By Baroness Glenys Kinnock and Rep. Michael E. Capuano
Ten years ago, the Sudanese government launched military action against armed groups in Darfur that led to the deaths of over 300,000 people and displaced 3 million more, in what a United Nations (UN) commission of inquiry described as crimes against humanity. Darfur, a previously little known region in western Sudan, became synonymous with the most brutal of modern conflicts.
As politicians from the UK and US, we have each been to Darfur and have vivid memories of the people we met and tales of suffering they endured. We have separately been with colleagues on the ground in refugee camps, hearing stories of violence and despair. The horror was barely imaginable. We were told that women chose to collect firewood and water because they felt it was better to be raped than their men be killed. At one deserted village, charred structures and an array of craters served as evidence of recent bombing. African Union soldiers explained that everyone had fled suddenly due to Sudanese Antonov military aircraft flying overhead, their dark shadows against the bright blue sky the symbols of thundering terror for the people on the ground.
We encountered severely malnourished children, seeking treatment with international organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), because the conflict had ravaged crops and was slowly starving the most innocent and blameless. In this bleak landscape, where women and children struggled to get by, buffeted by hot and dusty winds, we were undoubtedly witnesses to a living tragedy.
Today in Darfur, the misery goes on, with indicted criminals going free, violence escalating and over 3 million people relying on food aid. Yet, most frighteningly, and in an appalling repetition of history, the Sudanese government has spent the past 18 months deploying the same brutal tactics it used in Darfur to crush an armed rebellion in another part of Sudan. Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, often called the "Two Areas", are two little-known corners of one of the biggest countries in Africa, which might soon be as notorious as Darfur -- unless the world takes action.
As in Darfur, civilians in the Two Areas, mainly women and children, have been caught in the crossfire as the Sudanese armed forces wage war far from the attention of the world's media. In an effort to drive the population from their land through fear and starvation, the government of Sudan has blocked humanitarian assistance to the Two Areas, targeted civilians through indiscriminate aerial bombardment and ground attacks, and carefully timed offensives designed to disrupt the planting and harvesting seasons.
The UN estimates that over 1.2 million people have been displaced or severely affected by violence. Many are living on one meal every five days; independent experts now warn that parts of southern Kordofan and Blue Nile face the very real prospect of a man-made famine by April 2013. Coping mechanisms have been largely exhausted and recent visitors report refugees resorting to eating roots and leaves and being forced to live in caves.
As we recognise the ten-year anniversary of the conflict in Darfur, it is time to learn from the lessons of history. A decade ago, the UN security council neglected atrocities in Darfur, failing to recognise the significance of this remote conflict for wider peace across the region -- and doing so with devastating consequences. This cycle threatens to recur, as the security council -- the world's premier body for peace, security and the protection of people -- remains largely silent on the plight of the people of the Two Areas, failing to back up its own resolutions on this conflict and not putting its political muscle behind African Union plans to end the suffering.
History cannot be allowed to repeat itself: it is not too late to stand up and be a voice for the people of Sudan. That is why we have added our names to an open letter, along with 98 political representatives from an unprecedented coalition spanning three continents, urging our governments to step up and lead the UN security council to take effective action to address the situation in Sudan.
After Darfur, the world said "never again". Today, ten years on and in the Two Areas, we need to prove it. Hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. What is needed is united global leadership to prevent a man-made humanitarian catastrophe and forge a path to peace.