Issue 2: Oct 2007

What are the REAL numbers for Darfur?

Refugee Camp

Each day I open my computer and the BBC news pops up as my home page. I respect the BBC because their news system is far more balanced and community-based than ours here in the States. Almost daily in the past week, BBC has posted a front page report about an attack on Darfur. The African Union base was attacked on September 29th, three days later the nearby town of Haskanita was burned to the ground. Today reports from rebel leader Minnawi tell of the Sudanese government attacking Muhajiriya, home to 5,000 villagers and 45,000 IDPs from Darfur. In just a week’s time over 200 have been killed and many more are missing. And in all of these articles reports claim that 200,000 lives have been claimed since February 2003 in Darfur. This number is quoted over and over and over again. Every day that a story comes out about an attack, the number stays the same. When I started working on Darfur in April 2005, the number quoted was 250,000. Activists, for the past year, have quoted 400,000. The government claims 9,000. Ethnic cleansing has been conducted for 54 months in Darfur. So what are the real numbers and who can we trust?

There has not been a comprehensive study of the number affected and killed since the Coalition for International Justice in late summer 2004 investigated whether or not genocide was occurring in Darfur. CIJ determined that yes, genocide was occurring, and prompted Colin Powell to bring the world’s attention to Sudan. In early 2005 they came out and estimated 400,000 were dead and up to 500 were dying a day. Three studies, since CIJ was in Darfur, have tried to use their data to craft a number of dead and conflict-affected. All suggest the number lies between 350,000 and 400,000, as stated in the New York Times in a September 2006 article. Eric Reeves, in April 2006, using the same dated suggested 450,000 had been killed. If, over a year later, either one of these is right, death tolls have more than likely reached over 550,000 or 600,000.

We will not know, as activists here in the States, how many Darfurians have been mathematically killed. But we do know that during the Holocaust, Cambodia, and Rwanda, low death estimates were used to keep the international community silent and inactive. I personally feel that we in the activist community and reporters globally need to use numbers that are more representative of what is actually happening. How are we going to feel when the violence ends and people return to Darfur to find more than 800,000 killed, as we did in Rwanda? Please, as you work in your community, try to represent the situation, taking note of what the media, the Sudanese government, and the activist community claim. The families of those who you have met during i-ACT have been killed and ethnic cleansing continues.

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