Thursday, March 25, 2004


Do you know where Darfur is? Do you know what's happening there?

Darfur is in the western Sudan, and what's happening there is ethnic cleansing. I hate that term with its associations to doing the dishes or the laundry; I hate its coldness, its perverted tidiness, its lack of gore and blood. Yet gore and blood is what's being spilled in Darfur, by armed Arab militias with, most likely, the full support of the Sudanese government.

Already 10,000 people have been killed, and another 110, 000 has fled to the neighboring Chad. But even there they're not safe, as the Sudanese attack across the border and bomb the villages on the other side of the border. The situation is dire. The United Nations coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, fears for another Rwanda and desperately wants more help with the humanitarian tasks of helping the survivors.

Why is this happening? The immediately preceding reason is the rebellion against Khartoum that two local armed groups started last year. Add to that a long-standing competition for good land between the African tribes and the Arabs. Many of the survivors believe that the Arab militia are attacking for purely racial reasons. The government of Sudan fears a situation where it would have enemies on several sides, and this is why it may be helping in the killing of the local villagers:

There are reports of Sudanese military planes bombing villages, after which Arab militias go in and rape and kill survivors.

These are the weapons of genocide: murder and rape. A few weeks ago the village of Tawila woke up at sunrise to an attack by the militiamen. Seventy-five people were killed and over a hundred women were raped. The militiamen also abducted several hundred women and children. I'm not sure which of these destinies I would choose if I were forced to choose, not to mention the fact that being raped, abducted and killed are not mutually exclusive fates for any one individual. But of course none of the victims were given a choice of any kind.

The Christian Science Monitor calls this 'a silent war', not because slaughtering people could somehow be done more quietly in Darfur or elsewhere, but because the rest of the world (which means us) hardly hears about it. Darfur is isolated, difficult to get to, and the area is full of bandits as well as the militiamen. The UN humanitarian efforts are also hampered by the remoteness and dangers of the area. All this plays into the hands of the thugs and murderers and must not be allowed to go on.

Maybe Mukesh Kapila is exaggerating as some argue. Maybe Darfur won't be another Rwanda. But those who thought the rumors of the Rwandan genocide were exaggerated now bitterly regret their scepticism. It's much better to stop an imaginary genocide than to fail to stop a real one. Make noise about Darfur!