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Updated: 2019.8.18 01:57
 
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Spotlight | Out of Sight but Not Out of Mind
[ Issue 170 Page 7 ] Friday, May 24, 2019, 21:52:49 Jinho Park, Jaymee Palma kaistherald@gmail.com

Time to Shed Light on Darfur Again

By Jinho Park Junior Staff Reporter

As a much-troubled region in Western part of Sudan, Darfur was in the media spotlight in the early 2000s; the Darfur genocide was extensively reported upon. But aside from Darfur, Sudan has made few headlines until recent political turmoil in the country drew media attention.

The region historically has been home to several million people of many different tribes and ethnicities. There has been a great dynamic of land ownerships between tribes of different lifestyles, namely nomadic Arabs and sedentary Africans. In 2003, rebel groups comprised of non-Arab tribes rose up against the government, claiming that it was favoring the Arabs. The government responded with armed forces, utilizing militias called “Janjaweed”, with soldiers of mostly nomadic or foreign backgrounds.

The government exploited the existing tribal tension between the rebels and the Janjaweed, causing a bloodshed. The government allegedly supplied the militias with arms and conducted coordinated raids on villages and rebel territories. The government ignored and allegedly ordered many atrocities perpetrated by its own forces and the Janjaweed, including civilian massacre, rape of women and young girls, and relentless looting.

The UN estimated the overall death toll to be 400,000, and several millions more were displaced from their homes. 80% of the death count was accounted for by disease, while the Sudanese government maintains that the figures are exaggerated.

The war and genocide in Darfur have exponentially phased out of media attention since 2010, according to Google Trends. The most intense violence inflicted on civilians by governmental counter-insurgency occurred between 2003 and 2004, which received intensive media coverage. During this period, government forces and militia raided villages, ruthlessly slaughter civilians, and swept Darfuris out of their homeland. But since then, there have been only a few reports on the issue — the same degree of mass violence has not continued and the world has stopped paying attention. In 2007, Rodolphe Adada, the leader of the peacekeeping United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) proclaimed that the war had ended.

However, the fight never really ended in and out of Darfur, and remnants of the war continue to have severe effects. The number of Darfuris who have been forcefully removed from their homeland or fled the war totals more than two million. This includes a million Darfuris who have been displaced to camps outside Darfur or have become refugees in different countries, facing disease and starvation. Humanitarian support has mostly been in vain as government forces have consistently denied access to rebel-held regions in Darfur and refugee camps.

Despite the government’s ceasefire announcement, government forces and militia still committed brutal killings of innocent civilians and destruction of camps. From 2014 to 2016, the number of attacks on displaced Darfuris by government forces and militia surged.

Darfuris staying in their homeland face devastation, too. The period between March and May 2018 saw the deaths of at least 23 civilians, lootings of villages in Darfur, and thousands of Darfuris fleeing their homes. Rape of women and young girls continues to be perpetrated with impunity, systematically ordered by the government and committed by militia and government forces. Sudanese securities’ violence and oppression against protesters in Darfur resulted in casualties of civilians as well.

These days there are far fewer international voices calling to help restore peace in Sudan or improve the lives of the millions affected than there were at the peak of media attention. Permanent damage already has been done to innumerable Dafuris, who require continued aid and attention.

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, the central figure behind the Darfur genocide, was recently ousted by a fellow war criminal General Awad ibn Ouf. The former president was not removed because of his horrific war crime. His ouster was a consequence of ongoing protests from Sudanese people over economic instability of the nation. Western media is focusing on Sudan once again as it undergoes a major national transformation. But in addition to the major political turmoil, Western media must finally shed light on the victims of the tragic civil war that has been taking place for more than 16 years.

 

The Stateless Rohingya

By Jaymee Palma Staff Reporter

When asked for a self-introduction in KAIST, one of the first things mentioned is nationality. Paradoxically, in this age of globalization, we are more aware of borders than ever before. National identity provides us with a claim to an individual culture, as well as legal human rights. However, assigning territories to particular nation states has been the cause of bloodshed in many areas of the world. Conflicts arise when culturally distinct communities that live in spaces once part of empires are arbitrarily carved up and redistributed to political entities. One such struggle has generated the Rohingya crisis, the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. Few have heard of the plight of the Rohingya people. An ethnic minority in Myanmar, they are rendered effectively stateless due to Myanmar seeing them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. However, the Rohingya people trace their origins to the western coast of Myanmar from the 15th century, to the Muslims who resided in the former Arakan Kingdom. This region, named the Rakhine state of Myanmar, was governed as part of British India during colonial times. When Burma —later renamed Myanmar — gained independence in 1948, the Arakanese people were suddenly forced into a rigorously defined state territory. They are ethnically and linguistically different from a predominantly Buddhist country due to their cultural roots in the Arakan Kingdom, and this causes them to be treated as foreigners by Myanmar nationalists.

Since then, Rohingya rights have been continuously trampled upon. They were not recognized as citizens of Myanmar, and therefore, in the eyes of the government, they have no rights. They require permission to move and to get married, and until recently, they were able to register as temporary residents with identification cards. In the 2014 UN census — the first one in the country in over thirty years — the Rohingya could only register if they identify as Bengali instead. Their spatial distribution does not help their case; they live in a dense population of several million in three townships on the far northwest edge of Burma. This makes it easy for ethno-nationalists to label them as foreigners.

Discriminatory policies since the 1970s have compelled tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee their homes and cross into nearby countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. The latest mass exodus began in August 2017, when the government began to commit renewed acts of violence against the Rohingya. The UN has condemned these acts as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. The country’s security forces are denying these allegations, reasoning that they are restoring stability by quelling Rohingya terrorist forces.

Millions of Rohingya people are spread throughout the world, and so far, their situations have not improved. The majority of the Rohingya refugees are crossing the border by land to Bangladesh. The refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar is the biggest in the world today, accommodating more than 900,000 refugees. Humanitarian groups are doing their best, but such crowded living conditions combined with limited access to food and clean water easily lead to the spread of disease. The refugee camp is also situated on a path of elephant migration, causing damage to housing facilities and even several deaths. The Rohingya refugees are also not recognized as legal citizens in Bangladesh, and thus their movement and work opportunities are also severely restricted. Such living arrangements are not sustainable.

The Bangladeshi government is negotiating repatriations with Myanmar, but the Rohingya still fear for their safety, especially since Myanmar restricts international access to the Rakhine region. Another solution that Bangladesh is exploring is to resettle some of the Rohingya to a remote island called Bhasan Char, which the government has been developing for the past two years. However, not many refugees are willing to move since the island is prone to devastation from cyclones.

   
Smoke rises in the background as the Rohingya people flee their homes

The Rohingya crisis is fueled by political tensions and religious conflicts. There is no immediate and clean end due to deep-seated prejudice and fear of the alien. What we can do now is to continuously bring the situation to the spotlight so that humanitarian funding to alleviate the refugee crisis will continue, and so international pressure on Myanmar will hopefully give it incentive to recognize the Rohingya people’s rights.

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