Most Americans have heard about Darfur's human rights catastrophe, but many don't have a true sense of the atrocities that are continuing there, said Anderson J.Franklin, PhD, at an APA AnnualConvention session on psychologists' work to resolve the crisis.
Since 2003, Arab militias have murdered 400,000 Darfurians and displaced 2.5 million from their homeland. They've raped thousands of women, though an accurate tally is impossible since Darfurian women are so shamed by the act, they won't report it.
Those people who are able to escape the bloodshed live in the purgatory of refugee camps, which are designed to be safe havens, but are now overcrowded and dangerous.
The psychological toll is daunting. "If you've ever been in a situation of great uncertainty," noted Franklin, "then you have just a small inkling of the psychological consequences that these people are going through."
Darfur's humanitarian crisis began in 2003 when, in response to uprisings by rebel groups, the Sudanese government supported Arab militias, the notorious janjaweed, to begin wholesale ethnic cleansing of black Darfurians-people who largely have no affiliation with the rebel groups, session speakers said.
Several psychologists are actively working to end the genocide, and their efforts-which include documenting the plight of these people and pushing for UN action-are yielding promise.
"It's extremely important that we keep the pressure on," said Franklin, a past president of Div. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues) and a psychology professor at Boston College and the City University of New York. "I've lived long enough to know this will not be the last genocide. And how we respond to this is going to be an indication of how we, as a professional association, respond to the larger issue of social justice."
Making it personal
Gabriel Stauring, a mental health counselor who works with abused children in Southern California, believes that people ignore the plight of Darfur because of the sheer scale of the atrocities. "Most people want to turn away from it," said Stauring. "The numbers are too huge-400,000 dead-it's just too much for people to wrap their minds around."
So, Stauring co-founded a grassroots organization, StopGenocideNow.org, which turns those overwhelming numbers into personal narratives. He visits the camps with a video camera and listens to anyone who will talk to him. Stauring then posts their histories on his Web site http://stopgenocidenow.org/iact/).
Their stories often begin the same way, Stauring explained: They had been living peaceful lives in villages when suddenly bombs fell from the sky. Once the bombs stopped, the janjaweed rode in on horses and killed as many men and older boys as they could find. Then, they would rape the women and girls. Survivors would walk 10 to 25 days through the desert to refugee camps in Chad.
"They all see family members being killed," said Stauring. "Many see their sisters and mothers being raped. They all see family and friends dying of starvation on the walk to the refugee camps."
While Stauring aims to raise individual awareness, psychologist Corann Okorodudu, EdD, is working to rouse nations. Since the genocide began, the United Nations has passed several resolutions seeking to secure peace, yet the Sudanese government has refused to disarm or control the janjaweed, said Okorodudu, one of APA's representatives to the United Nations and 2005-07 chair of the U.N. Subcommittee for the Elimination of Racism of the International NGO Committee on Human Rights.
In August, 2006, for example, the U.N. Security Council resolved to send 23,000 peacekeeping troops to the area, but the Sudanese government refused its consent.
"For the first time in history, the international community through the United Nations has failed to deploy a peacekeeping force authorized by the Security Council," said Okorodudu. "This is very serious."
Why has this mission failed when at least a dozen other U.N. peacekeeping missions are active throughout the world? "Too many nations, including those in the Security Council, are placing economic self-interest and regional solidarity above humanitarian priorities," explained Okorodudu.
China, for example, as the biggest investor in Sudan's oil industry and its largest trading partner, has been reluctant to intervene, she said. In addition, oil companies from Austria, Canada, China, India, Malaysia and Sweden support the Sudan National Islamic Front, which is backing the genocide, she added.
In response, as chair of the NGO Committee on Human Rights, Okorodudu is among those calling companies' attention to the negative consequences of investing in Sudan. Her committee has also implored the European Union to request that its member states stop exporting weapons to Sudan. And, in a move that may hold the greatest promise, she contacted sponsors of the 2008 Olympics.
"As China prepares for the Olympics in 2008," she explained, "we the NGOs thought that negative publicity directed at China and the corporate sponsors of the Olympics might convince China to put pressure on the government of Sudan to cooperate with the implementation with the United Nations' peace accord."
In addition, she said, Actress Mia Farrow, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund, and the NGOs have begun an Olympic-style torch relay through countries that have suffered genocide to put additional pressure on China to help end the abuses in Darfur.
Meanwhile, some in Congress are also making Darfur a priority. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), for example, has drafted legislation that urges companies to not do business with Sudan, among other initiatives.
The campaign is beginning to have positive results, said Okorodudu. On July 31, the U.N. Security Council passed another resolution stating that the 26,000 peacekeeping troops must be deployed no later than December 2007. This time, the U.N. vote was unanimous, with China and others backing the resolution.
Still, refugees must continue to live in tents, and Darfurian villagers fear for their lives.
"How slow the wheels turn, even as people are being killed," said Franklin.
The session was sponsored by APA's Committee on International Relations in Psychology and Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs.