Friday, July 11, 2008
From Rwanda to Darfur: Have we forgotten?
In 1994, the Hutu ethnic group of Rwanda slaughtered close to one million human beings in their effort to purge the country of the Tutsis. Over the course of approximately one hundred days, the world turned its back as the genocide raged. The conflict was finally brought to an end when Tutsi militia drove the Hutu military out of the country. One million human beings were murdered, and no one lifted a finger or batted an eye. Now, fourteen years later, almost half a million people have lost their lives in the Darfur conflict, and again the world governments are turning a deaf ear to the cries for help.
The online encyclopedia Wikipedia loosely defines the conflict in Darfur as an ethnic and tribal military conflict encompassing Western Sudan. But the conflict has become rather one-sided. The Sudanese military government, together with the Janjaweed militia, has engaged in a full-scale genocide of its own subjects; murdering innocent civilians, raping women, and destroying homes and property. The war is estimated to have displaced more than two and a half million people, driving them to enter refugee camps where living conditions are unfathomably harsh. The international outcry against Darfur has largely been ignored by the Sudanese government. The UN has been ineffective in its peacekeeping attempts. And the conflict rages on, well into its fifth year and showing no signs of ending.
The UN seemed to have learned its lesson after the horrors of Rwanda. So why has the crisis in Darfur been allowed to continue? There seems to be no clear answer. Mark Lattimer, executive director of Minority Rights Group, stated that: "this level of crisis, the killings, rape and displacement could have been foreseen and avoided ... Darfur would just not be in this situation had the UN systems got its act together after Rwanda: their action was too little too late." So half a million people have payed for this mistake with their lives. Has the UN become so ineffective that it can no longer accomplish what it was designed to do? And why have the rest of the world governments made no motion to intervene?
Public response to the conflict in Darfur has been extensive, but produced little results. And now we as Americans seem to be losing interest. Maybe the vast distance that separates us from them makes the news of the crises feel disconnected, like it is coming to us from another world. Our culture and lifestyle is so vastly different from theirs, it's easy to believe that somehow they are not our brothers and sisters. In the movie Hotel Rwanda, the African manager of a hotel tells a foreign journalist, "Once people see what's happening here, surely there will be help!" The journalist responds, "I think if people see this footage, they'll say 'Oh my God, how horrible!' and go on eating their dinners." Does that line hit home somewhere? It certainly does for me. I feel so helpless, sitting by and watching lives being destroyed. All I can do is pray that God will bring a swift end to the conflict and mend all those broken lives and hearts. And I'd encourage others to do the same. Maybe we can't single-handedly bring this disaster to an end, but we can at least petition the God of the universe to alleviate their suffering.