Darfur: the war that won’t go away

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Minnesota’s political leaders are taking steps to curb the genocide — but is it enough?

At the University of Minnesota Law School, Gabriel Kou Solomon, a graduate student in international human rights advocacy, tried hard to hold back his tears. He cried, and then explained about his nieces Yar, age three, and Ajak, 18 months, abducted by Murle militias in Liirir, south Sudan.

“This is a big problem,” said Solomon, 27. “It is occurring daily in Sudan.”

This shows that despite a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in January 2005, the local Murle militias, an auxiliary of the Khartoum-supported Janjaweeds, continue to abduct young children with impunity.

At Walter Mondale Hall’s lecture room 2, Solomon finally cut off an hour-long interview. He wants the world to know about what is happening in Liirir and Darfur in the north. Solomon’s two nieces had been abducted a few days prior to our meeting. It is part of the Sudanese government’s genocidal policy.

“Because of the frequent abduction, we are trying to get the authorities on the ground [in Minnesota] to respond,” Solomon said. “It is a systematic problem that is going on. Somebody is behind it.”

In recent weeks, child abduction has become rampant in south Sudan, especially in Liirir and Darfur. Despite international outcry, Khartoum rules regardless of international law and the U.S. Congress’ concern about human rights violations.

On August 24, Gen. John Ukec, Sudanese ambassador to the U.S., said to an audience of about 100 people at Metropolitan State University that Darfuris are responsible for killing each other in the regions. Ukec denied the genocide in Darfur and blamed the Janjaweed for killing more than 400,000 people and displacing as many two million.

“Janjaweed are Darfuris. It’s Darfuris killing Darfuris,” said Ukec, who in the past has categorically denied the ongoing genocide and reports of frequent government attacks on Darfuris. The Khartoum government blames the U.S. and the United Nations for sanctioning Sudan.

The local Sudanese groups and chapters such as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) are not active in Minnesota. Sudanese immigrants in Minnesota are working families. They are preoccupied with their private lives that prevent them from participating in extensive campaigns for the people in Darfur and south Sudan, Solomon explained.

Solomon wants other Sudanese to be aware of the political environment in Sudan, and maps out what to do about the increasing child abductions in Liirir and Darfur. He focuses on young university students to help raise awareness in his blog.

“They [students] will be more familiar with the situation and the abduction. They can create an impact since they are here,” said Solomon. “To be active in campaigns needs a lot of energy, and to be able to reach out to other communities.”

As the situation escalates, Minnesota policymakers add their voices to stop the carnage in Darfur and the rampant abductions in Liirir and Bor.

Recently, Congressman Keith Ellison joined 70 of his colleagues in protesting against the rape and sexual assaults on women and girls committed by the Sudanese army and its auxiliary Janjaweed militias. Ellison and his colleagues want to bring the Darfur genocide to world attention.

“Those of us who champion the sanctity of civil and human rights know there is no greater violation of a woman’s or a girl’s basic human rights than to be victimized by the heinous crime of rape or sexual violence,” Ellison, a Minneapolis Democrat, said in a statement released on October 16.

In recent months, Congress passed legislation condemning the Khartoum government for crimes against humanity. In a related move on May 23, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty signed the Sudan divestment legislation, a bill that will divest Minnesota’s State Board of Investment from companies that support the Khartoum government.

“Minnesotans can be proud that we are taking action to help cut off the flow of money to Sudan’s military,” Pawlenty said in a released statement. “We’re doing our part to stop the crimes and inhumanities in Darfur.”

In Bor Secondary School, Bor, south Sudan, the student population has dwindled. The fear of abduction discourages many parents from sending their children to school. Few students are attending school because of security concerns, according to Solomon. In Liirir, and other towns in Sudan, many schools and classrooms are almost empty.

Military intelligence officials from the SPLA have to be present in some village meetings, sometimes with guns to guard the people. “It is very common to see people in military uniforms during village meetings,” Solomon confirmed.

Similar to Darfur, people in Liirir fear the constant Murle militias’ attacks, also supported by the Sudanese government. They call them “Junior Janjaweeds.” There are widespread reports that ethnic Murle militias or Junior Janjaweeds frequently rape women, set the villages ablaze, and beat and abduct children as young as 18-month-old Ajak.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 27 issued an arrest warrant for “Janjaweed” leader Ali Kosheib. The ICC charged Kosheib with 51 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape, murder and persecution. Kosheib was already in prison in Sudan on unrelated charges at the time of the ICC warrant, but was suddenly freed by Khartoum.

“Freeing one ICC suspect two weeks after awarding another suspect a plum government post demonstrates Khartoum’s blatant disregard for the Security Council resolution requiring cooperation with the court,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program. “It is now all the more imperative that council members raise this with Sudanese officials.”

Next week: efforts to rally support among U.S. Sudanese

For more information on Yar & Ajak, go to http://gsolomon20.wordpress.com/.
Issa A. Mansaray welcomes reader responses to iamansaray@yahoo.com.