As world leaders work for a resolution of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, a new film chronicling the depredations of the jingaweit Arab militia gives graphic evidence of atrocities committed there. The Devil Came on Horseback played to a sold-out house at the American Film Institute’s Silverdocs Festival, with most of the audience staying for a panel discussion afterward.
The documentary, by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, focuses on the experiences of retired U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle, who served as an unarmed military observer for the African Union in Darfur. There he monitored a conflict that began in 2003 when rebel groups attacked Sudanese government facilities, claiming neglect and oppression of African ethnic groups.
By the time [that] he arrived, in 2004, the conflict had escalated into “a full-scale government-sponsored military operation that, with the support of Arab militias known as the jingaweit, was aimed at annihilating the African tribes in the region,” according to Steidle, who narrates the film. Sudan denies supporting the jingaweit.
To date, more than 200,000 people are thought to have died in the Darfur conflict, and 2 million to 3 million have been displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations.
“They are continuously being displaced from their camps, herded into larger camps,” as death and displacement tolls continue to rise, Steidle told USINFO. He remains involved in advocacy, and organizes humanitarian outreach, often returning to the region, although he cannot re-enter Sudan. “There are about a million people in the smaller camps in the outlying areas that cannot be reached by the aid organizations at this point in time,” he said.
During his time in Darfur, Steidle saw daily evidence of extreme brutality, which he meticulously documented. Some of the photos and video he shot are used in the documentary. One attack shown in the film is the burning of a village of 20,000 people by militia who shouted slogans like “kill the slaves.”
Steidle and other observers, such as the International Crisis Group (ICG), whose 2007 Darfur report shows deterioration of the security situation in the past year, say [that] a second phase of genocide is in progress. According to ICG’s John Prendergast, speaking at the June 12 panel [discussion] after the film, the Sudanese government counters opposition “by arming communities, militias that represent one community against another, so [that] you have these local conflicts,” and hinders delivery of relief supplies. He added, “They are attempting slowly but surely to erase certain segments of the non-Arab population from Darfur.”
Blocking access to humanitarian aid, Steidle said, “is the way [that] most people died.” Thousands every month “are dying of dehydration, lack of food, medical aid,” he said.
The nongovernmental relief organization Oxfam announced its permanent withdrawal from Gereida, the largest of the Darfur refugee camps, on June 17. The group cited continued attacks by the Arab militia on aid workers. More than 130,000 people in Gereida depend on aid distribution, according to Oxfam.
“[T]he local authorities have not lived up to their responsibility to ensure our staff can work safely,” Oxfam program manager Caroline Nursey said in a statement, adding that perpetrators of the attacks are still free.
“The people of Sudan are crying out for help, and they deserve it,” President Bush said in May, when he called for sanctions on 30 companies that have ties to the Khartoum government and on two Sudanese officials connected with Darfur violence.
The United States also wants an arms embargo and the establishment of a no-fly zone over Darfur to curb military flights that abet ravages of the jingaweit militia.
“The international community has simply got to act more quickly,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Paris after a June 24 meeting on Dafur. She called it a humanitarian disaster, and emphasized U.S. commitment to ending the Darfur violence.
Sudan is rich in oil reserves. China, a major buyer and trading partner with Sudan, has a close relationship with the government in Khartoum, and is considered key to peace in the region. Rice said, “I believe that the Chinese government can and will act responsibly” to help resolve the conflict. [...]
“If you don’t want to call it genocide, don’t worry about it,” Steidle says, “But there is a situation going on in Darfur, and the world should not allow it to happen, and we should do whatever we can, whatever is in our power, to stop what’s happening.”