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The genocide we're missing *LINK*

Guy Rundle is a co-editor of Arena Magazine.

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Let's not allow Darfur to become an occasion for shameful hand-wringing, writes Guy Rundle.

We should be able to recognise it by now. First there is the small report of violence and strife in a corner of a little known country, in the corner of a newspaper. Then there is the larger report, full of incomprehensible politics and history, acronyms flying everywhere. Someone warns of genocide. There is a stern editorial. Then the debate moves on - Iraq, childhood obesity, a bucks' night video - and we forget it. Then the devastation occurs and we go back to past news reports and try to track why we missed it.

This time around, it's happening in the Sudan. There were articles about it here and elsewhere a few weeks ago. Like many, I read them, tried to sort out the politics, failed, resolved to look it up on the internet and then forgot. Inconveniently, the situation failed to solve itself.

Large-scale killings are still liable to occur at any moment. The situation is still one of uneasy truce. But the world has turned elsewhere. Yet this time we have a chance to catch up. This time we have a chance to concentrate our minds more fully and realise that the situation is not one of business as usual, but of a genuine crisis, and that it is worthy of a turning of attention, and of action.

Part of the failure to comprehend the crisis in the Sudan has been the tendency to present the political situation in its full complexity, which is beyond the grasp of all but experts. But the lineaments of it are simple enough. For more than 30 years a civil war has been fought in the vast north-east African country. State power is in the hands of the Muslim Arab population. Discrimination and repression has been visited upon groups in southern and western Sudan who are African rather than Arab, Christian-animist rather than Muslim.

In 2003 a ceasefire in this long war was obtained, and peace talks are now under way at Naivisha in Kenya. The Sudanese Government has used this lull as an opportunity to enforce "ethnic cleansing" of "disloyal" African-Muslim population groups in the western region of Darfur. They have done this by supporting and failing to restrain groups of Arab militias, who have killed more than 30,000 people, and displaced close to a million more.

Many of these people are now in refugee camps that provide no protection from the militias. They face starvation and a lack of supplies as well as the threat of a renewed round of killing by the militias, under cover of the peace talks.

Stop and consider these figures for a moment. Thirty thousand killed. In six months. Hundreds of thousands threatened by starvation or direct killing. International and public pressure and attention now - which does not necessarily mean UN military intervention, but may eventually include it - is the only way in which this will stop happening. Yet the issue cannot get its head above the general flow of events. It surfaces for a while, then disappears again.

Why this failure of the issue to take hold, to shape events around it, to signal its primary importance? The complexity and obscurity of the region is one factor, though as the account above shows, it is a simple enough situation. Part of it is the general paralysis of interest that occurs in an era when news streams in from every quarter of the world. And part of it is undoubtedly the Iraq war, which has made people justifiably distrustful of calls to international intervention.

One of the worst effects of the lies and distortions by those who advocated a war against Iraq is that the process of sorting out a genuine case for international intervention from those that are politically expedient has become muddied.

In the past 10 years Saddam Hussein did not kill or torture as many people as have been killed by state-supported Sudanese militias in the past few months - and the death and cultural destruction that can be prevented dwarfs anything since Rwanda. Yet we are still way behind in getting even the most basic understanding of what is going on there.

If we are genuinely concerned about the mass graves of the future, then this is a cause that warrants a mass turning of attention. Here there is a role and responsibility for the media to take an issue and make sure that its importance becomes visible, and that the need for it to become a matter of international focus and imperative becomes clear. This means more news space, more focus, a campaign.

That may or may not conclude that military intervention is necessary or desirable, but it will be part of an international push to keep the event in the spotlight - which, with sanctions and other measures, may be sufficient to head off slaughter.

The alternative is that Darfur, like Cambodia and Rwanda, becomes an event rather than a place, an occasion for shameful hand-wringing about what could have been done, and the not-so-distant sounds we failed to hear.

Guy Rundle is a co-editor of Arena Magazine.

Reproduced from:
For Fair Use only

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