launched a series of attacks against civilians in the town of Tabit. These attacks included a mass rape of the town’s women and girls. It is reported that in a 36-hour period, there were credible reports of 221 rapes leading many experts to believe that the rapes were systematic and organized – a clear crime against humanity. Human Rights Watch has reported that there was “no evidence of any rebel force in the town immediately prior to or during the attacks” suggesting that the attack was directly targeting civilians. The Sudanese government has yet to provide peacekeepers or international investigators with access to Tabit, and as such, the rapes remain out of international reach.
So what is happening in Darfur in 2015?
On January 3, 2015, Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir and RSF began a new campaign in North Darfur, where they continue to pursue the genocide and displacement of its people through what is called “the scorched earth campaign”. By January 6th the UN reported that 115 villages had been evacuated or simply, burned to the ground following aerial bombardment and ground attacks. These attacks have forced the ethnic of people of Darfur to seek refuge at already overcrowded displaced persons camps or to flee to the Jebel Marra mountain region which offers little protection from the elements, where starvation and impoverishment are tangible realities.
Many attribute Khartoum’s continued attacks on Darfur economical motivated. When South Sudan became an independent state in 2011, Sudan lost 75% of its oil revenue, and as a result, suffered incredible economic difficulties. Darfur, which is rich in oil, gold and other minerals, presents an opportunity to garner economic prosperity for the government in Khartoum.
It is a reality, in a world of wars and violence which compete for world sympathy and global action, that tragedies must be ranked and given priority over one another. Where one person’s suffering is interpreted relative to the suffering of another. In recent months, the tragedies that have swept Syria and Iraq, and Nigeria have taken the spotlight in global media. These tragedies are worthy of the spotlight and should enrage the greater public. However the consequence of their centrality in the media is that they have displaced an ongoing story of genocide in Darfur – one which is deserving of media attention so that it may prompt action amongst our governments and conversations at our dinner tables.
With the advent of the United Nations following WWII, the global community made the promise of never again. Never again should a people suffer at the hands of another people. International doctrines securing the protection of human rights for all were created in order to fulfill this promise. This promise to Darfuris, to Syrians, to Iraqis and Nigerians alike. However, time and time again we have watched as these international safety nets fail to protect human rights for all. They failed to prevent the genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and now, they are failing to protect the people of Darfur.
It is the responsibility of the global community to challenge the international bodies within whom we place our trust to take action in such circumstances. These international norms cannot work in a vacuum. They are reliant upon the global community. As a community, we must object to the atrocities perpetrated by Al-Bashir, and we must not allow him to pursue a genocide while the world is distracted with other tragedies. While the media may have their eye on these other global horrors, it is our responsibility to remain diligent in holding others accountable.
We can no longer allow the media, politicians and celebrities to control our dinner conversations. While it is unrealistic to be a champion for every global tragedy, it is realistic to ensure that tragedies are not forgotten following their 15 minutes of media fame.
After all, would we not expect the same from the global community? If these women were our sisters and mothers? If it were our families who were targeted by our government?
I will leave you with the following insight by pastor Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.