Death in the Sudan
14.04.2004 | Andrew Cameron and Tracy Gordon | Briefing 005Tweet
President Clinton has said that one of the greatest mistakes of his presidency was not doing more to prevent the Rwandan genocide. When he visited Rwanda in 1998, he tried to explain America's failure to respond: “It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.”
Today, roughly 1,000 miles north of Rwanda, tens of thousands of Africans are herded onto death marches, and Western leaders are again sitting in offices. How sad it is that it doesn't even seem strange.
SAMANTHA POWER, New York Times April 6, 2004, accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/06/opinion/06POWE.html (note: article is two web-pages long)
The quotation above is from an article by Samantha Powers, which argues that Western leaders are repeating precisely the same errors in the Sudan as occurred in the lead-up to the Rwandan genocide of ten years ago. Power's analysis of the situation closely matches that of the UK Foreign Office (see link below), so as far as we can tell, something terrible is currently taking place in the Sudan. The purpose of this briefing is to suggest a simple strategy that might actually make some difference for suffering people there.
In the Darfur region of Western Sudan, Power says, “the Sudanese government is teaming up with Arab Muslim militias in a campaign of ethnic slaughter and deportation that has already left nearly a million Africans displaced and more than 30,000 dead.” She includes a chilling account of an airforce pilot, tasked to destroy a civilian village, in conversation with his ground controllers. What Power describes concurs with ongoing reports of the persecution of Sudanese Christians, whom she doesn't explicitly mention.
It is hard to read about such things, not only because they are horrible, but also because we feel so completely helpless. We remember the Bible's wall-to-wall testimony of the way people in power tend to ignore oppression. One example will suffice:
If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. [Ecclesiastes 5:8]
Or, as Clinton put it, “there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day”. But after the Iraq war and whatever its rights and wrongs, the United States is the most muscular leader of the world as ever we have seen. The war also reveals an increasing intolerance toward governments who rely on the myth of ‘national sovereignty’ in order to kill their own people (for wholesale killing by any ‘government’ indicates that it has forfeited any rightful authority to rule, hence any claim to ‘sovereignty’). Finally, it shows the U.S.-Anglo-Australian alliance to be stronger than ever.
So in this instance, we may not be quite as helpless as we think. Beginning with prayer (see SIE briefing #1), we are in a unique position to help our leaders to stop merely eying each other off, and to draw their attention to the problem (although to be fair, not all of them have been inactive in this instance). It is time to put our political power as citizens, the strength of the alliance, and the international leadership of the U.S. to the test.
Our suggestion is that you take the time, right now, to click on the link above and read the article, and that you then write to the Prime Minster and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The handful of Brits who receive this briefing can do the same. (Contact details are below.) Letters to leaders are far more effective if they come from the heart, because politicians can spot an organised campaign a mile off. Nonetheless, the following might give some ideas about what to write, but please don't copy it word for word; do write your own letter.
Writing to these leaders might be a long shot, given their preoccupation at the moment with the Iraq situation. But they should not allow Iraq to distract them from the Sudan, and indeed, prompt action there might redeem some of the goodwill that has been lost in the controversy surrounding Iraq.
UK writers should respectfully acknowledge government work to-date on the Sudan, and all should implore their leaders for immediate and urgent action concerning the Dafur region. Ask for your PM urgently to contact President George Bush, urging the President to apply relentless pressure upon the Sudanese President, His Excellency Lt-General Omar Hassan Ahmed Al-Bashir, that his government might immediately cease any human rights abuses and take action to prevent such abuses by militia groups.
Samantha Powers' article also suggests the immediate formation of a U.N. peacekeeping force. It is probably beyond us to know if such means are effective, but do ask our leaders to closely and quickly examine this option. Help them to see that such crises never happen at a convenient time, and that in this instance, they may need to drop everything to make sure more people do not die.
Two further points are worth noting:
- The UK government is much more active in Africa than is the Australian Federal government, which tends not to engage with African issues (apart from immigration), in view of its primary commitment to South East Asian and Pacific nations. The point of our letters really is to ask the Federal government to test the alliance with the U.S. by asking them to act. That said, the Australian government may well determine that the Islamicist nature of the Sudanese regime impacts Australia.
- This briefing has said nothing about the very problematic Sudanese refugee issue. These include a large number of Christians, who lead a very fragile existence in Egypt and Kenya. We plan to update you about Australian refugee policy in a future briefing.
If you are keen, you could take the following further action:
- Read this very useful UK Foreign Office briefing by clicking on the absurdly long http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029394365&a=KCountryProfile&aid=1020687852749. Less useful is the Australian equivalent: http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/sudan/index.html.
- Write to your local member (the Federal member, in the case of Australians) to draw their attention to the problem, and ask them to quickly draw it to the attention of the Parliament and of their Parliamentary leadership.
- Contact your regional newspaper, TV- and radio-station and any other opinion-formers. Point them to the NYT article, ask them to check if it is accurate, and urge them to publicise the problem and to use their influence to gain action from our leaders.
- This would be a great briefing to send to all your friends. Note the conditions below.
Prime Minister (The Hon John Howard MP)
Minister for Foreign Affairs (The Hon Alexander Downer MP).
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
PM's fax: (02) 6273 4100 and email: http://www.pm.gov.au/email.cfm
Prime Minister The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA
PM's fax: 020 7925 0918
PM's email: http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page821.asp (select ‘International Affairs’ then click ‘Go’)
Secretary of State The Rt Hon Jack Straw MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary Chris Mullin MP (who has special responsibility for Africa)
c/- Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
- Letters always carry more weight than emails, but if you are pushed for time, email is certainly better than nothing.
- Try to keep letters to less than a page, but in all your letters, don't be afraid to print off Power's NYT article and include it for the convenience of the reader.
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