Something must be done about the crisis in Darfur, Sudan. I have identified with this responsibility for five years. So imagine my excitement upon being accepted to intern for the Save Darfur Coalition in Washington, DC back in the fall of 2007. I had whimsical ideals about how I was making a difference through this advocacy group equipped with talented and over qualified-staff. Nothing could have prepared me for the cynicism I am now forced to confront on “saving Darfur.” Not on account of the organization or the people I worked with. I hold them in the highest regard. My disappointment rests with the way in which the movement to save Darfur has taken shape in the U.S.
I will never understand the rational behind acknowledging that gross atrocities are occurring and looking the other way based solely upon geographical location. If the atrocities that have and are occurring in Darfur happened in England, for example, there is no doubt that media would not have waited to cover the story until celebrities and politicians began voicing their outrage, conveniently during election time. I fully understand there are legitimate boundaries etched by nation lines, and the U.S. does not have the responsibility to run to the rescue of every injustice.
But the United States’ lack of intervention concerning the genocide in Darfur directly breaks the Geneva Convention’s promise of “never again” to allowing a genocide to occur. This is not a matter of a few idealistic groups that want to save the world shaking their finger at our government. The United States made and has broken this promise. President Bush, Congress and the State Department have all labeled this human rights violation occurring in Darfur, “genocide.” Therefore, by the United States own policy declared with the signing of the Geneva Convention, the U.S. must and should have intervened years ago.
The genocide began in 2003 when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir crushed a rebellion by destroying the civilian population ethnically associated with the rebellion. Carried out by the Janjaweed militia, they destroyed entire villages, including food and water resources, and tortured, raped, and murdered civilians. Hundreds of thousands were murdered or starved to death due to lack of resources. Millions more escaped to refugee camps that continue to face targeted attacks and scarcity of food and humanitarian aid supplies. Beyond this, hundreds of thousands spilled over into Darfur’s neighboring country, Chad. The conflict has spread, rebel groups have sprung up to protect themselves, blatant corruption continues in the government, and chaos and violence continues today. Seven years later.
This is what I have learned through my personal quest to save Darfur:
Much of the United States does not want any part in saving an African country. Many believe we should help our own, and I have even received threatening emails about how I should care about my own people and be patriotic. This outlook has led to a witch hunt against groups such as the Save Darfur Coalition, the Genocide Intervention Network and ENOUGH. Accusations have gone as far as to say these groups are using the devastation in Darfur for financial gain.
Despite this, there is a significant grassroots and student movement within the U.S. of people who want to help. As much as it pains me to admit it, their marches and protests and donations do not save Darfur. It makes Susan from Idaho and her 11-year-old daughter feel warm and cozy, but their relay for Darfur does nothing for the Darfuri children sleeping in sand, hunger and fear tonight.
Congress and the President occasionally appease these dedicated petition writers and protesters by passing a piece of legislature with beautiful words about moral responsibility, but without substance or action. They have declared a day for Darfur, but won’t seem to declare much more than a time slot to raise awareness for a diminishing people that much of the U.S. has grown indifferent to.
The videos of personal testimonials from the man who saw his entire family murdered before him as he was beaten and left for dead, or the girl who was raped by 9 men after her sister was murdered, still make us cry, but our tears move neither the U.S. nor the U.N. to action. Nor do the suffering Darfuris’ tears. I can march until I have blisters. I can show gruesome films to everyone in Texas. I can attempt to get everyone in the U.S. to withdraw their investments out of companies that are invested with China oil companies that indirectly help sustain the Janjaweed. But I now know that at the end of the day I will feel like a better person, while nothing changes.
There are those who will never know what Darfur is or of the atrocities occurring there, but this cynical realization does not free me or anyone of our promise of “never again” to genocide. So, despite feeling defeated by our over-promising and never acting U.S. government and unorganized and passive U.N., the people of Darfur still need our help. I will always view their lives as having the same value as my fellow U.S. citizens. I will continue to dedicate my time, creativity and resources to the cause, with the belief that there is strength in numbers and the hope that someday someone will save Darfur.
For more information on Darfur and to find out ways that you can get involved, please visit www.savedarfur.org