by Mary Dawn Edwards
Ten years have passed since a rebellion in Darfur in western Sudan against the Bashir government’s neglect of the region was met savagely by the central government and its allied “Janjaweed” militias. In response to the news of atrocities committed against civilians, including bombing and burning of villages, mass murder, and rape, activists in Pittsburgh founded the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition (PDEC).
Over the ensuing years, the conflict has slowed. Still, an estimated 300,000 survivors live in refugee camps in Chad; and 2,000,000 internally displaced survivors live in camps in Darfur with limited access to humanitarian aid. President Bashir and other government officials have been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity but remain in power. In response to rebellion in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, bordering the newly independent South Sudan, Bashir’s government has repeated the tactics used in Darfur, with bombing of villages and massive displacement of civilians, and has refused to allow any civilian access to humanitarian aid in rebel held areas.
Responding to exorbitant fees charged by the Sudanese government for transport of oil through its territory and alleged pilfering of oil from supplies meant for sale, the South Sudanese government shut down its oil extraction, its main source of income, despite its continuing poverty. Negotiations between the two governments, with international involvement, including the U.S. and China, the main customer for Sudanese oil, have produced an agreement which has not yet been implemented.
On Feb. 27, 2013, PDEC, the Ford Institute for Human Security at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, members of the local Sudanese Diaspora community and Pittsburgh City Council welcomed Amb. Princeton Lyman, outgoing Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, to Pittsburgh. City Council, whose members supported divestment of city pension funds from companies doing business with the government of Sudan, presented the ambassador with a proclamation. Amb. Lyman thanked city council members and local activists for their concern for the people of Sudan and said that activists play an important role in reminding diplomats of the needs of the people whose lives are affected by their negotiations. He also spoke with students, faculty, activists and Sudanese Diaspora members at the Ford Institute and made the following points:
– He considers the relatively peaceful separation of South Sudan a remarkable achievement; although the two Sudans have a wary and hostile relationship at present, he thinks a return to war is unlikely.
– There is an extreme lack of trust between the governments of Sudan and South Sudan and between the government of Sudan and opposition groups that makes implementation of any agreements very difficult; building trust will take many years and outside help.
– U.S. diplomats deal with Sudanese government officials but do not deal directly with President Bashir because of the ICC indictment.
– The U.S. government has offered to establish an educational exchange program with the government of Sudan despite trade sanctions. So far, the Sudanese have not responded.
– South Sudan has arable land as well as oil and has good potential for production of adequate food but lacks infrastructure to distribute it and needs massive aid to develop its resources and civil society.
– The U.S. has spent $10,000,000,000 for peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and development in the two Sudans, including $7,500,000,000 in Darfur, but the cost of continued instability and possible escalation to a regional conflict would be even higher.
– President Obama continues to place a high priority on resolving the conflicts in Sudan and will appoint a new special envoy.
We members of PDEC hope that continued US and international efforts to negotiate an end to these conflicts will result in a stable Sudan and South Sudan, where the people can live in peace and security. For more information about our group, please see our web site at www.pittsburghdarfur.org. We usually meet in meeting room C of the Squirrel Hill library at 5:30 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month; for a schedule of meetings and other events, please see the TMC events calendar.
Mary Dawn Edwards is a member of the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition.