Just as a negotiated-peace began to take hold in southern Sudan, a new crisis arose in the western Darfur region this past winter and spring. Half a year after escalation of the atrocities, estimates of the dead range from 30,000 to 50,000, and well over a million people have been internally or externally displaced. Men and boys have been systematically murdered; worse yet, a conscious effort at genocide has once again turned to mass rape of the remaining women. International response has been harsh yet guarded, and far too slow. We must push our political leaders to appropriate action under international law. [This editorial is specifically focused on religious and interfaith communities].
By now we have all heard about the atrocities and genocide occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan. I first heard of them in the editorials of Nicolas Kristof of The New York Times back in March, shortly after they began. While there have been a few references in this news source (1, 2), not enough attention has been paid to this issue that should be paramount for religionists the world over.
For the past few months the world has argued about how to respond, how to** prevent over a million refugees from becoming another million deaths from genocide in Africa**. In the meantime atrocities have continued, and the government of Sudan has not kept its promises to halt the harassment. In a scene reminiscent of legal wrangling over the definition of “is” in the mid-90’s, the international community has thus far refused to use the legal term “genocide” to describe the murders, rapes, and displacement of people. As if we need a legal distinction to realize that action is needed! Finally this past week the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, definitely ascribed the term “genocide” to the government backed oppression.
Does this mean that action under the international Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is imminent? Perhaps the U.S. government will for once help deliver military assistance to African victims of genocide. According to a September 9th press release from the White House, the government plans to seek “a new [United Nations] Security Council Resolution to authorize an expanded African Union security force to prevent further bloodshed.” These strong words have been backed by introduction of a draft resolution that, if objections from Russia, France and China can be accommodated, may pass as soon as this week.
At last we have positive movement towards ameliorating the violence. But what about the continuing humanitarian crisis — the need for food, water, shelter, and the return of refugees? This is where the international community must work diligently to safeguard these lives, to keep keep the death toll from becoming a chaotic downward spiral.
International donors and the U.N. have been at work since the beginning of refugee movements last winter, and a donor’s conference for fundraising is planned for late in September in Oslo, Norway. Many religious and interfaith organizations have joined (or lead) the efforts, though some are worried that the recent focus on Darfur will hurt similar efforts in the newly peaceful southern regions. The spiritual imperative to assist those is need is clear and present in all major religions, so I will not belabor that point. As individuals and organizations,** here are a few concrete ways that you can help:**
- Raise your voice, electronically that is, by sharing this urgent message with your religious brethren and administrative or clerical officials or by joining the Save Darfur Coalition's Green Ribbon Campaign
- Those of you who live in nations represented on the U.N. Security Council: please urge your governments to support military force and/or the threat of economic sanctions in Sudan (Permanent/veto members: China, France, Great Britain, Russia, United States; At-large members: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, and Spain)
- Contribute directly to humanitarian relief through the groups below.
- Leave other suggestions as comments at the end of this article.
Secular Organizations Working in Darfur
- Amnesty International USA
- U.N. High Commission for Refugees (who have received only $1.1 million for Darfur relief; website will direct to proper donating agency depending on your nationality)
- UNICEF (separate from UNHCR, again directs to proper agency for your nationality)
- The Carter Center
- Doctors Without Borders
- World Vision
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
- Islamic Relief
- American Jewish World Service
- United Methodist Committee on Relief
- Lutheran World Relief
- Caritas Internationalis
The Save Darfur Coalition
“The Save Darfur Coalition, comprised of a broadly diverse group of faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations, was formed to raise public awareness and to mobilize North Americans and members of the international community to respond to and help end the atrocities that threaten the lives of two million people in the Darfur region.” (from savedarfur.org)
Inspired by a speech by Nobel-prize winner Elie Wiesel, this group has brought together over 100 organizations, truly representing every major religion in the United States, in support of a unity statement regarding the need to respond to the events in Darfur. They are working to spread the word through congregations and campuses in particular, and are trying to organize a “green ribbon campaign” for grassroots spread of their message.
I do not know how effective they have been to date (I found them only after actively searching for Darfur relief efforts), but their intentions, aims, and actions seem to be of utmost purity and profoundly meaningful. **InterfaithNews.Net will join the Save Darfur Coalition green ribbon campaign, and we’d like to use our “pulpit” to urge other religious and interfaith groups to do so as well. **
Please visit Collected Articles on Religious Responses to Conflict in Sudan for specific religious responses to the genocide.