Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reporting the underreported; the Darfuri “conflict”

Actress Mia Farrow, industrialist Richard Branson and US Congressman Donald M. Payne have all been part of a campaign of fasting to raise awareness for the ongoing humanitarian crisis. On the last day of her 12-day fast, Farrow said on her website;

“I have been instructed by my doctor to stop my fast immediately due to health concerns including possible seizures. I am fortunate.The women, children, and men I am fasting for do not have that option.

When beginning this fast twelve days ago, I said that when I could go no longer, I hoped another would take my place, and another, and another, until the expelled humanitarian agencies are readmitted and finally there there is finally justice and peace for the people of Darfur. Richard Branson has stepped forward and so I have ended this fast.”

The actress, who last year starred in Be Kind Rewind uses her website – miafarrow.org – as a hub for activists who want to get involved in lobbying for action on the crisis in Darfur. She gives out phone numbers to the whitehouse so her fans can lobby President Barack Obama and his team. During her fast, (or hunger strike as she would have it) Farrow recorded YouTube videos detailing her progress and put them up on the website. She includes harrowing photos of Sudanese orphans, and drawings that the orphans have given her. One drawing, drawn by an 11-year old girl who told Farrow “her mother had been cooking breakfast when she was shot by Janjaweed. She drew herself fleeing for her life.”

Farrow’s attempts to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur arise from a widespread belief that this is one of the most underreported atrocities in world history. On the day that the UN mission to Darfur was due to announce that gunmen were now targeting peacekeepers directly, not one column inch was written about Darfur in any of the major Irish newspaper. On the radio today, Katie Price’s marriage breakup was talked about ad infinatum, but not a minute of airtime was given to the humanitarian crisis. The UN news service announced on May 8 that “unidentified gunmen shot dead an international peacekeeper outside his home in South Darfur last night, the joint African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) announced with “deep regret” today.”

The crisis in Darfur arises from a conflict drawn up on ethnic lines. On one side is the Sudanese military and the Janjaweed (militia made up from nomadic Afro-Arabs) and on the other is the Sudanese Liberation Movement, representing the southern non-Arab tribes. The death toll since the conflict began in 2003 is near half a million, while over 2.5 million people have lost their homes. International response has been criticised as inadequate; even after a warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, to appear at the court in The Hague. The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Mr Luis Moreno-Ocampo, alleged that Al-Bashir “committed the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur” adding; “Al Bashir is the President. He is the Commander in Chief. Those are not just formal words. He used the whole state apparatus, he used the army, he enrolled the Militia/Janjaweed. They all report to him, they all obey him. His control is absolute.”
The last paragraph may, to those of you who know the background to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, seem unnecessary. The reason I wrote it is because, due to the underreported nature of the “conflict”, (I use inverted commas because, to this humble observer, it seems like more of a genocide) many people would not have known. I can only hope that through the actions of Mia Farrow, Moreno-Ocampo and others, one day the small girl who drew the picture for Mia Farrow can draw happier picture.

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