Asking questions is a core tenet of Judaism. “The Four Questions” during Passover is just one example of how Jews question and analyze our traditions and the world. The genocide in Darfur is not a straightforward situation and the news often glosses over explanatory details, leaving concerned individuals confused and overwhelmed. Let’s try to clarify this complex crisis in Darfur by answering four of the most common questions I hear regarding the genocide taking place in Darfur.
Is it really a genocide?
In 2004, the United States officially declared that the “conflict” in Darfur was a genocide because the situation met the criteria outlined by the Geneva Convention in 1951. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “Killings, rapes, burning of villages committed by Janjaweed [militias] and government forces against non-Arab villagers… [were] a coordinated effort, not just random violence.” He then said, “genocide has occurred and may still be occurring in Darfur.” Unfortunately, the United States has not followed up its bold proclamation with bold action.
Despite the abounding evidence and the US declaration of genocide, The United Nations has concluded that genocide is not taking place in Darfur. The UN admitted that the Janjaweed were carrying out “war crimes” against the civilians of Darfur, and some individuals might have “genocidal intent;” nevertheless, the UN has ruled that the central government of Sudan is not guilty of intentionally carrying out genocide. If the UN officially proclaims that genocide is occurring, they are legally bound by the Geneva Convention to intervene. This mandated intervention, along with economic interests in Sudan, are some of the factors deterring the UN from calling the situation by what I believe to be its rightful name: genocide.
How Many People Have Died?
The real answer is that nobody knows. The New York Times lists the number of civilian deaths at 200,000 and the Washington Post estimates 180,000, while the Save Darfur Coalition calculates total deaths at 400,000. Because of the severe lack of security, there are practically no fact-finding missions or humanitarian aid groups able to survey the population. With scarce investigative teams and a limited NGO presence, countless Darfurians are dying without a trace.
Who are the rebels?
The rebels refer to the groups in Darfur that are fighting the Government of Sudan. Two of these groups, The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led an uprising in 2003 against the Government of Sudan (this uprising led to the Government’s genocidal retaliation). The rebels’ objectives range from completely seceding Darfur from Sudan, to gaining increased political representation and power within the central government. Excluding a brief unity in 2006, the rebel groups are divided into countless factions and are unable to form a strong front to stand up to the Government of Sudan.
What can I do to help?
Use your own strengths to be an advocate for the people of Darfur. For example, you can create photo exhibits to educate others, write personalized letters and make phone calls to your members of Congress, create a short video for Darfur or organize a fundraiser. For more specific ideas, visit the genocide intervention website.