“What happened to Darfur?” The question came up in a conversation at a friend’s birthday party last night. My new acquaintance genuinely wanted to know, posing the question as she might have mentioned the name of a friend from high school she used to see every day and just realized she hadn’t thought of in years.
Sudan’s troubled western region of Darfur rarely makes the headlines, and when it does, the news at first glance seems encouraging. “Darfur Peace Deal Stirs Hope, and Skepticism, for Sudan,” the New York Times reported when Darfur’s most militarily powerful rebel group signed a preliminary agreement with the Sudanese government last month.
Most reporting on Sudan today tends to focus on the potential for renewed North-South violence given such contentious milestones over the next year, namely Sudan’s first multiparty elections since the 1980s and the South’s referendum on independence that will likely split the country in two. Certainly what little attention the mainstream media gives to these issues is warranted; two million people died and four million were displaced during the last North-South civil war that raged for more than 20 years.
The other piece of big news taking place simultaneously was overlooked, despite the direct implication it had for the peace talks. In the weeks before the peace talks began, and even while the government was pledging to work “in good faith” with Darfur’s largest rebel group to negotiate peace, the Sudanese army had launched a new military offensive in the rebel stronghold of Jebel Marra in Darfur. The fighting left hundreds dead and as many as 100,000 people displaced. Part of the challenge of quickly reporting on violence in Darfur is that the government tightly controls the information coming out of the troubled region. The U.N peacekeepers can only travel where the government allows – so far that hasn’t included Jebel Marra, though violence has ensued there for over a month – and organizations closest to the action hesitate to speak out in light of the government’s very real threat to expel them.
The story of Jebel Marra was out there; but the influential people charged with following the conflict, whose condemnation of the government’s actions would have made news, willfully overlooked it.
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This post is part of a series that will appear once a week on Change.org’s Human Rights blog.