Déjà vu in Darfur

The suspected is now known: a Human Rights Watch report confirmed the Sudanese army brutally attacked civilians in Tabit, a town in North Darfur, Sudan late last year. The assault, which involved three separate military operations, occurred over the course of 36 hours from October 30 through the morning of November 1.

People should be forgiven if this news brings déjà vu. The attack was characterized by many of the gross human rights violations and inhumane tactics used by the Sudanese government since it began committing genocide in Darfur in 2003: the mass rape of women and girls, unjustified detentions and beatings.legacy - square-sil

The report explains, “[G]overnment soldiers went house-to-house in Tabit, searching houses, looting property, severely beating residents, and raping women and girls. On the two nights, soldiers forced many of the men to outdoor locations on the outskirts of the town, leaving the women and children especially vulnerable. The soldiers detained the men en masse, and threatened and physically abused them throughout the night.”

The motive for the attack remains unclear. Human Rights Watch did not find evidence of a rebel force presence in Tabit before or during the strikes.

Human Rights Watch’s report, which relied on more than 130 interviews, was administered remotely in November and December 2014. The report recorded 27 first-hand accounts of rape, many times at the hands of several perpetrators, as well as information about another 194 cases of rape.

Gathering complete and accurate information about these crimes has been problematic; the Sudanese government and military have gone out of their way to conceal what happened.

“They have threatened, intimidated, beaten, detained, and tortured residents of Tabit to prevent them from speaking out about what took place,” says the report. “The authorities have also repeatedly denied [the United Nations – African Union (UNAMID)] and other investigators access to the town.”

Soon after the attack, a Stop Genocide Now article explored the ways UNAMID’s work to protect the people of Darfur has been compromised, both as a result of Sudan’s intransigence and UNAMID’s own inability to take a firm stance with the despotic government and military. Last year, the Sudanese government asked UNAMID to prepare to finish its peacekeeping mission in Western Darfur, which began in 2007.

UNAMID officials are not the only international actors who have failed to meet their responsibility to stand with the people of Darfur. At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, U.S. President Barack Obama’s eloquent remarks about human rights were undermined by his willingness to allow Sudan’s foreign minister, Ali Ahmed Karti, to attend.

“A decade ago, one of the most outspoken politicians on Darfur – harshly scolding President George W. Bush for not doing more – was an Illinois senator, Barack Obama,” wrote Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. “Today, as president of the United States, he is quiet.”

“We can’t say, ‘Never again’ and then allow it to happen again,” said Mr. Obama while campaigning for his first term as president. “And as President of the United States, I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.”

We agree with the president’s comments as a candidate. Now is the time for him to live up to them.

Brian Harper

Brian Harper is a writer, musician and community outreach coordinator for a small business. He has lived in Peru, South Africa and Italy, and his writing has been featured in America magazine, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and various other publications. You can find his work at www.brianharper.net.

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