Locals respond to Sudan crisis

By Nate Sandstrom

Mass killings in Sudan have caught the attention of several local organizations. In response to what has been declared genocide by the United States, groups such as Amnesty International, a human rights organization, and Champaign’s United Church of Christ (UCC) have contributed aid and petitioned governments for more involvement.

On Saturday, the United Nations Security Council voted 11-0 to consider taking additional measures, including sanctions, against the Sudanese government if it fails to comply with a July resolution declaring the government’s obligation to protect civilians in Darfur. Darfur is located in the western region of the country.

Amnesty International has estimated that more than 50,000 have been killed and more than 1.2 million left homeless in the conflict between Sudanese rebels and the government.

Most of the fighting has been between Arabs and non-Arab “blacks” in Darfur.

Some religious organizations have contributed to help displaced villagers. Pastor Michael Mulberry of Champaign Community UCC said portions of what they have taken from collections has gone to Sudan.

Many of the donations are sent to larger international organizations that work directly with people who are suffering. UCC works frequently with Church World Service (CWS), a religious, non-denominational humanitarian group.

CWS is working in conjunction with other groups to provide food, water, medication and sanitation supplies, as well as seeds, tools and counseling to 500,000 people in the Darfur region including 50,000 children, said CWS spokesman Chris Herlinger.

Despite detailed coordination, relief workers have experienced some difficulties. The effort to get supplies to those in need has been thwarted by Sudan’s rainy season.

Coco McCabe, information director for Oxfam, a Boston-based humanitarian group, said the road from Khartoum to Western Darfur is impassable in segments. To get around the difficulties, they have flown seven planes into the refugee camps, although this makes providing aid more expensive.

McCabe said security is also an obstacle.

“It’s a volatile environment. There is still fighting in the North and South,” she said.

All groups emphasized the need for funds.

McCabe said many people have lost everything they own, so even after providing the basics, such as food and sanitation, more is necessary to help rebuild what’s been lost.

Rick Perera, spokesman for CARE, an Atlanta-based humanitarian organization, urged people to contact the president and members of Congress to pledge an additional $90 million in aid that will enable relief groups and UN agencies to meet critical humanitarian needs.

Rep. Timothy Johnson (R- Ill.) said he is encouraged by relief actions taken by the UN and the Bush administration, but also said it is not enough.

“It is vitally important that the international community continue to closely monitor this situation to ensure that emergency relief is provided for the affected people and that the volatile security situation remains peaceful,” Johnson said in a statement last week.

The University’s chapter of Amnesty International will hold a candle light vigil on the Quad today at 8 p.m. to remember those who have died in the conflict, said the group’s co-president, Kasey Umland.

They will also provide letters addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, the government of Chad and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

The letters will ask Powell to push for greater U.N. involvement in Sudan, for Chad to provide more assistance to the over 150,000 refugees that have fled there from the Darfur region in Sudan, and urge Sudanese President Hassan al-Bashir to allow full access to aid groups and human rights monitors who have gone to Sudan to assist those who have lost their homes. It also requests him to honor a cease-fire signed in May.