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The Mass Media

How Long Will We Continue to Turn Away From the Real-Life Horror in Darfur?

How Long Will We Continue to Turn Away From the Real-Life Horror in Darfur?
Bodies of the newly dead lie where they fall, becoming almost unrecognizable remains of what was once a living human being. Sights like this are all too common in Sudan.
How Long Will We Continue to Turn Away From the Real-Life Horror in Darfur?

UMass Boston sophomore John Makur knows a great deal about hardship. For his entire life he has been facing challenges presented to him due to Sudan’s twenty-one year old civil war. Even though he now lives in America, he continues to fight his battles to end genocide and violence.

Since 2003, both Sudanese forces and a government-backed militia known as the Janjaweed have fought two rebel movements based in Darfur: the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The Sudanese government, run by Lieutenant-General Omar Hassan al-Bashir, is a hard-line Islamist government that upholds Sharia Islamic law. The Janjaweed, a militia comprised mainly of nomadic Arab fighters, targets the civilian populations and ethnic groups where the rebels gain their primary support.

Tensions mounted between the factions when the SLA and JEM attempted to compel the government in Khartoum to address underdevelopment, starvation, and political isolation in the country’s impoverished southern region.

In July 2004 the United Nations adopted Resolution 1556, demanding the government of Sudan immediately disarm the Janjaweed fighters. The resolution played a strong role in the largely ignored May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement. On August 31 of this year the U.N. Security Council took the further step of authorizing U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur by passing Resolution 1706, which called for a force of 20,000. As of today the government in Khartoum has refused to accept the resolution, and called for the expulsion of UN envoy Jan Pronk over remarks he made on his blog about the Janjaweed losing battles in the Darfur region.

A resident of the Boston area, Makur remembers leaving his home in the southern Sudan at the age of seven due to escalating hostility within his native country.

“Definitely, I do have memories. This was a civil war between the South and the North in Sudan that has been going on for twenty one years, and when the northern troops came down into the south they went around and burned houses and killed people, that was the time I was separated from my family,” said Makur. “From that time, up to now, I have not seen my family. For sixteen years now, I have not seen my family.”

Makur and many other Sudanese walked thousands of miles until eventually settling in Sudan’s neighboring Ethiopia. There they lived for two years, but in 1991 war broke out in the East African nation and that’s when Makur “came back to Sudan again, but we didn’t come back to where we were separated from the family.”

Due to the continuing war, displaced Sudanese citizens were denied entry across the border. This situation forced them to live in a U.N. border zone between Ethiopia and Kenya. “We came to the border, and there the life was real hard,” recalls Makur, “but we had to resist because we had nowhere to go.” They lived on the border for two years, until the U.N. relocated them to safer residences in Kenya. Makur lived in Kenya from 1993 until 2000, when the United States Government partook in a plan from 1998 that recommended the relocation of 3,765 Sudanese refugees living in Kenya.

The group moved from Africa to America, thus garnering a new western nickname to describe their dire situation. “They call us the ‘lost boys’ even though we don’t really appreciate the names, but that was the name they gave us because we are living without parents,” said Makur.

Situations like Makur’s, though solemn, are neither uncommon nor completely ignored in the West. Muna Kangsen, the head of the African Student’s Union (ASU) here at UMass Boston spends a great deal of time on the situation in Sudan, and attended a rally on September 17 in New York’s Central Park to protest the growing crisis in Darfur, an expansive region in the western part of Sudan.

“What stood out for me during the rally was a sense of unity for a common

goal, which pervaded the gathering,” recalls Kangsen through e-mail. “I was also struck by the participation of young people in the rally. The place was littered with teenagers

wearing T-Shirts calling for the deployment of UN Peacekeepers to Darfur. Seeing so many young people actively participating in this campaign gave me a sense of hope for the future. Hopefully they will continue to speak out against such injustices.”

As a Rwandan living in America, Robert Gakwaya, President of the “United Massive Action to Save the Sudanese of Darfur: UMass-Darfur,” knows about the horrors of genocide, and refuses to sit back while neighboring African countries endure the same horrors that he once did. As such, Gakwaya started the non-Aligned club, a group that concentrates on world humanitarian action rather than politics. Gakwaya, along with the ASU and United for African Growth, arranged a panel discussion on October 30 to discuss the continued strife in Darfur.

Makur, who will be in attendance the panel discussion, feels that such efforts might help build a relief effort for Sudan.

“On the 30th, people can raise money for Darfur because people are dying of starvation, sickness, and torture,” says Makur. “So what we are doing is raising some money so that we can help people in Darfur. Me, personally with my ASU, I am trying very hard to go to Darfur, and one of these people will get to go to Darfur.”

DARFUR FACTS*The total number of deaths since Sudan’s crisis began in early 2003 reached 400,000 as of February 2006.*Attacks by government troops and the Janjaweed have forced 1.2 million people, mostly Sudanese villagers, from their homes.*Around 130,000 of those forced to flee have taken refuge in neighboring Chad.*Over the past year, as many as 50,000 people have died in violent raids.*Reports continue about rape, torture, looting, and massacres despite the May 2006 Peace Agreement.

The African Students Union and United for African Growth will host a panel discussion at UMass on Monday, October 30th, 2006, from 1:30 pm to 4pm in the Founder’s Lounge in the second floor of the Campus Center. The panel discussion will feature Susannah Sirkin and Karen Hirschfeld who work with Physicians for Human Rights.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:Write your Congressman or Senator and urge them to force the government to allow U.N Peacekeepers into Darfur.Write a letter to Editor in your local paper.Contribute to and/or volunteer for NGOs who administer aid to refugees, i.e., Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur.Visit: www.SaveDarfur.org