ONLY ten years after the Rwandan genocide, history threatens to repeat itself in the little known region of Darfur in western Sudan.
Since early 2003, Government-supported militia known as the janjawid have raped, killed and pillaged, leaving villages devastated and thousands dead in their wake.
As the janjawid have attacked by land, the Sudanese army has conducted air raids on Darfurian civilian centres. The region is in dire need of emergency assistance to counter acute shortfalls in food, shelter, clean water and healthcare.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned that the funds supporting relief efforts in Sudan have been exhausted. This Office places the number of internally displaced persons at a staggering one million people. In addition, more than 100,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad via the country's eastern border.
A ceasefire agreement signed between Darfurian rebels and the Sudanese Government in April 2004 has already been broken. International relief agencies have found their access to Government-controlled areas in Darfur is being inhibited.
As a consequence of this carnage, the Government and the predominantly Arab janjawid militia now stand accused of methodically wiping out villages inhabited by people of black origin. Darfurian refugees say that Government-sponsored militia will kill black peoples indiscriminately – armed rebel and innocent civilian alike.
Yet, even though 1,000 lives are being lost in Darfur every week, the UN has been passive. A UN human rights fact-finding team reporting to the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights has cautiously categorized the situation as ‘serious allegations of a troubling nature'. Rather than condemn the mass killings as genocide, on the very last day of its 60th session at the end of April the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted a weakly worded decision on the human rights situation in Darfur, expressing mere concern about the atrocities being committed in the region and failing to commit itself to any serious external action to stop further killings.
Ten years ago, in a situation much like the one evolving in Darfur, the world stood by and looked on as one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were brutally murdered. We have all heard it said that those who forget their past are destined to repeat it. The kind of human tragedy that devastated Rwanda just one decade ago cannot and must not be tolerated a second time round. Western Sudan is fast deteriorating into a humanitarian crisis of gargantuan proportions. The time to act is now.