No More Deadlines for Sudan


No More Deadlines for Sudan

By Ruth Messinger


Ruth Messinger in Darfur 

(October 2004) The United States government has declared that genocide is occurring in Sudan. Yet, warnings to the international community to prevent another Rwanda continue to go unheeded. The U.S. and other world powers seem much too comfortable agreeing to discuss deadlines and sanctions, but not to enact and enforce them.

Deadlines given by the United Nations Security Council to the Sudanese government to disarm the Janjaweed militia that has forcibly displaced more than one million people from Darfur continue to be extended or rejected.

Having returned from Darfur on August 25, five days before the first deadline was due to expire, I can attest that there were not any serious attempts by the Khartoum government to address the UN demands. There is a continuing and systematic program in Darfur of expulsion, rape and murderous violence, of determined ethnic cleansing in an attempt to claim the scarce, barely fertile lands of the desert.

The vast majority of these attacks by the Janjaweed militias, directly aided by the government, are not on rebels, as the Sudanese government proclaims, but on civilians: women, the elderly, and children. Both the perpetrators and the victims have practiced Islam for centuries, but the Janjaweed claim Arab descent and the farmers cling to their African ancestry.

I met many of the displaced farmers and listened to their chilling and all-too-similar stories. The government bombed their villages, and then men on camels or horses rode in, often yelling ethnic slurs and shooting wildly. They plundered the farm animals that were the lifeblood of these communities. They stole, they raped and they killed. They burned villages to the ground. People I spoke with lost cattle, saw parents and children killed, were raped and were driven out of their homes.

I met Fatima; her five children are all ill with diarrhea. I met a 10-year-old boy, clinging to the leg of a medical assistant. He saw his parents and two brothers shot and was brought to the camp by other displaced persons. I met the mother of twins who gave birth to them the day the militia came to her village threatening to kill everyone. She saw her brother, aunt and uncle killed, but managed to escape with her family, her new-born babies tucked into a straw mat.

They are among the 1.5 million who fled with no or few possessions and came gradually to camps being set up to receive them - now probably 140 camps scattered throughout Darfur (a region the size of Texas). They are living in tent cities packed with tens of thousands of families fighting hunger, illness, displacement, boredom, and depression. They are wounded and frightened, have been left with no sense of a workable future, and are desperate about the circumstances of their lives.

There is a remarkable handful of non-governmental organizations from Europe and the United States, only some of whom operated in Sudan before, working in some of the camps, patching together funding from governments and private donors. They are putting up tent shelters as fast as they can, registering families (often now just women and children because the men were killed or have wandered from the camps to look for work) and providing clean water, latrines, schools, and health services.

Unfortunately, the situation can only get worse. The populations coming into the camps keep growing; it is estimated that only 50 percent of those displaced have had access to aid, and there is already not enough food.

Apparently the United Nations World Food Program cannot keep pace with demand, and not enough funds have been provided to pay for the food they need. Medical staff knows that there are already too many cases of dehydration, malnutrition and deadly diarrhea, that living in close quarters like this breeds its own set of sanitation, physical and mental health problems, that mortality rates could rise suddenly.

There can be no more missed or vague deadlines, and no more watered down resolutions. Sudan must be forced, first, to improve access to the camps for humanitarian aid workers and supplies, and second to help make the camps and their surroundings safe. Sudan must be sanctioned and the international assets of government officials frozen unless and until it stops its ongoing support for the Janjaweed and their genocidal campaign.

In a reversal that demonstrates that international pressure can make a difference, the Sudanese government recently agreed to allow 4,000 African Union troops to monitor the Sudanese police in Darfur, but the mandate falls short of protecting civilians. Nevertheless, the world powers must provide logistical support and funding to the nascent African Union if there is to be any hope of sustaining their mission. Its first task could be to secure the roads, stop banditry and allow supplies to be shipped to the camps over land rather than by air.

Furthermore, this action should not deter the United Nations Security Council from deploying international monitors and peacekeeping forces to protect civilians. Every effort must be exerted to restore safety to Darfur. Finally, but most importantly, world powers must supply additional humanitarian aid that is so desperately needed-not only more food and clean water but teachers and recreation personnel, social workers and community health advocates.

Failure to act properly now will result in endless, preventable and meaningless human suffering. Three quarters of a million children are waiting to see if the world cares enough to intervene; we cannot disappoint them.

A page with photos taken by AJWS Executive Director Ruth Messinger in Darfur is at

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