Thursday, September 6, 2007

Not on our watch!

I was in 7th grade when I first heard of the “situation” in Rwanda. I saw images in the papers and on TV of bodies lining the streets. I remember that I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that all of that was really happening, and that the people responsible were not being held accountable for it. I remember thinking it was strange that the grown-ups around me never talked it about. It confused me. If so many people are being brutally murdered for no reason, how can we go about our lives without even thinking about them? I remained silent about the whole thing because of the way it was handled by adults around me. If no one cares, then I guess I don’t need to. After all, I’m a 7th grade kid. These people obviously know better than me.

Within a few months, well over 800,000 people were dead and it was over. And we lived our lives the same way we did while it was happening. Maybe everyone breathed a sigh of relief because it was okay to be comfortable again, but to be honest; I don’t even remember how I felt. Maybe it was because I never really understood what was happening anyway. Or perhaps it was because, in my head, things are so different in Africa that something like genocide isn’t that big of a deal.

Well, I was wrong. We were all wrong.

Not even 10 years after America said “Never Again” to genocide, another one began. Now, I realize the term “genocide” is one that is up for debate under the circumstances, but if we’re truly honest with ourselves, titling it “genocide” or a “crime against humanity” or a “mass atrocity crime” is completely trivial when lives are being taken and we can do something about it.

The genocide in Darfur is what I'm referring to. In President al-Bashir's attempt to defeat the rebel movements, the Government of Sudan has increased arms and support to local tribal and other militias (the Janjaweed). They have wiped out entire villages, destroyed food and water supplies, and brutally murdered, tortured, and raped hundreds of thousands of Darfurians. These attacks happen with the direct support of the Government of Sudan's armed forces.

No portion of Darfur's civilian population has been spared violence, murder, rape and torture. I have heard that the Sudanese military paints many of its attack aircraft white (the same color as UN humanitarian aircraft), which is a violation of international humanitarian law. When a plane approaches, villagers don't know whether it is on a mission to help them, or to bomb them.

This GENOCIDE has already claimed as many as 400,000 lives. It has crossed over into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic. About 2.3 million Darfuris have fled their homes and communities and now livee in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Darfur, with at least 200,000 more living in refugee camps in Chad. These refugees and IDPs are completely dependent on the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations for their very livelihood (food, water, shelter, and health care).

Another 1 million Darfuris still live in their villages, under the constant threat of bombings, raids, murder, rape and torture. Their safety depends on the presence of the underfunded and undermanned African Union peacekeeping force, numbering just 7,400 people. However, its sole purpose of being there is to monitor and report ceasefire violations and it has done little more, due to its limited mandate but also because of its lack of people.

How can this happen again? What do we do? Do we see it on TV and change the channel? When our children ask us about it, do we tell them that Darfur is a hopeless disaster and then move on? God, I hope not! The people of Darfur are DESPERATE! They are hopeful, not hopeless. They need us. Just because we can't hear their voices, doesn't mean they aren't calling us.

Perhaps, you started to read this blog and stopped long before you got to this point because in the back of your mind you thought it would be boring or that it doesn't pertain to you. So you will go about your day. But please remember this:

"Silence helps the killer, never his victims." - Professor Elie Wiesel

Save Darfur!

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