June 22, 2004
Forget Iraq for a moment.
One of the world's "most rapidly developing humanitarian crises" -- as UNICEF describes it -- is in Sudan.
For the last 15 months, the fertile lands of North Darfur have been under attack in western Sudan. An armed militia of nomadic Arab tribes, known as the Janjaweed, has raided these lands, violently displacing more than a million black Sudanese Muslims in a clash over territory. Thousands have been slaughtered, tens of thousands have been raped and robbed and seen their farms destroyed, hundreds of villages have been burned and dozens of schools have been closed. Some of these attacks have taken place with the help of government soldiers.
Because farmers are being separated from their land during a planting season, many predict famine in just a few months. Some are able to make the long trek to neighboring Chad, but many are not. About one-third of those who are displaced within the country are expected to die of starvation and illness if the violence doesn't stop and if humanitarian aid doesn't arrive soon.
Many international aid organizations -- including Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders and others -- are waiting to be granted access to the refugees.
The help is there. Access is not.
The region is remote, and the central government in Khartoum restricts access to humanitarian groups. Although some aid has gotten through in recent weeks, roads will soon be impassable because of summer rains.
So far there has been little outrage and hardly any call to action. The international community needs to condemn the complicit Islamic government in Khartoum and coerce it into stopping the atrocities.
Fortunately, pressure is mounting for the U.S. government to take action. The House passed a resolution to freeze the assets of Sudanese implicated in the crisis, as well as bar them from entering the United States. The threat of U.S. sanctions on Sudan has also intensified.
But all in all, the Bush administration has remained relatively quiet.
A decade ago, we did not think Rwanda would careen so far out of control that 800,000 people would die for our indifference. A decade later, even as we decry our inaction in Rwanda, we are replaying our apathy in Darfur.
People are being slaughtered and starved because of the color of their skin. The international community's tepid response to this travesty speaks volumes about our true concern for human rights and human dignity.
In the many casualties from the war in Iraq, let's not allow Sudan to become another.
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and author, and is on the board of directors at TransAfrica Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that focuses on economic justice for Africa and the diaspora. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.