When Brian Steidle went into Sudan as a U.S. representative, he was assigned to photograph everything he saw: young children with gunshot, shrapnel and whipping wounds. Villages that once housed 750 people, completely burned.
These horrific scenes are results of the conflict between the Arab tribes, such as the Janjaweed, and the non-Arab people in Sudan.
Steidle explained the complex conflict on April 22 at UTSA’s downtown campus during a two-hour presentation of images and video footage of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
“This conflict really picked up in the early ’90s. In 1993, the government used the scorched earth policy to bomb these villages and drive the people out to the desert,” Steidle explained. “They live in desert refugee or Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps where they become solely reliable on aid for survival. There is no water, no land to plant and no shelter.
”The aid groups provide them with these things and then the government makes it difficult for them to get this food, water and medical support to people. This is where the majority of the people die€” they die of things like diarrhea, dysentery, yellow fever, typhoid, malaria starvation, dehydration; simple things that are treatable in the U.S.,” he said.
Steidle spent his first seven months in the Nuba Mountains where some of the worst ethnic cleansing occurred. He estimated that 250,000 people died within the Nuba Mountains alone. Tribes that once existed were completely wiped off the face of the earth. Every member of the tribe was killed by the government of Sudan, he said.
According to Steidle, multiple villages of 100,000 people were displaced between 1992 and 1998.
”About 170,000 people were herded into peace camps or concentration camps, modern day work camps where they were forced to farm the land,” he said.
Steidle stressed three specific points during the presentation.
First, he stressed the magnitude of the conflict.
”To this day, we talk about 300,000-400,000 people dead; that’s like dropping a nuclear bomb on St. Louis or displacing the entire population of the San Francisco bay area,” Steidle said.
”At the height of the conflict, 9,000 to 10,000 people a month were dying; that’s 300 a day, 12 and a half in an hour.”
Second, Steidle explained the purpose of the conflict: the Sudan government’s attempt to drive all Africans out of Sudan.
Third, this killing can be stopped.
The conflict is between three groups: the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), and the Justice and Equality Movement are the two main rebel groups, and are “poorly equipped and poorly trained.” Steidle explained that they have a lot of guns, but no ammunition.
”None of these guns have bullets. Might as well just have a stick,” he said.
The government of Sudan is “well equipped and well trained, at least by African standards,” Steidle said. “They have an endless supply of men because every male in their country is a conscript.”
The third group in the conflict is the Janjaweed, also known as the “devil on a horseback.” According to Steidle, they are well equipped and well trained because the Sudanese government provides all their training, weapons and ammunition even though the government has tried to deny this.
According to Steidle, the Sudanese government has a MI-24 Hind Gunship; however, the Sudanese government again denies it. Steidle presented a photograph he took of the MI-24 with a Sudanese flag on the tail as it was flying over the village of Nayala in south Darfur. He was able to capture the picture when he suspected the take off of the gunship.
”Our cell phones and satellite phones went down. There was going to be an attack. The only question was where it was going to be,” he said.
Steidle explained that the Sudanese government has complete control over cell and satellite phones, and when the Gunships take off, they cut off all reception of the two.
”The Sudanese government turns them off so that the people in Nayala cannot warn the villagers when the helicopters take off,” Steidle said.
Photographs of villages after they have been burned show only the houses burned. Each block completely burned to the ground, yet trees are left standing outside what used to be houses.
”The government has a deliberate burning process, done block by block, and house by house” said Steidle.
Refugee camps are provided for displaced victims, but they help out very little, he said. In one instance, 5,000 victims were displaced from their home, yet a refugee camp housing only 500 of those victims was built. The other 4,500 were left without help.
Issues still occur in these camps. Water is rare, and firewood used for cooking is not only rare but dangerous to get. When women leave the camp to collect the wood, they are raped by the Janjaweed. If the women report the rape, they are thrown into jail for having sex outside of marriage or are shunned from their family and are left alone. The men caught by the Janjaweed while collecting firewood are castrated and left to bleed to death.
Steidle requested that the audience send letters to their congressmen asking for action to stop the genocide and protect the people in Darfur. He also suggested requesting media coverage of the situation, such as writing letters to editors of newspapers or letters to news stations asking to hear more about the issue.
Steidle stressed that more coverage would help bring the issue out into the open and hopefully, create a faster response.
Steidle ended his presentation with the question “This has been going on for three years, the worst ethnic cleansing. Imagine if this had happened in Europe, what the world’s response would be. Why is the response any different?”