How Much More Will It Take?

Women gather at a dried-up water-point in Jamam, South Sudan (AFP/Hannah Mcneish)

Women gather at a dried-up water-point in Jamam, South Sudan (AFP/Hannah Mcneish)

SUDAN & SOUTH SUDAN

“They attacked us for three days, from Tuesday until Thursday evening. They burned down five villages, looted more than 20 and destroyed water wells and pumps” displaced witness from North Darfur said to Radio Dabanga.

More than 7,000 people have fled their homes in North Darfur after government forces and militants reportedly burned down their villages last week. In an area in the center of the Darfur region, Jebel Marra, the Sudanese army has continuously been bombing the villages of Nari, Jerri, Sinjo, Amra Rashid, Kaya, Fatah and Amar Jadid. This has forced more than 30,000 to flee to nearby areas, trying to find shelter in the harsh mountainous terrain where there is no water.

In addition, fighting along the border between the two nations, and aerial bombardment by the Sudanese Armed Forces into the territory of South Sudan have intensified. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon pleaded with Sudan and South Sudan on Wednesday to withdraw troops from the disputed Abyei region amid. Sudanese fleeing from Abyei, are now nearly destitute after missing harvests and exhausting the scant resources of local communities in the newly-independent, impoverished south.

There is some hopeful news. President Obama on Tuesday provided $26 million to tackle the urgent and developing refugee crisis brought on by violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

“We continue to call upon the government of Sudan to allow full and unfettered access for international humanitarian agencies to South Kordofan and Blue Nile to provide emergency assistance to those in need.” President Obama

The situation is ongoing though and extremely dire, there are 30,000 refugees stranded just in the dusty border town of Yida, between Sudan and South Sudan. How many more lives on the line, how many more pictures of wounded, starving children need to be viewed, how many more devastating and heartbreaking stories are going to be published before there is an end to the humanitarian crisis?

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

“We are very concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in South Kivu, especially in the northern part of the province, in Shabunda, Walungu and Kalehe territories,” Laetitia Courtois, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sub-delegation in Bukavu.

The fighting is intensifying in the DRC and the civilian population is suffering and paying the highest price. The ICRC has evacuated 53 civilian field casualties, including 18 children, from areas in which fighting was taking place and arranged for them to be treated in hospitals in Bukavu. Tens of thousands of people recently fled their homes in North Kivu Province, following attacks by armed groups and ensuing military operations by the national army. At the end of March, a large proportion of the population in the outskirts of Beni, North Kivu, fled their homes following the killing, raping and looting of villagers by armed men. UNHCR reported 33 attacks in north-eastern DRC.

Regrettably, the unstable security environment is just the beginning.  If civilians aren’t killed by armed groups, they die from limited access to health care.

“For the wounded, the ability to obtain care quickly often makes the difference between life and death.” – Courtois.

How do we stop so many gruesome civilian casualities? One man living in Congo, is taking matters into his own hands. Freddy Mwenengabo has gone on a hunger strike since March 4 to urge the Canadian government to address the human rights issues in Congo. He said he is willing to die for the cause because it will be one more death added to the millions who have already died. This is a drastic plea for change but the media and government have taken notice. It makes me wonder, do we have starve ourselves, see celebrities get arrested, and go to great lengths just to grab enough attention to push for change?

BURMA

Aung San Suu Kyi wins the elections (BBC News)

Aung San Suu Kyi wins the elections (BBC News)

Sunday wasn’t just April Fool’s Day but a historic day for Burma’s democracy as it held elections after decades. Although official results have yet to be released, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to victory in a milestone by-election.

The US has declared that it is ready to relax sanctions on Burma, easing a ban on American companies investing in or offering financial services to the country.

“This election is an important step in Burma’s democratic transformation, and we hope it is an indication that the government of Burma intends to continue along the path of greater openness, transparency and reform,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said the US was ready to allow private US aid groups to pursue non-profit activities on projects such as democracy building, health and education, and to give select Burmese officials and politicians permission to visit the US. Washington wants Burma to free all political prisoners, lift restrictions on those who have already been released, seek national reconciliation, and to end military ties to North Korea. I cannot help to think that the ease of sanctions is either a blessing or curse. Just because Burma is on the road to democracy, doesn’t mean the West can push for its demands on how the country should be run.  It is not easy to build a new country after half a century of authoritarian rule, and we should monitor Burma’s developments and embrace progress without overstepping our ‘big brother’ role.

IDPs To Boycott US Envoy

Unless he changes his position and takes account of our demands, he is not welcomed in our camps because he does not consider us.

Those words were spoken by a representative of Darfur’s internally displaced persons, who have decided against meeting US special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration when he visits their camps.

The IDPs feel that Gration has “ignored their demand for security” and refused to acknowledge Darfur for what it is – a humanitarian crisis.

Put simply by the representative -

It is better for President Obama to appoint someone else.

Many in the US agree with this view of Gration and what he has accomplished (or hasn’t accomplished). Several had high hopes when he was appointed. Now, many are left wanting more.

Obama in Ghana – Hope for Darfur?

President Obama spoke in Ghana following the G8 summit. While encouraging Africans to take responsibility for their own future, he does acknowledge that the genocide in Darfur is not simply an African problem. He calls for an international system to oppose human rights violations and help those who have suffered. He specifically spoke out against the criminality and cowardice of systematic rape.
“We must bear witness to the value of every child in Darfur and dignity of every woman in the Congo.
Mr. Obama outlined the need for democracy, opportunity, health care, and peaceful conflict resolution. For the entire speech, click here.

Darfur… still genocide

Gration

U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration (Reuters)

Special envoy to Sudan, General Scott Gration does not seem to be in-sync with the US State Dept.  This past Wednesday, after a series of visits with the government of Sudan, he released a statement saying

“What we see is the remnants of genocide. What we see are the consequences of genocide, the results of genocide.”

On the other hand, the Assistant Secretary of the US State Department said

“We continue to characterize the circumstances in Darfur as genocide,”

This clearly contradicts General Gration’s earlier statement.  Is there room for debate? Is the situation in Darfur genocide?

I think so.  And General Gration’s boss agrees.

Read the complete article at the Sudan Tribune.

Darfur – Only “Remnants of Genocide”

What we see is the remnants of genocide.

Those words were spoken today by US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration whose recent trip to Darfur did not convince him that a genocide is TAKING place – only that a genocide TOOK place.

Gration also remarked that the humanitarian gap caused by Sudan’s expulsion of major aid groups in March has been “essentially closed”.

Perhaps Gration is simply trying to exhibit optimism. Perhaps he’s out to improve the image of Sudan.

Whatever the reason behind his words today, I’m left confused.

Just two days ago, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice called Darfur a present “genocide”. Less than two weeks ago, the man who appointed Gration, US President Barack Obama, referred to Darfur as a “genocide that’s taking place”.

How can people working together lack consensus on something like this? Yes, Darfur was a genocide in 2003. It was a genocide in 2006. And it is a genocide today. The means of carrying out the genocide may have changed but the motive is the same.

“Obligation” to End Genocide

While in Germany this Friday, US President Barack Obama plans to visit Buchenwald, a former Nazi concentration camp. As he prepared for the tour, Obama discussed current efforts to end the genocide in Sudan -

The phrase “never again” means that the international community has an obligation even when it’s inconvenient to act when genocide is occurring.

That’s two days in a row that Obama has mentioned Darfur as he travels the world.

President Obama mentions Darfur in speech to Muslims

President Barack Obama recently spoke Cairo University “outlining his personal commitment to engagement with the Muslim world, based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.”

And he mentioned Darfur.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

I am consistently impressed by President Obama’s ability to speak honestly and eloquently about such difficult issues.   I would highly recommend watching the complete speech (Darfur is mentioned at the 12min mark).

Read the complete transcript of the speech

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