â€œWe must unite not in opinion but in action before Darfur becomes another Rwanda â€“ a stain on the conscience of mankindâ€ were the closing words of Nyuol Tong, a Sudanese refugee and founder of SELF (Sudan Education for Liberty Foundation), when he spoke amongst other supporting organizations as part of the â€˜SUDAN; Hear the Voice of the Voicelessâ€™ tour that visited UCSB last Monday, November 24th.
Tong is a victim of the Civil war in South Sudan which was brought to a close in 2005 with the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) between the Government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan Peopleâ€™s Liberation Movement after 17 years of civil war, in which two million were killed, and millions more were displaced. Fortunately, he managed to flee the country and is now residing in Santa Ynez Valley learning, from his foundation, how to build schools upon his return to South Sudan. According to his website sudanself.org, only 33% of children are enrolled in schools – the lowest rate in the world. He views education as the key to liberate Southern Sudan from the cycle of poverty and violence which has the racked the region for over 50 years.
In Darfur, a region in the West of Sudan, the humanitarian crisis is even worse: 2.5 million displaced, people crammed into 160 over-populated refugee camps and 400,000 estimated dead due to the civil war between the Sudanese government and Darfurian rebel groups. The government affiliated Janjaweed have been accused of most war crimes, for using a scorched earth policy, which caused the excavation of villages and massacre of hundreds of innocent villagers, under the orders of Al Bashir in order to expose the militia groups.
The documentary Darfur Now, shown prior to the guest speakers as part of the tour, conveyed the urgent situation in Darfur from various different viewpoints working on the ground in refugee camps.
One story followed the journey of Adam Sterling in his determined struggle to help the people in Darfur. He was a 24-year-old waiter and student activist who began flyering and organizing community events at UCLA, and ended up successfully urging Governor Schwarzenegger to sign a bill to keep California funds from investing in companies with interests in Sudan.
Sterling spoke after the documentary, emphasizing the atrocious choices mothers still have to make everyday in order to get water from the wells to survive,â€œ If I send my son out heâ€™ll be killed, but if I send my daughter she will only get raped.â€ This is what threw him into action and he never looked back, â€œEven if its only small we had to something.â€ he said.
UCSB pressure group STAND, part of the Save Darfur Coalition and GI-NET (Genocide Intervention Network) are actively working on campus to educate people about the human rights crisis in Darfur, organizing events to spread awareness about the urgency of the issue, fundraising for civilian relief aid and gathering more support for campaigns that push for action at government level to fund the African Union Peace Keepers.
Since the documentary was made, Argentinean Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has just filed a court case for the first time against a sitting head of state, seeking an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the atrocities he allegedly directed in Darfur. Encouragingly, the Bush Administration has stated that any attempt by the U.N. Security Council to suspend prosecution, will be vetoed by the U.S, which holds some hope in the future weight of the U.Nâ€™s geo-political force, despite Ocampaâ€™s foreboding words in the documentary, â€œIf this U.N. court works well, then Darfur will be like Argentina â€“ itâ€™s not perfect but people arenâ€™t killing each other, but if the court doesnâ€™t work well then in 25 years the world will be like Darfurâ€