The Independent Newsweekly
|NEWS FOR TODAY|
Posted Wednesday June 30, 2003 at 10:05 a.m. CDT
U.S. Holocaust museum shuts down to call attention to Sudan genocide
By Stephen Steele
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington closed access to its main exhibitions June 24 to call attention to possible genocide in Sudan.
Amal Allagabo, a Sudanese citizen residing in the United States, said she lost contact with her family in Darfur after ethnic violence broke out earlier this year.
"Now they might be dead, scattered in different camps in Chad, or lost in the desert with no water, shelter, nor sense of security," she said.
"In my eyes and many eyes, this is the world's worst humanitarian disaster. My family is just like yours, they want to make a decent living and feel secure as human beings with observable rights," she said.
Jerry Fowler, director of the museum's committee on conscience, called for immediate action on Darfur.
"The time to act in Darfur is now," he said during the program.
"The obligation to prevent genocide is a legal one and a moral one. Too often in the past, as this museum starkly illustrates, warnings have been received and ignored, and the result has been death and suffering on a massive scale," he said.
In May, Fowler visited Sudanese refugees residing in camps in Chad. He told Catholic News Service that while there he visited a small graveyard containing the remains of children who had died recently. He said an aid worker had told him that seven children had died during the previous 11 days.
"It was a somewhat poignant and eerie sight to see these small mounds of dirt rising up in the middle of the desert," he told Catholic News Service.
During the conference, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said a "humanitarian crisis of historic proportions is unfolding" in Darfur.
"Yet, even as the international community only recently resolved to avoid a repeat of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, it risks in Darfur yet another case of inertia: that of not acting until confronted by a catastrophe enormous in scale," he said.
The U.S. government estimates that more than 300,000 people in Darfur could die this year because the Arab-dominated Sudanese government has prevented humanitarian aid from reaching Darfur, Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., said during the program.
"We must confront the possibility of genocide and act. Unless governments act now, we may find ourselves, in the future, commemorating what would be called the Sudan genocide of 2004, just as we last month commemorated the Rwanda genocide of 1994, in which 800,000 died," Corzine said.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was to travel to Darfur June 29 to open the area to humanitarian aid. Powell said earlier in June that the Bush administration was trying to determine whether events in Darfur constituted the legal definition of genocide.
The United Nations has estimated that about 1.2 million people have been forced from their homes by the ethnic conflict in Darfur and are now in great need of humanitarian assistance. While many reside in camps in Chad, many others are "living under trees" along the Sudan-Chad border, Fowler said.
"There's not enough room in the camps," Fowler said; he estimated that about 50 percent of those displaced are in camps.
Violence in Darfur broke out last year. The government in Khartoum is reportedly offering military backup and support to Arab militias, which have been accused of gross human rights violations.
The Agence France-Presse news agency quoted a U.N. emergency relief coordinator in early April saying that the Sudanese government was turning a blind eye to "ethnic cleansing" by the militias.
Refugees from Darfur seeking safety in neighboring Chad have reported to aid workers that the militias carried out mass rapes and execution-style killings. Villages and food supplies have been looted and burned while government helicopter gunships circled overhead, they said. The government denies supporting the militias.
Rebel groups in Darfur rose up against the government last year, accusing the government of oppressing black Africans in favor of Arabs. Local disputes over scarce grazing lands also have fueled the conflict. While both groups are Muslim, black Africans are primarily sedentary farmers, while the Arabs are nomadic herdsmen, which has brought the two groups into conflict over access to land and water resources.
Negotiations are continuing in Sudan and in neighboring Kenya to bring an end to the civil war that has pitted the Arab-dominated government of the North against the people of the South, who are mainly African Christians or followers of traditional African religions.
The northern government allows Southerners only limited access to education, jobs and political power -- a discrimination that in 1983 triggered the war, led by the Sudan People's Liberation Army.
Fighting and war-related famine and disease have killed at least 2 million people since 1983. The war also has displaced more than 5 million people. Most casualties are from southern Sudan.
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