March 10, 2005 1 Comment
The Two Towers in Khartoum and London
Millbank Tower, the London offices of the UNHCR and the British Labour Party, lies halfway between the headquarters of the British secret service and Parliament. Between truth and deception. Millbank Tower: glass and cement, sharp angles and silver lettering – modernity. Liberté, égalité…
One evening in Autumn 2004, a small group from Darfur held an all-night vigil outside the tower hoping that its occupants will act to stop an ongoing campaign of slaughter in west Sudan. It was a cold night, made chillier by the thought that it was meant to be warm summer. Cars sped by with their passengers wearing puzzled expressions – what are those black people doing?
It was a cheerful enough gathering, but also a lonely one for there was no TV camera present and no reporters in bulletproof vests. Morbid jokes were made about how much more attention would be focused on Darfur if only it had been invaded by Rumsfeld’s boys. For decades, the Khartoum government has destroyed Sudanese lives with numbing regularity. It is as if the sheer scale of suffering has rendered the Sudanese invisible – perhaps such a fate is the price they must pay for the world to ensure that its humanist ideals remain unsullied.
On that Saturday evening, the little band made to become visible; to deliver its message of great injustice borne to the occupants of Millbank Tower. Who knows what the result of that cold night was? But for those who were present it was a triumph of hopeful anger, a refusal to give in to the hopeless shrug. Run from the tower that kills, appeal to the tower that says it saves. Darfur: Burning, killing, torturing, raping, enslaving, chasing and terrorizing of black African Muslims by black Arab-African Muslim militias. It makes the head swim for it is no simple matter; there is great complexity in Darfur’s suffering. But consider the facts not in doubt: Tens of thousands are dead and over million have fled their homes with many huddled on the Chad-Sudan border enduring further attack. The main perpetrators of this campaign are the Janjaweed militia, which has been sponsored, supported and directed by the Sudanese government. The victims have been targeted because they are black Africans; the aim is to ‘cleanse’ Darfur of their presence.
Every tower in Khartoum and on the Thames knows Article Two of the 1948 Geneva Convention: genocide is an acted-upon intent to eliminate a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. One hundred and thirty seven states are signatories of that famous agreement. Where are they? Where are their citizens on whose behalf they signed on the dotted line? They must say no to death and destruction in Darfur; thumbs down to the Sudanese government’s denial of human choice and possibility.
African governments and their counterparts in the Arab League have been reluctant to break ranks with Khartoum’s killers by condemning the Darfur campaign. As usual they couch their deafening silence as Pan-Africanism or Pan-Arabism solidarity rather than the false unity of small men that it actually is.