Global activism but Darfur still in agony

Despite unprecedented global activism on behalf of the people of Darfur, Sudan in 2006, atrocities continue to occur daily in the region. Since it began in February 2003, the violence sponsored by the Sudanese government and perpetrated by its Janjaweed militias has claimed at least 400,000 lives, displaced 2.5 million people and left more than 3.5 million men, women and children struggling to survive amid violence and starvation, according to the United Nations.

“The tremendous activism we’ve seen in 2006 sends a powerful message to world leaders that the atrocities being perpetrated by the Sudanese government will not be tolerated,” said David Rubenstein, executive director of the Save Darfur Coalition, last Tuesday. The coalition says it represents 130,000,000 people in more than 175 faith-based, humanitarian and educational member organisations, which include Amnesty International, American Jewish World Service, American Society for Muslim Advancement, Genocide Intervention Network and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The coalition received more than $4.3 million last year in donations. This enables it to place high-profile advertisements detailing the situation in Darfur on television, in the New York Times and in other publications as part of their Advocacy and Education Campaign.

In 2006, more than one million postcards were sent to US President Bush in support of a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur and more than 75,000 activists gathered at the coalition’s rallies in Washington and New York City, Connors added. “These numbers demonstrate that activists in the US and in the international community are — and have been — standing united on behalf of the people of Darfur,” said Rubenstein. Despite this remarkable outpouring of support, there has been little impact in Darfur.

“The US embargo on economic investment in Sudan has not stopped American companies like Fidelity and Berkshire Hathaway from investing,” Gita Zomrodi of American Jewish World Services, a member of the coalition, said. These investments have contributed to

a booming economy in the country which has emboldened the government, she said.

China has made clear that it supports a UN peacekeeping force for Darfur, but that Khartoum’s consent must be achieved first. New UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has promised to make Darfur a priority. He already has had several meetings with key stakeholders, including the first meeting of a new UN Task Force on Darfur, and he plans to meet with al-Bashir in late January at African Union meetings. Ban worked especially closely this week with the new UN Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, who is currently travelling in Sudan. Eliasson described meetings with Bashir last Tuesday as “fruitful and constructive,” Michele Montas, Ban’s spokesperson told reporters here on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Sudanese government has unleashed a fresh aerial bombing campaign in Darfur in an attempt to inflict as much damage as possible on rebel forces before UN troops arrive in the region.

The AU force commander, Major Gen Luke Aprezi, confirmed the attacks and said they followed talks with rebel groups in which he agreed a ceasefire commitment that he now fears may no longer hold. —IPS