Darfur Advocates Urged Not to Quit 5 Years On
It's a dark anniversary Tuesday for Darfurians, who entered their sixth year of deadly conflict amid a recent upsurge of violence.
After an estimated 200,000 deaths and more than a third of the six-million Darfuri population displaced since 2003, aid agencies, media groups and even Hollywood actors who have lent their fame to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis are still seeing little change in the western region of Sudan.
"I think the situation on the ground is obvious. There's still violence, there's still suffering and there's still woeful campaigns on the part of the government against its own people," Allyn Brooks-LaSure, spokesman for the Save Darfur Coalition, told The Christian Post.
Brooks-LaSure visited refugee camps along the Chad-Sudan border just before a new wave of heavy bombings and attacks by the Sudanese army and janjaweed militia forced another 12,000 refugees to flee to eastern Chad earlier this month.
More than 50,000 people are suffering in the latest cycle of violence and local residents say government aid raids over the last three weeks have been followed by militia raids, according to BBC News.
Most experts say war broke out on Feb. 26, 2003, when rebels from ethnic African tribes in the region rose up against the central government. The Sudanese government responded by unleashing the pro-government janjaweed ("devils on horseback" in Arabic) militia on Darfurians.
President Bush has called the killings genocide and has stepped up pressure to help resolve the crisis but response from other nations have been slow. Last week, Bush called on all nations to step up efforts to end "once and for all" the ethnic slaughter.
Meanwhile, the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission has yet to fully be deployed.
"The situation is not better than it was five years ago," said Auriol Miller, head of Oxfam in Sudan, to BBC. "We would still say the situation is getting worse. Humanitarian workers are being targeted and attacked in a way that has got increasingly worse over the last few years."
Hollywood actor George Clooney, who helped found the Darfur organization Not on Our Watch, wonders if using his celebrity status to bring attention to the crisis has been in vain or has worsened the situation.
"I've been very depressed since I got back," Clooney told Time magazine, referring to his recent trip to Chad. "I'm terrified that it isn't in any way helping. That bringing attention can cause more damage. You dig a well or build a health-care facility and they're a target for somebody."
"A lot more people know about Darfur, but absolutely nothing is different. Absolutely nothing," he said.
But the alternative cannot be to not build shelters and to not dig wells, says Save Darfur's Brooks-LaSure.
He says activists, students, church organizations and other advocates must continue their humanitarian work in Darfur and spread awareness in their communities.
"It's important that everyone who has been so vocal on this issue continues their work in spite of the circumstances and the campaign of destruction that continues," Brooks-LaSure emphasized. "If our communities don't continue to press this issue and urge that it be a high priority, it can potentially fall into the cracks in light of other foreign policy issues."
And many are continuing their efforts with hope.
Local communities across the United States have joined a yearlong campaign called the "Tents of Hope," which launched last summer. A project of the United Church of Christ, Christian Church and Dear Sudan, "Tents of Hope" brings communities together to create canvas tents where they hand-paint messages to educate the public and build advocacy.
The tents will all be brought to Washington, D.C., in October for a national gathering and display.
"Our answer can't be 'this conflict is five years old so we have to quit, so let's take down the banners,'" said Brooks-LaSure. "The answer has to be 'let's do more and not less.'"