Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A Thousand Words (Just not "Genocide")

When our posterity looks back from the safety of their history classes, it will surely be one of the greatest shames of our time. Ten years after the world stood by and watched the Interahamwe openly slaughter nearly one million Rwandan Tutsis, our leaders have still not found a way to reconcile our declared responsibility to stop genocide with the fear of being dragged into unpopular "local" conflicts. No one wants another Black Hawk Down situation, and let's face it, it certainly looks as if there's a huge degree of racism involved ("Oh, it's just So-n-So's killing So-n-so's"), so governments have their spokespeople perform the most ludicrous verbal contortions to avoid having to say the "G" word and thereby commit themselves to step in and stop the murders.

All of this has come up repeatedly recently because of the enduring crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. The leaders of the nations in the UN Security Council can agree time and again to talk about how awful it is that nearly 200,000 people have been starved to death or murdered in a conflict that has all the hallmarks of an organized attempt at committing genocide, but they just can't bring themselves to call it that. Calling it genocide means they'll have to stop it.

In the face of this cowardice, there's evidence that not only are the crimes that comprise genocide being commited in Sudan, but also that the Sudanese government, despite its claims to the contrary, is participating in the conflict. What evidence? The drawings of children:

From today's New York Times

Human Rights Watch workers gave crayons and paper to children in seven refugee camps along Darfur's border with Chad to keep them occupied as they interviewed their parents about the ethnic violence and starvation that has engulfed hundreds of villages in Darfur, said a Human Rights Watch researcher, Dr. Annie Sparrow.

"When I first started collecting them they were so shocking," Dr. Sparrow said of the drawings. "It's not just that the children are scarred and traumatized by awful atrocities but the way they're devising this unique visual vocabulary that corroborates all the testimony we've taken from adults.

"These are not generic guns that a 10-year-old boy would draw but guns they've actually seen," said Dr. Sparrow, who is a pediatrician. "I sat down with a weapons expert who identified what the weapons were."

Dr. Sparrow also contends that the details in the drawings provide more evidence of the involvement of the Sudan government.

"The government of Sudan has repeatedly denied being involved in the crisis, but the janjaweed only have guns and horse and camels," she said. "It's the government of Sudan that has the weapons of war."

Of course it's possible the children were drawing helicopters from memory in other contexts (movies or whatever), but most of the imagery in the collected drawings is pretty specific to this conflict:

But judge for yourself. An exhibition of these drawings, all by children aged 8 to 17, is touring. "The Smallest Witnesses: The Conflict in Darfur Through Children's Eyes," will be on display through September 6 at the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University (7 East 10th Street) (although the center doesn't yet have this exhibition on their website). It will then travel to Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Hamburg and Munich.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Ed, these drawings are amazing. Definitely have to see them.

7/06/2005 09:51:00 AM  
Anonymous la artist said...

They remind me of the drawings of the children of Guatamala. You could identify the different kinds of helicopters which attacked villages from those. This is the saddest form of social realism I can imagine.

7/06/2005 05:11:00 PM  
Anonymous kenB said...

I second LA Artist -- my wife worked with refugee children from El Salvador back in the early 80s, and her charges produced similar drawings on a regular basis. She's always been a little sorry she didn't collect them and take them to a publisher or studio or something.

7/07/2005 12:04:00 AM  

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