Sudan: The Next Rwanda?

Rwandan refugees Rwandan refugees, 1993 (Sebastião Salgado)

In 1994 the Rwandan Genocide left the world in a state of shock and horror at the disturbing systematic slaughter of 800,000 human beings. Trouble had been brewing in Rwanda for years before, but nothing was done to resolve the tension that quickly led to one of the most tragic events in recent history. Even when there was undisputable evidence that Genocide was being committed, the world seemed to stand idly by and watch Rwanda with a sickening sense of grim fascination. After the full effect of the Genocide was finally realized, the international community vowed "never again" to allow such a catastrophe to occur. Never again would the nations of the world stand by and watch a minority people be mercilessly slaughtered by their majority counterparts. Never again would the international community feel the shame of knowing that their inaction had resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of helpless men, women, and children.

Map of SudanToday in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, however, there have already been approximately 250,000 unnecessary deaths in the last three years. Nearly 2.5 million have been displaced by fleeing the government-backed "Janjaweed" Arab militias that have razed villages and have mercilessly raped and mutilated helpless villagers. Paul Rusesabagina, the hotelier whose selfless heroism saved more than 1,000 Tutsis and Hutus during the Rwandan Genocide and inspired the Oscar-nominated movie "Hotel Rwanda", has recently compared the current situation in Darfur with what he saw leading up to the genocide in Rwanda. Rusesabagina told the BBC's World Today Program, "I feel bitter because the international community and mankind as a whole - we see, we look and we never learn from the past in order to plan for a better future for the next generation."

So is Sudan going to be the next Rwanda? Have we really learned from the past—or is "never again" just an empty phrase that will be heard once more when the final death toll in Sudan is taken? In this page we will briefly examine the genocide problem in Sudan, what major countries and organizations are doing to try and find solutions, and how grassroots organizations are making important contributions that you can be a part of.

Many people have never heard of the Darfur region of Sudan or of Janjaweed militias, however the term "genocide" immediately conjures up some ghostly images...but just what exactly is going on in Sudan? On September 9, 2004 Secretary of State Colin Powell first officially called the killings in Sudan "genocide," based on a report released by the State Department that found a "consistent and widespread pattern of atrocities committed against non-Arab villagers." Over the past few years, the Arab Janjaweed militias have "received government support to clear civilians from areas considered disloyal to the Sudanese government." For the most part, these "disloyal civilians" are Sudan's black Africans. On its website, The Save Darfur Coalition explains that " The war, which risks inflicting irreparable damage on a delicate ethnic balance of seven million people who are uniformly Muslim, is actually multiple intertwined conflicts. One is between government-aligned forces and rebels; a second entails indiscriminate attacks of the government-sponsored Janjaweed militia on civilians; and a third involves a struggle among Darfur communities themselves." As you can see, the situation is quite complex, as it is affected by a number of entangled conflicts. The Save Darfur Coalition also offers a very detailed explanation of the history of the current situation in Sudan at Save Darfur.

Recently the situation hasn't gotten any better. Multiple attacks on humanitarian workers and aid groups in Sudan have forced them to leave the country. In fact, the conflict is spreading to bordering countries. In Chad, Janjaweed attacks have become more frequent, forcing some 55,000 Chadians to flee their villages near the border and threatening refugee camps that hold 200,000 Sudanese. Chad's president, Idriss Deby, has recently threatened to refuse to provide the Sudanese refugees with refuge if the international community doesn't become more involved in Sudan. Deby has accused the Sudanese government of "exporting Darfur's ethnic strife across the border in a drive to spread Arab control and Islam into sub-Saharan Africa". In response to Deby's demand for help, US Ambassador Mark Wall said "We have appealed to Sudan to stop whatever support it is lending to these groups and to join international efforts to reduce tensions here on the Chad-Sudan border."

The trouble is that world powers have "appealed to Sudan" for years now, with little discernable result. The Sudanese government has cooperated only when given no other option. The Sudan crisis is a major area of attention for the United Nations, but other than threats and financial sanctions not a whole lot has been done. Part of the reason for this is that the African Union is attempting to solve the problem. However, the AU is undersupported, understaffed, and underfunded. There are plans to turn the conflict over to a UN peacekeeping force in September...hopefully by then there will be Sudanese civilians left to protect.

In the meantime, the United Nations and some countries have been providing the AU with humanitarian and financial aid. In the United States, the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act was recently passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and is currently waiting to be passed by Congress. This legislation aims "To impose sanctions against individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, to support measures for the protection of civilians and humanitarian operations, and to support peace efforts in the Darfur region of Sudan, and for other purposes."

An editorial in the Indianapolis Star suggests that "Politics is the key problem. Too few governments are willing to confront Khartoum full-on, whether out of religious deference, pan-African solidarity or desire for the country's oil and arms money. Reversing Sudan's course against that tide will require courageous and persistent diplomatic effort, and sustaining such an effort will take a continuing outcry from the grass roots in those nations fortunate enough to have people power and a free press." (Read the full article at The Indianapolis Star.)

Sudanese hospitalSo while the United Nations and other major countries and organizations are slowly trying to find a solution, many grassroots efforts are looking to spread awareness of the conflict and find ways to support the refugees. Examples include the African Refugee Artist's Club and the Invisible Children movement.

Atem Thuc Aleu fled from Sudan as a child after his parents were killed in the North-South conflict. One of Sudan's "Lost Boys", Aleu was granted asylum in the United States in 2001 and is currently studying art at Brigham Young University in Utah. Aleu recently formed the African Refugee Artist's Club, a small nonprofit organization that encourages refugees in America to share their experiences through art and makes trips to refugee camps in Africa to give small art camps for those who are displaced.

Although Atem Aleu's organization is still small in scale, the impact it has on those who are able to participate is tremendous. On his website Aleu explains, "The purpose is to bear witness, heal, and renew. Artistic expressions provides both a means of processing past and present events, as well as build communal experience through storytelling, education of the community through a common language, and lastly, provides a way to be financially self-sufficient"

Although not directly related to Sudan, the Invisible Children movement seeks to inform the public about a hideous problem in Uganda involving children who are kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army and brainwashed into child killing machines. Three filmmakers from a university in California took a trip to Uganda a few years ago to try and find a story. The story they found is touching and disturbing. After making a documentary about the issue of child soldiers, the filmmakers set out to have screenings at campuses across the country. The movement is spreading as people see the documentary and get involved, and currently the filmmakers are working on making the documentary into a feature-length film to be shown in theatres starting December 2006. You can learn more at www.invisiblechildren.com.

The African Refugee Artist's Club and the Invisible Children movement are just two examples of many grassroots efforts trying to aid and support the people impacted by the genocide in Sudan. Some groups are political in nature, some are individual-based, some try to raise public awareness of the situation in Sudan. All of these groups have one thing in common, though. They depend on the motivation and support of individuals who want to make a difference, and who act to make that difference happen.

So what can you do to help? The most important thing is probably to become more informed about the situation and to help others to become aware that there is need that must be met. Then try to find a way to meet that need. For example, you can:

The genocide in Sudan needs to stop. Efforts are being made, but more needs to be done. The public needs to know about the situation, to get involved and show support for international action. Too often it seems people feel they can't make a difference, so they don't make the attempt. Every little bit counts here, and every contribution of time, money, and thought could be the difference that saves someone's life. Sudan will not become another Rwanda... unless, of course, we have the nerve to sit back and watch the slaughter continue.


African Refugee Artists Club. (No date). ARAC. Retrieved April 18, 2006, from http://www.africanrefugeeartistsclub.org

BBC News. (January 27, 2005). Why "never again" is not enough. Retrieved April 19, 2006 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4213179.stm

Flynn, D. (April 20, 2006). Chadians flee as Darfur crisis spreads.Retrieved April 19, 2006 from Yahoo News.

The Indianapolis Star. (April 3, 2006). Keeping Darfur Before the world. Retrieved April 15, 2006 from http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060403/OPINION/604030318/1002

Invisible Children. (No date). Invisible Children: The Official Site.Retrieved April 18, 2006 from http://www.invisiblechildren.com

Kessler, G. and Lynch, C. (September 10, 2004). U.S. Calls Killings in Sudan Genocide. Retrieved April 14, 2006 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A8364-2004Sep9.html

Res Publica. (2004). Darfur: A Genocide We Can Stop. Retrieved April 18, 2006, from http://www.darfurgenocide.org/

The Save Darfur Coalition. (2006). History of the Conflict. Retrieved April 17, 2006 from http://www.savedarfur.org/situation/history

The Save Darfur Coalition. (2006). U.S. Legislation. Retrieved April 19, 2006 from http://www.savedarfur.org/situation/uslegislation