On Our Watch: Why Media Attention Hasn't Stopped the Genocide in Darfur

The world is inundated with stories about the genocide in Darfur. So why haven’t we stopped it?

| January-February 2009

For a list of the books and films discussed in this article,  click here

In July 2004 a colleague beckoned Brian Steidle into his office and took out a laptop. “As he handed me his computer,” writes Steidle in The Devil Came on Horseback, his memoir about Darfur, “a series of the most disturbing images I had ever seen came across the screen”—photos of young girls who had been handcuffed and burned to death outside their school.

Steidle, a former U.S. marine, was working as a peacekeeper in southern Sudan. His job was to monitor a cease-fire that ended a decades-long civil war in which some 2 million people died. But just as a tenuous peace was finally taking hold in the south, violence had broken out in Sudan’s western corner—a dusty, impoverished region called Darfur. That was where the unbearable pictures had been taken. “If these photos were released to the public,” he e-mailed home, “there would be troops in here in no time.”

Four years later, the sentiment seems quaint. For we are awash in information about Darfur. Disturbing photos of torture, death, and starvation are just the beginning of it. There are the regular dispatches of wire-service reporters, the drumbeat of opinion columns, and the images beamed home by television cameras. There are more websites maintained by activists and human rights groups than anyone can count.

And now there is something else, too: a substantial body of literature, academic and popular, about western Sudan. There is a book by a survivor of the genocide; memoirs by a nurse working for Doctors Without Borders, a top-ranking U.N. official, and an African Union peacekeeper; two collections of essays that narrate the events of the past few years—particularly the failed international effort to stop the killing—in painstaking detail; a book by three activists who snuck into Darfur in November 2004; an account that patiently traces the history of the region; a book that links the Darfur genocide to the decades-long war between Libya and Chad; and even a book coauthored by the actor Don Cheadle.

And there are also the movies: documentaries that focus on the experiences of aid workers, activists, and of course the victims themselves—men and women whose faces and voices are captured in hour after hour of stomach-churning interviews, whose children have been murdered and communities destroyed, whose existence is now confined to squalid refugee camps from which they will probably never go home.

Barbara Staskelunas
2/24/2011 6:03:09 PM

There is a saying that goes, How can you look at the world without crying. Most of us shutout the horrors that go on because they do not become real to us until we are physically in the midst of it. My heart breaks for those people. I will write my congressman and lobby for Darfur