By Ruth Messinger
Reprinted with permission from the World Jewish Digest, May 2005.
We recently celebrated the redemption of our people from slavery to freedom and recounted our exodus from oppression. Yet, while I was joyous in my celebration with family and friends, I could not help but be saddened by the ongoing cries of oppression of another people—a people quite literally wandering in the desert who have been abandoned by the world at large.
One year ago, international humanitarian organizations began sounding the alarm, warning of an escalating crisis in Darfur, Sudan. John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group warned of a “Rwanda in slow motion.”
In this remote region the size of Texas in Africa’s largest nation, almost two million African tribal farmers have been violently driven from their homes by the government of Sudan and the militias they armed, called Janjaweed (men with guns on horseback).
Despite repeated calls from humanitarian organizations and United Nations agencies warning of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, there continues to be a systematic program of expulsion, rape and murderous violence that has taken at least 400,000 lives since the crisis began in February 2003. This campaign of destruction and displacement is calculated to ensure the loss of livelihood and means of survival, purposely forcing hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to face starvation and disease.
This month we commemorate Yom Hashoah and remember the consequences of inaction by the international community in the face of genocide. We remember and we still cannot, nor will we ever, comprehend how the world looked on as six million of us were gassed, tortured, displaced, starved and worked to death.
We vowed, “never again!” But is this declaration to be reserved for Jews alone? Jews must be the guardians of this call for action, highly sensitive and responsive to all attempts by any people to annihilate another people. The world stood idly by 60 years ago, and again as massacres unfolded in Cambodia, Rwanda, and now Sudan.
In the words of Elie Wiesel, a founder of American Jewish World Service, “If we Jews remain indifferent to the plight of the oppressed, what right do we have to criticize the leaders of the free world for having abandoned us during the Holocaust?”
Last month was the 11th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide where 800,000 people of the Tutsi minority were literally slaughtered by machete-wielding government forces. World leaders knew; our government knew, and did nothing.
It is unconscionable that even now with the attention surrounding the film “Hotel Rwanda,” the leaders of the world have not only not ended the genocide in Sudan, but seem not to care too much about it.
Current reports indicate that the situation continues to worsen. According to the findings of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (January 25, 2005), Sudanese government officials and the Janjaweed are responsible for "the killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement throughout Darfur."
Despite this report and the implication of government officials, the only resolutions proposed in the United Nations have been weak because several members of the Security Council, most particularly Russia, China, Algeria and France, threaten to veto anything stronger in fear of jeopardizing their oil flow.
The Security Council did recently approve a resolution to prosecute Sudanese war crimes in the International Criminal Court in Hague, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan submitted to the court a sealed envelope containing the names of many government officials and Janjaweed accused of crimes against humanity. We wait to see how this unfolds. Meanwhile 2,200 African Union troops have been sent to Darfur, but the numbers are far too few for the size of the region, and their mandate, which does not provide for the protection of civilians, is far too weak.
Many of the survivors of this campaign of destruction and displacement now live in hastily erected IDP (internally displaced persons) camps lacking adequate food, water, shelter, medical care and security. More than 2.5 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
Yet, on April 8, the World Food Program, run by the United Nations, announced that due to lack of contributions from donor countries they must cut in half the food rations they are providing to one million people in Darfur. So not only are many of the nations in the world turning a blind eye to the annihilation of a people, they are also contributing to the Sudanese government-induced “genocide by famine.”
We cannot stand idly by. Jews should support American Jewish World Service’s Sudan Relief and Advocacy Fund launched one year ago to provide humanitarian aid in the camps, but even more importantly we must not remain silent. We must raise our voices and demand action from our government and the United Nations.
At this very moment, on the table in the U.S. Congress, are the Darfur Accountability Act in the Senate, and the Darfur Genocide Accountability Act in the House of Representatives. These bills would support an increase in the size of the international force in Sudan and give them a mandate to protect civilians. They also would also impose economic and oil sanctions against the Sudanese government and any associated individuals or businesses. Our Web site offers a variety of concrete actions communities can take to raise awareness.
The “Rwanda in slow motion” in Darfur has been continuing for more than two years. There’s no excuse for the lack of global response. Until conditions are established that permit the voluntary, safe and dignified return of those displaced by the conflict, and violators of the conflict are held accountable, our diligence must not wane.
I pray that one day we do not have to watch a film with our children and grandchildren that depicts the horrors of Darfur, and once again be asked why the world failed to act.
A page with photos taken by AJWS Executive Director Ruth Messinger in Darfur is at ajws.org/sudanphotos.