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Croton's Interfaith Council Advocates for Darfur

December 11, 2005

The Croton Interfaith Council Sponsors “An Evening of Advocacy For Darfur” on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at the Croton Free Library starting at 7:30 PM. Local residents are invited to come and listen to their guest speaker, Maryknoll Sister Theresa Baldini, who has served in Sudan, as she shares her experiences and provides insight into the current problems in Darfur.

Watch an extremely informative power point presentation on the historical background and the facts about the ongoing genocide in Darfur. View PBS Frontline/World video, “Sudan: The Quick and the Terrible.” Frontline/World reporter Amy Costello travels dangerous back roads Pinto Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region to learn about the roots of the ongoing genocide. Costello takes a close-up look at the plight of the Darfurians and examines the consequences of continued civil war.

Take action to stop the genocide in Darfur by signing letters to Congresswoman Sue Kelly asking her to support the “Darfur Peace and Accountability Act” currently being considered in Congress. Purchase a green wristband—Wearing your wristband and sharing them with friends will help others become aware of the crisis in Darfur, and your commitment to ending the suffering there. Finally, take time to discuss the situation in Darfur with your friends and other attendees.

The Croton Interfaith Council is an ecumenical mission committed to local interfaith relationships and local and global action. Its current focus is to raise public awareness and to mobilize an effective response to the atrocities that threaten the lives of two million people in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Croton Interfaith Council Advocates For Darfur

In recent history the interfaith community in Croton has responded to a variety of humanitarian crises. On December 13th the Croton Interfaith Council (CIC) will hold a program of information and advocacy regarding the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan. This crisis while not prominently reported is especially grave. There is however the potential to act locally to bring the kind of change that will bring relief and protection in a situation where rape, mutilation, murder, poverty, thirst and hunger have become horrifyingly normal.

The CIC represents the congregations of Asbury United Methodist Church, Baha’i Community, Croton Jewish Center, Holy Name of Mary R.C. Church, Islamic Community of Westchester, Our Saviour Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Temple Israel of Northern Westchester, and Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Briarcliff, Croton and Ossining, and invites the participation of all people of faith and action.

Background of the Crisis in Darfur

Darfur is a drought-prone region in the western part of Sudan about the size of Texas and had a pre-conflict population of 6 million people. In 2003, seeking an end to the region’s chronic economic and political marginalization , two African tribal rebel groups in Darfur attacked military installations. The Sudanese government responded with its military. But it also continued its support of nomadic groups of Arab herders known as Janjaweed militias, to clear civilians from areas considered disloyal to it.

During the previous two decades at certain times of the year, these “Janjaweed” militias had raided the Africans’ farms, stealing what they wanted and allowing their camels and cattle to graze on the crops before harvest - but it was never like it has become during the past two years.

These government-backed militias have systematically eliminated entire communities and continue to do so. Government air strikes frequently precede these vicious militia raids. Villages are razed; women, men and children are raped, tortured and killed. The Janjaweed also target and destroy Darfurian food and water supplies, threatening the victims’ hopes for their future survival. Not since the Rwandan genocide of 1994 has the world seen such calculated campaign of ethnic cleansing, involving displacement, rape, starvation, and mass slaughter (cf. The movie, Hotel Rwanda) - all in infringement of the 1949 Geneva Convention that prohibits attacks on civilians.

The war, which risks inflicting irreparable damage on a delicate ethnic balance of six million people who are uniformly Muslim, is actually multiple intertwined conflicts. One is between government-aligned forces and rebels; a second entails indiscriminate attacks of the government-sponsored Janjaweed militia on civilians; and a third involves a struggle among Darfur communities themselves.

The Current Situation

Two years into the crisis, the western Sudanese region of Darfur is acknowledged to be a humanitarian and human rights tragedy of the first order. The humanitarian, security and political situation continue to deteriorate: atrocities continue and people are still dying in large numbers of malnutrition and disease. According to recent reports by the World Food Program, the United Nations and the Coalition for International Justice, 3.5 million people are now hungry, 2.5 million have been displaced due to violence, and 400,000 people have died in Darfur thus far. Many Janjaweed have been integrated into the army and police; no one has been charged with any crime, and their actions are not being challenged. Chaos and a culture of impunity are taking root in the region.

Refugees and internally displaced civilians (IDPs) have been displaced for long periods, they are in terribly weakened states, they are subjectto sexual abuse and attack, and they do not have adequate shelter. Infectious diseases and dysentery will drive up the body counts rapidly.

Rape has become a hallmark of the crimes against humanity in Darfur. It has proven one way for the Janjaweed militias to continue attacking Darfurians after driving them from their homes. Families must continue collecting wood, fetching water or working their fields, and in doing so, women daily put themselves or their children at the risk of rape, beatings or death as soon as they are outside the camps or villages. It is assumed that the hundreds of rapes reported and treated grossly underestimate the actual number committed, as victims of rape in Darfur are often too frightened or too ashamed to seek help. In a culture where rape draws heavy social disgrace, victims are often ostracized by their own families and communities and even forced from their communities.

As need far outstrips the ability of agencies to deliver aid, it is not too soon to sound a famine alert. Relief workers on the ground are convinced that few if any of the nearly 2 million IDPs will return to their homes in time for the next planting season, thus ensuring at least longer term food insecurity. The onset of the rainy season in late May further restricted access. Moreover, many effective humanitarian organizations have pulled out due to casualties among their workers and a deteriorating security situation.

The International Community

In 2004, the Sudanese government and Darfur-based rebel movements agreed to a ceasefire, but neither party has followed through on its end of the bargain. US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan brought attention briefly to Darfur during their mission there. President Bush and the US Congress declared that genocide is taking place there. The African Union (AU) committed a ceasefire monitoring mission to the Darfur region. The mandate of the AU troops - now some 6,700 - is to oversee the ceasefire and protect the monitoring force on the ground. Their mandate does not extend to the protection of civilians whose lives are in constant danger; AU troops can only protect civilians from imminent threats during accidental “encounters.”

A Brookings Institute report released in early November (2005) does find that, contrary to popular belief, AU peacekeeping troops in Darfur have made a difference in the region - that they have saved lives and prevented atrocities against internally displaced persons and other civilians. Still, it also reports that the AU mission suffers from “grossly inadequate” numbers of troops and police, a weak mandate, and limited equipment, so that it cannot adequately protect civilians or aid workers. Early this year Secretary General Annan called for help from UN member states to support and strengthen the AU mission. In May the US Congress allocated $45 million for international disaster and famine assistance for Sudan and $55 million for the peacekeeping operations in Darfur and the establishment and operation of a Sudan war crimes tribunal.

However, the Janjaweed militias and the Sudanese government seem to view the current mission as “toothless” and perceive no real threat of sanctions or other action by the international community; as such there has not been an abatement in violence and human rights abuses.

Darfur Peace and Accountability Act

In Congress the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act was introduced by strong bipartisan coalitions, in the House in June and in the Senate in July. It would impose sanctions against individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; support measures for the protection of civilians and humanitarian operations; and support peace efforts in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The passage of this legislation would be an important step in the United States taking more aggressive action and greater international leadership to end the genocide in Darfur.

The good news is that the Peace and Accountability Act (S. 1462), with 36 co-sponsors, passed the Senate in late November. Now the focus shifts to the House of Representatives, where members of the International Relations Committee continue to negotiate.

The House version of the bill (H.R. 3127) has 106 co-sponsors, but our representative, Congresswoman Sue Kelly, is not one of them. We need to urge her to become a co-sponsor and push for a markup in full committee as soon as possible, and to let her know that we want to see the bill brought to a vote before Congress adjourns for the year. Then, if passed by Congress, it would need to be signed into law by the President.



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