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Genocide: It's Happening in Sudan

Genocide is defined as destroying people because of their ethnicity or race. It is the ultimate racism. As you read this, Sudan’s government is allowing, if not encouraging, genocide.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is convinced this is true and has told Congress. International law—to which the U.S. has agreed—requires a response to crimes of such magnitude.

Why has this situation escalated now? Both sides in this crisis have a long history in Sudan. Most are Muslim. Those threatened with extinction—among them the Catholic minority—are black. Their executioners—called Janjaweed—do the will of the Sudanese government in Khartoum, led by President Omar el-Bashir, who seized power 15 years ago. Bashir is Arab and Muslim, as are all people with power in Sudan.

Almost two years ago, rebels in Darfur (which encompasses one fifth of Sudan’s expanse) rose up to protest the misuse of his power—with force, admittedly. The result has been an effort to eliminate not only the rebels, but also every citizen of black African ancestry.

Count Up the Casualties

Last August John Ricard, S.S.J., bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for International Justice and Peace, made a humanitarian fact-finding mission to Sudan. What did he learn?

More than a million people are displaced—Sudanese citizens still in Sudan or in Chad, which borders Darfur, Sudan’s agricultural region.

They cling to life, said Bishop Ricard in a telephone press conference last August, “in very difficult conditions under a hot blazing sun with little or no access to medicines or food, with exposure to all the elements and with a very clear need for security.”

Bishop Ricard’s delegation met with Darfurian tribal spokesmen in Nyala, a refugee camp. When the men’s delegation emerged, a less formal delegation of mothers crowded around the bishop. These women had but one request: “Food for our children! Food for our children!” It will come too late for many.

The numbers overwhelm. Some comparisons may help. Dead: the equivalent of the entire population of Galveston, Texas. Displaced: the equivalent of the entire population of Chicago.

Why is the Church present and concerned? Bishop Ricard said, “The Church is involved because the Church is concerned with anyone who suffers. It’s not a matter of helping these people because they’re Catholic or Christian, but that we are Catholic and our faith compels us.” The United Nations calls the situation the “greatest humanitarian crisis of our times.”

What We Can—and Cannot—Do

It would be imprudent for the United States to intervene militarily in Sudan. President Bashir despises our government because the U.S. intervened in Iraq. Our government has no use for him because he harbored Osama bin Laden for six years.

Our interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq are perceived as hostility toward Arabs and Muslims. But government and individual citizens can act politically, prayerfully and with charity. We must.

1. Political strategies. We can support Secretary of State Colin Powell. Bishop Ricard has recommended that our government cooperate with and encourage the U.N. to deploy monitors and strengthen the fledgling African Union’s ability to do the same.

The U.N. must put teeth into its deadlines for action, despite the objections and Security Council abstentions of Algeria, China, Pakistan and Russia. (These nations fear that international aid to Darfur will be blocked if Sudan’s leadership is further antagonized. They probably fear that oil exports will be stalled as well.)

Our national leaders have approved $95 million in relief. We can urge them to release that money now. We can reiterate the USCCB’s recommendation of the appointment of a presidential envoy for peace—who would act as a catalyst to end the crisis in Darfur and seek a nonviolent, political solution between Bashir’s government and the  Darfurian rebels.

2. Prayerful intercessions. St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947) was born in Darfur, captured by Arab traders and sold as a slave. She experienced the tensions which have now exploded in Sudan. We can invoke her aid. We can fast in solidarity with the people of Darfur. We can confront—and repent of—our own racism and prejudices.

3. Charitable outreach. Catholic Relief Services has worked in Sudan for 30 years, collaborating with other faith-based agencies. CRS is working to overcome rain and impassable roads to bring $1 million in relief to the refugees in three camps serving 37,000 refugees. That pledge must be backed by our contributions. We can encourage our parishes to keep the specter of genocide in Sudan before us—from the pulpit, through public prayer, through collections to support CRS efforts.

In all that we do, we must remember Sudan’s human face. No crops could be planted. Famine will continue until the farmers of Darfur return to their land. The bounty we experience this Thanksgiving must be shared with the hungry refugees of Sudan who have left their own tables in fear. —C.A.M.

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