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Death in the Nuba Mountains

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Before last week I’d never heard of the Nuba Mountains. It’s a distinction I probably share with most of you.

Who can keep up with the killing fields around the world? It’s exhausting, don’t you agree? Naively, I once thought that after the Holocaust, the world would never again allow the mass killings of innocent civilians. How wrong I was. Syria has grabbed the headlines recently, but in a quick internet search I found massive civilian murders being carried out right now in Central African Republic, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eastern Burma, Eastern Chad, Iraq, Somalia, and Sri Lanka. I’m probably missing a few.

What can I do? Sign a petition? Write a letter? Make a donation? Vote for someone making vague promises? At times it all seems hopeless. It’s so much easier to deny the enormity of it all than to deal with one’s impotence.

I’m thinking of all this just now because of two people I recently met who refuse to give up hope. They’re working ceaselessly to stop the indiscriminate killing and injury of civilians around the world.

I was introduced to Yassir Kori and Gregory Stanton by friend Gayle Donsky, who helped organize the second annual Bay Area Walk Against Genocide. The April event was organized to increase public awareness of current genocides, and Yassir and Gregory were features speakers.

Gregory Stanton addresses March Against Genocide participants. Oakland, California, April 29, 2012.

Gregory Stanton addresses March Against Genocide participants. Oakland, California, April 29, 2012. photo by Rica Haeussermann

I had the chance to spend a little time with these men and learn something about current efforts to stop genocide, and especially about what is happening to the women and children of the Nuba Mountains, located in the central part of southwestern Sudan.

Yassir A. Kori, Founder and Executive Director of Nuba Vision Coalition.

Yassir A. Kori, Founder and Executive Director of Nuba Vision Coalition.

Yassir A. Kori is a native of the Nuba Mountains who was forced to flee because of his Christian beliefs. He sought asylum in the United States and is now a citizen, living in Oklahoma City and working on his Ph.D. He plans to eventually return to the Sudan and lead his country toward a U.S. style democracy. Yassir is the executive director of the Nuba Vision Coalition.

Gregory H. Stanton is the Founder and President of Genocide Watch.

Gregory H. Stanton is president of Genocide Watch and Research Professor in Genocide Studies and Prevention at George Mason University in Virginia. He has spent much of his career studying genocide in many regions of the world and working to end the systematic and deliberate killings of massive numbers of innocent civilians.

Yassir Kori  points out the Nuba Mountains on Gayle Donsky's computer screen.

Yassir Kori points to a map of the Nuba Mountains on Gayle Donsky’s computer screen.

 

What I learned from Yassir and Gregory is that while the geopolitics of the region may be complicated, the facts on the ground are not. Innocent civilians are being bombed daily by the Sudanese military controlled by President Omar al-Bashir. Food supplies are cut off and people are being deliberately starved. al-Bashir says that he is putting down an insurgency, but both men agree that what is really going on is a blatant attempt to drive black Africans from oil rich lands. The International Criminal Court apparently agrees. It has issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, accusing him of genocide and crimes against humanity.

I’m grateful for people like Yassir, Gregory and Gayle for refusing to give up or tune out.

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There’s only one way to march in face of genocide: forward

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Gayle Donsky is a friend who is helping to organize a Walk Against Genocide this Sunday, April 29, 2012, at Lake Merritt in Oakland California.

by Gayle Donsky

Gayle DonskyPresident Barack Obama spoke on Yom HaShoah last week at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He stated, “It’s a bitter truth, too often the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale … We have to do everything we can to prevent and stop mass atrocities.” I am helping to organize the “Walk Against Genocide” this Sunday, April 29 at Lake Merritt in Oakland, but sometimes I wonder why. I have been involved for many years with the anti-genocide movement. Why persist when the movement has been so ineffective in stopping atrocities?

After Colin Powell called what was happening in Darfur a “genocide,” after President George W. Bush declared “Not on our watch,” after massive efforts and millions of dollars spent by a coalition of hundreds of grassroots organizations, after huge lobbying and letter campaigns to pressure Congress and the president, after the International Criminal Court indicted Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, in 2009 …

After all this, al-Bashir’s government is committing what some are calling the third genocide in Sudan — bombing, killing and literally starving the people of the Nuba Mountains. An indicted genocidaire not only goes free and is allowed to travel outside his country, but he and his cohorts are actually overseeing another genocide.

And now Obama states, “The president of Sudan [al-Bashir] and the president of South Sudan must have the courage to negotiate.” Calling on al-Bashir to negotiate while he is deliberately bombing and starving civilians is outrageous.

And there is no outcry. Why? What happened to the angry and passionate voices of thousands and thousands of activists? How could this huge and unprecedented movement fail? How can al-Bashir continue to kill his own citizens with impunity?

There are many reasons our movement stalled:

• The movement lacked the understanding of the context of the genocide in Darfur. Behind all of Sudan’s conflicts — Darfur, South Sudan, the Nuba mountains — is al-Bashir’s government.

• The movement was too piecemeal, never able to get at the root of the problem.

• The movement focused on trying to influence Congress, when international policies are guided by the executive branch. And when the movement did focus on the executive branch, our government’s global influence was too compromised by its other international involvements. In addition, any significant progress was (and is) impeded by China and Russia, two of the five members of the United Nations’ Security Council whose interest in Sudan’s oil quashes any initiative designed to stop al-Bashir.

• The movement was usurped by well-funded organizations whose leadership took control of the grassroots effort, effectively emasculating it and stifling its creativity makers, and too often bad decisions were made. In essence, the movement became “institutionalized,” pushing many committed people to feel they were on the periphery. Those on the ground were left conducting postcard campaigns, calling their members of Congress and going to rallies.

There have been, undeniably, some successes, most notably getting millions of dollars of humanitarian aid into the refugee camps, at least for a time. But those were not, by any stretch, enough.

So I ask myself, why do I “Walk Against Genocide”? I know there are mass atrocities occurring today — in the Nuba mountains of Sudan, in the Congo. I guess I feel we can learn a huge amount from the failures (and successes) of the Darfur movement. I would like to activate those not “burned out” by the previous failed efforts.

Creative, passionate people who use the knowledge of the previous movement are critical to carry forth more effectively. Let’s stay at the grassroots level, and resist the institutional “organization” that concentrates power, becomes self-serving and loses sight of accomplishing the ultimate goal — to end genocide everywhere.

After all, I guess I still have hope.

Gayle Donsky is a social justice activist and retired psychotherapist in Mill Valley. She is on the JCRC board.

Written by Ron Greene

April 27, 2012 at 2:52 pm