film production + social action

Darfur citizens need protection: U.S. advisor must deal with increased violence there

An article from Susan Smylie, reposted from the Express-News

Last month, approximately 80 San Antonio area residents gathered to watch “The Last Survivor,” a documentary that presents the stories of four genocide survivors and their struggle to make sense of tragedy.

The showing of the film was timely, taking place on the very day that citizens of south Sudan began voting in a referendum to determine whether to become an independent country. This vote, in which an estimated 99 percent of the population voted for independence, is the culmination of a process put in place by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended 22 years of civil war that resulted in 2 million deaths. The United States was instrumental in negotiating the CPA; it is important that the U.S. and its international partners remain engaged as post-referendum issues such as wealth sharing and border demarcation are worked out. There is significant risk of a return to violence if the international community looks away at this critical time.

In spite of all they have gone through, the people of South Sudan may be lucky compared to those in Darfur. The conflict in Darfur began during the time when significant attention was turned towards South Sudan as the CPA negotiations took place. Recently, as the world has turned to put the focus on the referendum in the south, violence in Darfur has once again increased. In December, over 32,000 Darfuri civilians were forced to flee from their homes because of aerial attacks by the government of Sudan and clashes between the government and rebel groups. In 2010, an estimated 300,000 civilians were displaced in Darfur. Over one-third of the population is living in internally displaced persons camps. Survivors face severe shortages of food and clean water.

The new U.S. Special Advisor to Darfur, Ambassador Dane Smith, must address these recent atrocities and make it clear to the Sudanese regime that violence targeting civilians will not be tolerated and will not lead to normalized relations with the United States. Ambassador Smith must push for unfettered access for peacekeepers and humanitarian workers throughout Darfur to support and protect the millions of civilians uprooted by the violence. Protection of civilians in Darfur is a key stepping stone toward eventual peace and new negotiations which can permanently end the crisis.

Smith must pursue the policy of sticks and carrots promised by the Obama administration, and make sure not to award too many carrots prematurely, before the situation in Darfur is resolved. By pursuing a balanced policy, the ambassador can help place Darfur on a new road leading to peace, justice, and stability in the region.

San Antonions who attended “The Last Survivor” were moved by the stories of survival they heard. The question we all have to ask ourselves is, when do we get to stop talking about survivors? When will the world see the last survivor? With decisive action by the international community, the people of Darfur will be able to move beyond worrying about their survival and instead will be able to have the same hopeful future as their cousins to the south.

Susan Smylie is a Carl Wilkens fellow with the Genocide Intervention Network and advocacy coordinator for the San Antonio Interfaith Darfur Coalition.