Darfur Peace talks, hosted by the ever more fascinating Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, are slated to begin Sunday. Bizarrely Gaddafi characterized the four-year-old genocide as " a conflict over a camel." However the talks are in jeopardy before they begin.
Last week the government of Sudan actually shelled one of the largest refugee camps in Darfur, home to over 95,000 people already driven from their homes by systematic ethnic cleansing and violence. Are the two linked, extreme violence and peace?
According to my colleague, former Marine Captain Brian Steidle, you bet. In a press statement last week he explained: "This action is consistent with tactics the government of Sudan used prior to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in the Nuba mountains of southern Sudan in 2004. I have spent the last three years trying to alert the world to the tactics they use to jockey for more land ahead of peace talks." They not only get more land, but angry and discouraged rebel groups now refuse to come to the Peace talks.
So what is the answer? The United Nations and activists want peace and protection for those caught up in the conflict, along with punishment for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity. 26,000 UN peacekeepers are due to be deployed to Darfur, although they will have to be permitted to enter the Sudan to do their job. Darfuris are reported to be excited, God knows they need hope, but as Elie Wiesel said over a year ago: "Don't wait for the criminal tormentors to give their permission, go in anyway."
We all need hope and activists (and Hollywood) count on it. Ted Braun's creditable, star-studded film about Darfur, Darfur Now, uses HOPE as its central theme. Having been steeped in the issue of Darfur for three years I believe we need to harness our hope to concrete demands to our political leaders: both here, in Europe and throughout the world.
As the U.S. imposes sanctions on Iran, what about sanctions on the government of Sudan? What about demanding the EU do the same? Sudanese oil revenue assets in dollars could be frozen. The ability for Sudanese leaders to move freely around the Western world could be curtailed. These constraints would surely lead to positive change and peace for the people of Darfur.
In the meantime pressure your elected officials to make ending genocide and crimes against humanity a priority.
Go see the all films out there on the subject and don't forget to add The Devil Came on Horseback to your Netflix cue: it comes out on DVD Tuesday October 30th, the same day I will be screening it in Washington DC for members of congress. We have sent a copies of the DVD to President Bush, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and Zalmay Khalilzad, just in case they don't have a Netflix account!