A Spectacular Silence, Daily Brief February 21, 2024

Daily Brief, February 21, 2024


Ten point seven million people is a lot of people.

It’s more than the entire population of the US state of New Jersey or the Canadian province of Quebec. It’s greater than the number of people in Austria, Portugal, or Sweden.

You can bet that if 10.7 million people had been forced to leave their homes in North America or Western Europe, media and governments on both sides of the Atlantic would be talking about little else. The displacement of ten million people following Russia’s atrocity-ridden invasion and occupation of Ukraine certainly got their attention – and quite rightly.

But what of the 10.7 million people uprooted from their homes in Sudan since the crisis began in April? Not a lot. Nearly zero media attention. And very little action by governments at the UN.

Now, there’s a lot going on in the world right now, and a lot of competition for the attentions of foreign editors and foreign ministers. But that’s no excuse.

The mass atrocities happening in Sudan are among the worst in the world right now. In the region of Darfur, the downward spiral includes ethnic killings and other atrocities.

A new UN report describes waves of devastating attacks by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allied militias in West Darfur’s capital of El Geneina. The RSF killed between 10,000 and 15,000 people in and around the city last year.

That report also confirms the RSF and its allies have been targeting ethnic Massalit civilians in attacks that “may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” HRW has similarly documented widespread ethnically targeted killingssexual violence, and torture against predominantly ethnic Massalit civilians.

People are fleeing for their lives: 10.7 million of them, which includes nine million displaced internally, the highest in the world, many in camps where “hunger and disease have become grim features of daily life.”

The dearth of global responses to the atrocities in Darfur – and Sudan’s conflict generally – is absurdly out of proportion to the immensity of the horrors. It’s a spectacular silence, a lack of political will shocking even by the normal standards of shocking indifference to events involving mass human suffering in the global south.

But as Gareth Evans, former Australian foreign minister used to say about getting governments to address mass atrocity crimes around the world: it’s not up to us to lament the lack of political will; it’s up to us to help forge it.