Darfur/Darfur: Photos from Sudan
Activists and concerned citizens rejoiced when it was announced on July 31 that a hybrid force of 19,000 United Nations and African Union (AU) soldiers would be deployed into Sudan’s Darfur region. But, it seems that once again the work to end this conflict has only just begun.
For this reason, Save Darfur Canada (SDC), the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) and Cinema Politica have teamed up to digitally project pictures of Darfur by eight award-winning photographers on the exterior walls of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to a chilling musical score.
Titled Darfur/Darfur, the exhibit will take place every night from 8 to 11 p.m. until October 3. The photographs have already been displayed in venues across Europe, the US and South Africa. They will also be seen at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
“This exhibit tonight is entitled Darfur/Darfur but it might well be titled the horror/the horror because behind those photographs is a genocide in slow motion. We have been witness to, for over four years, the genocide by attrition in Darfur,” said Liberal MP Irwin Cotler at the display’s opening night on Sept. 26.
The human face of genocide
While many of the images on display are horrific, the event’s curator, Leslie Thomas said the goal of the exposition is to get people to act. “The numbers are astounding, when you look at the idea of two million people being displaced. I can’t even understand that, I don’t know what two million looks like.”
Thomas says this is why the exhibit was assembled, “it puts a human face to this crisis that so many people have been affected by.”
Former Legal Advisor to the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Tribunals for Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Payam Akhavan, quoted Josef Stalin who said “one murder is a tragedy, a million murders is a statistic.” Akhavan continued, saying, “But behind every statistic there is a human face, each victim had a name, had a face and felt universal emotions. It is in these photographs that we begin to see their face, we begin to see the shared humanity which forces us to get up and move beyond today to try to make a difference however we can.”
Francois Avard, a Quebec writer who recently traveled to Darfur, spoke admirably about the courage he witnessed in the resilient Darfuri people. “Despite all that is happening the people in Darfur are not lying over and dying, these people are filled with courage. Look at these photos; even under these circumstances they are capable of smiling.”
Many influential speakers were present for the opening night. While members of the Liberal Party, the NDP and Quebec Solidaire spoke at the event, a Conservative government representative was not present.
Genocide scholar Gerry Caplan said it was not only shameful, but bizarre that no member of the Conservative party was in attendance since the Canadian government has committed $210 million in humanitarian aid to the AU force and to refugees since 2004. “I don’t know that I’ve ever heard Stephen Harper or Peter MacKay say a single word about Darfur. Why is this? They are willing to send money, but they are scared to go into the country,” said Caplan.
The additional 19,000 AU and UN troops have yet to be deployed on the ground due to the reluctance of Western nations to send manpower into the region.
It will likely take between six to eight months before the hybrid troops set foot in Darfur to supplement the 7,000 AU troops currently in the region. Caplan says this reluctance can be attributed to the fact that everything about the Darfur mission is more difficult than the UN’s peacekeeping mission during the Rwandan genocide. “The terrain is more difficult, the militants are more difficult and the government is more difficult,” said Caplan. The BBC announced on Sept. 30 that rebel forces overran an AU military base with 30 vehicles, looting and vandalizing AU property. Ten soldiers were killed, seven were injured and 50 are still missing. The AU called this the worst attack they have suffered since entering the region in 2003.
“When a decision is taken by our country to go to war the invasion takes place almost immediately. How is it then that when it is a peacekeeping mission, where it is essential for so many people’s lives that action be taken quickly, that we don’t hear one word from our Prime Minister’s mouth?” asked Francoise David of Quebec Solidaire before answering her own question.
“It is because Canada is too pre-occupied in Afghanistan to give proper support to the peacekeeping mission in Darfur.”
Caplan said one thing the Rwandan genocide taught him is that humanity means nothing and national interests trump all. For this reason he urged every Canadian citizen to make this issue a priority.
“We need you to mobilize your country, to tell your government to stop making this an under the table issue and to get involved in a public way. If we pressure the governments to intervene it will be in their national interest,” said Caplan.
Response of the international community
Caplan said it is the international community’s responsibility in the West to intervene, and not because they are great humanitarians, but because “in every single case we have been responsible for the terror, we have been complicit in the genocide and we have colluded with the genocidaires.”
In Rwanda, the French provided the Hutu militants with the money, weapons and training that made the mass slaughter possible. In Darfur, Chinese oil and military interests in Sudan have made it difficult to pass any effective UN resolutions.
According to Caplan, Russia and the US are both major sources of arms in Sudan while the US is said to collude with the Sudanese government in the ‘war on terror’. All four countries are permanent members on the UN Security Council.
“So I say we have to intervene out of compensation, we have to intervene out of restitution, to make up for the terror that we have caused,” said Caplan.
While the UN Secretary General called the July 31 resolution to commit troops a historic and unprecedented event, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler cautioned that, “since this conflict began four years ago many resolutions have been passed and not one has ever been enforced.”
With the AU forces working without re-enforcement, the humanitarian non-governmental organizations have minimal protection in the refugee camps.
In June of 2007 Oxfam, one of the world’s largest aid agencies, announced it would be pulling all its workers from the Gereida refugee camp in Darfur because the organization feels its workers can no longer be protected from attacks. There are currently over 130,000 people seeking refuge at the camp.
“The NGOs no longer have the tools to do the work. There has been immensely important work done, but many are now saying it has become too dangerous because they are being targeted,” said Avard.
“We stand here discussing another failed opportunity to prevent the preventable. Genocide is not an earthquake, it’s not a tsunami, it is the result of a political choice,” said Akhavan. While the chance to prevent genocide was in 2003 and “whatever we do now is too little, too late,” Akhavan said, “at the end of the day we still have this situation in Darfur, so we have to go, we have to do what we can.”
“So we know what needs to be done, what we need now is the political will. So we need to shame the governments. We should not let one day pass without each one of us asking ourselves, what have I done today for Darfur,” said Cotler before asking, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
In September SDC is launching a national campaign in an attempt to send 300,000 postcards to Stephen Harper, one for each person who has died during the conflict.
Since the 2008 Olympics have proven to be a good pressure point on China, Olympic Dream for Darfur is organizing a torch relay from Darfur to Beijing in an attempt to force the Chinese government to “consent immediately to a true and robust UN mission.”