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The Decline of Darfur

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As the situation deteriorates, other than a war of rhetoric firing empty threats in the direction of Khartoum, government officials seem ill equipped to come up with any substantial plan of action. Meanwhile, the United Nations Human Rights Council has agreed to dispatch a high-level delegation to Darfur on a fact-finding mission to assess the situation. And just what might this latest "fact-finding mission" hope to unearth? More dead bodies, perhaps?

Over three years into a genocide that shows no end in sight, governments, NGO's and celebrity activists are busier than ever; however, little progress has been made.

In escalating violence, murder and gross sexual assaults against civilians continues with impunity while the mayhem spills into neighboring Chad. The killing of humanitarian workers has threatened to halt, or at best, scale back operations of much needed aid to the victims of Darfur. Since May, twelve aid workers have been killed. African Union peacekeepers are also under increasing attack. Days ago, a vehicle belonging to AU forces was hijacked in North Darfur and two of its personnel kidnapped.

Latest reports indicate that approximately four million people now depend on the United Nations or non-governmental organizations for humanitarian aid to supply their most basic of human needs. With this stepped up violence hampering humanitarian efforts to bring in food, water, medical supplies and personnel, and an under equipped and pitifully out numbered African Union, the hopes of protecting the growing number of innocent victims is fading fast.

Moreover, with a steadily mounting death toll, governments appear to be at a standstill as to how to assuage the bedlam. The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) has informed the Security Council that he is close to introducing cases of some of the most heinous war crimes committed in Darfur over the last three years and will submit evidence to ICC judges by February. The evidence produced will include such atrocities as torture, murder and rape.

And yet, the world's top human rights body, the United Nations Human Rights Council has stopped short from criticizing Sudan's government over the violence.

As if mass murder, rape, homelessness, malnutrition and abject fear were not enough to contend with, according to the International Medical Corps (IMC), a significant number of displaced women in South Darfur and Western Sudan are suffering from severe depression and thoughts of suicide.

With the disintegration of Darfur, and women, young girls and children under constant threat of attack and rape, is it any surprise that many are suffering from severe emotional trauma?

Certainly, it is no mystery that these mental health issues cannot be fully addressed. Heroic attempts are being made by those aid workers remaining in the region to meet the most basic needs of the staggering number of displaced Sudanese, even though their efforts are becoming ever more difficult and precarious.

In Darfur, women head between 65-84% of all "households" among those internally displaced by the conflict. Of those women, many have lost husbands, children, entire families, and homes, in addition to being sexually assaulted. The trauma borne of such a violent act coupled with the "branding" of being a rape victim and therefore, tainted or outcast, is a psychological trauma that may never be adequately addressed, or healed.

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Jan Egeland, the former UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, offered a bleak appeal regarding the victims of Darfur saying that they were in "desperate need of protection." During his final visit to a refugee camp in Chad, a young woman said, "we are thankful for your food and blankets, but what are you going to do to protect us?"

Indeed. In over three years, all sectors of the global community have failed to protect the innocent victims of Darfur whose deaths and brutal attacks are growing by the day.

The newly appointed U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, is currently in Brussels to discuss the Darfur crisis having just returned from Sudan after canceling an earlier trip to Chad amid fighting between government and rebel groups. Natsios will meet with the EU Foreign Policy Chief and the NATO Secretary-General to strategize on viable options regarding the crisis. After meeting with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Natsios came away with an agreement from Sudan to provide visas to UN logistical experts to go to Darfur to assess what was needed.

While Khartoum offered this small concession, it has not minced words regarding its opposition to a UN force in Darfur, or to the rhetoric of the U.S. and British governments regarding sanctions and other threats. Sudan continues to reject plans for the UN to control and monitor the conflict by implementing an increased force of some 20,000 peacekeepers in the conflict area.

Britain's Tony Blair has stated that his country would support a no-fly zone in Darfur as part of a sanctions package if Sudan continues to resist an international peacekeeping force in Darfur. The U.S. is also considering its options which may also include a no-fly zone. Sudan has been quick to dismiss such threats or actions by the U.S. and U.K. Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol told the BBC that "threats, blockades and no-fly zones would not solve the problem," but would only increase the suffering in Darfur.

With the Sudanese government appearing not to budge on nearly all attempts at quelling the violence in Darfur, last month did agree to the idea of a three-phase reform, which would eventually become a hybrid UN-AU force taking on peacekeeping duties. The proposed UN 3-step "hybrid approach" includes:

1) beefing up African Union forces with additional resources and equipment;

2) the UN would deploy several hundred soldiers and police officers to assist troops;

3) push for a hybrid AU/UN peacekeeping force - African troops would receive UN logistical support and there would be substantial UN involvement in the command and control of the peacekeepers.

However, Khartoum continues to expound the same caveat it has for some time now - repeatedly voicing its opposition to "blue helmets" operating in Darfur. Additionally, the AU is now backing Sudan's position that the proposed force should stay under African control.

On Friday, actors George Clooney and Don Cheadle held a press conference after returning from China and Egypt. Along with Save Darfur executive director, David Rubenstein, Ambassador (ret.) Lawrence Rossin, Olympic speed skater Joey Cheek, and Kenyan long distance runner Tegla Loroupe, this small delegation traveled on a human rights mission to meet with top government officials to discuss the genocide in Darfur. Their purpose was to encourage Egypt and China to play a bigger and more constructive role in dealing with obstacles put forth by the Sudanese government with whom they enjoy strong business ties. The delegation was quick to point out that their trip was a humanitarian mission to "maintain public awareness," and in no way meant to interfere with governmental actions or diplomacy.

With the grave situation in Darfur and time slipping away for millions of victims desperately in need of food, shelter, medical attention and protection, at times it seems as though the only voices reporting to the American public are those of a handful of celebrities and activists. While governments have come across as ineffectual in dealing with Darfur over these three plus years, and as the insecurity of the region escalates and bleeds into neighboring countries, these voices seem to be the most responsible for increased community awareness and action.

Both sides of the "getting it/not getting it" coin were recently revealed during a Clooney and Cheadle interview on CNN. After hearing George Clooney describe the continued atrocities in Darfur, the anchor excitedly asked, "so, do you see a movie out of this?" Clooney's response, "I hope not." If that question didn't seem clueless enough, the anchor went on to say that he was certain that Don Cheadle must feel some sense of satisfaction due to his efforts regarding the plight in Darfur. Seemingly taken aback, Cheadle responded with a resounding, "no!" "In fact," he went on, "I'm very upset about what is happening over there - I'm pissed off!"

As all of us should be.
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Jan Baumgartner is the author of the memoir, Moonlight in the Desert of Left Behind. She was born near San Francisco, California, and for years lived on the coast of Maine. She is a writer and creative content book editor. She's worked as a grant (more...)

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