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Darfur observer shares horrors of modern genocide

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A UMNS Web-only photo by Matthew Oates

The Rev. Brian Witwer introduces Brian Steidle during an April 2 worship service at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Ind.
April 18, 2006

By Matthew Oates*

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (UMNS) ? From September 2004 to February 2005, Brian Steidle was an eyewitness to genocide.

Steidle, a former U.S. Marine, served as an observer with the African Union to monitor the unsteady peace treaty in the Sudan and the situation of Darfur, an area the size of Texas located in western Sudan.

“We were there to monitor a cease-fire that was nonexistent,” he said.

During his six months there, Steidle wrote more than 80 reports, four of which reached the U.S. government, regarding the ethnic cleansing, continued attacks against tribes by government-supported militias and a mounting refugee crisis.

He talked about his experience in Sudan during a presentation — complete with graphic photographs, video and audio recordings — at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne in early April.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS Web-only photo by Matthew Oates

Brian Steidle talks with Darfurian refugees following his presentation on the crisis in Sudan.

Steidle, who is traveling around the country to raise awareness about the situation in Darfur, was finishing up a tour across Indiana. His tour will culminate at the “Rally for Darfur” in Washington on April 30.

At Aldersgate Church, he shared events and stories of those who have no voice. One of his first reports was about locating refugees from a 15,000-member village that was attacked. The group of refugees was about an hour away from the village, seeking shelter from the sun under a giant tree.

Steidle and others assessed the humanitarian needs, even though they were not supposed to do that. “We felt it was necessary,” he said. Even newly orphaned 1-year-olds had been shot, beaten and bruised, he added.

Twenty-year civil war

Sudan has had only seven years of peace in its history since becoming independent from Great Britain in 1956. During the most recent 20-year civil war, more than 2 million people have been killed and more than 4 million have been displaced. In 1998, more than 100,000 people were killed and 250,000 starved to death.

The primary fighting is between the Sudanese government, which is Arab and based out of Khartoum, and black African tribes throughout the oil-rich south. The government is sponsoring militias called the Janjaweed, which are well-equipped and well-trained.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS Web-only photo by Matthew Oates

Darfurian and South Sudanese refugees listen to a presentation on the plight of their homeland.

“Whole tribes have been wiped out,” Steidle said. “The scale of this — those numbers are unfathomable. This is a large-scale military operation for the purpose of wiping out all black Africans in Darfur.”

Secondary fighting also continues between two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, and the government. The two groups are fighting for equal rights in the government, he said, but they are no match for government forces and are ill-equipped and ill-trained.

The actions of the Janjaweed and the Sudanese government against civilians are chilling. Steidle said soldiers use sexual assaults and castration on civilians, regardless of gender or age, as well as pluck out eyes and cut off ears in addition to looting, plundering and burning villages and property.

“They do the most horrific things to these people,” he declared. “They do not even look at these people as humans.”

In addition, Sudanese law calls for women who are raped to be punished for having sexual relations outside of marriage; female genital mutilation is also prominent in the Sudan. “Rape brings with it all other types of issues,” said Steidle, explaining how the Janjaweed taunt the black Africans for having “lighter skinned” children, as well as carrying the dishonor of the rape and the child with them.

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A UMNS photo courtesy of Brian Steidle

Brian Steidle (center) served as an observer with the African Union to monitor the peace treaty in Sudan's Darfur region.

Refugees abound, not only in Darfur, but also flowing into neighboring Chad. Government soldiers and Janjaweed will go through refugee camps in Chad and internal displacement camps throughout Sudan and harass the Darfurians and destroy the camps.

According to Steidle, a multinational force from the African Union cannot do the job, as part of the union’s charter says it must ask permission before entering a country. The United Nations, however, does not have to ask permission. Steidle believes a NATO-sponsored force would be best, with support from the United States.

Even simple steps could start the healing process, he said. Those could include ensuring security on the ground, holding the leaders accountable in Khartoum and initiating proper nation-building with new leaders by investing in the country and education.

Grass-roots solutions

Steidle is encouraging people of all socio-economic, religious and professional backgrounds to help the Darfurians by taking simple actions, such as writing to elected officials.

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A UMNS file photo by Brian Steidle

A hut compound burns in the village of Um Ziefa after an alleged attack by Sudan government forces and Janjaweed militia.

He wants to raise the support of 1 million people to call on the world to stop the genocide through the “Million Voices for Darfur” campaign, by going to www.millionvoicesfordarfur.org, the campaign’s Web site.

He also is encouraging people to advocate targeted divestment programs, such as the one that helped end apartheid in South Africa. Some states and public pension funds are already divesting themselves of companies that do business with the Sudan. While embargoes and divestments often hurt the people they are intended to help, Steidle noted, “These people already have nothing.”

On April 12, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, H.R. 3127, which would impose sanctions on Sudanese officials and other individuals considered responsible for atrocities in western Darfur. The bill also would authorize additional assistance to the African Union Mission in Sudan and urge President Bush to work with NATO to provide additional support to the peacekeepers.

*Oates is a correspondent based in Lafayette, Ind.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 
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