Will Focusing On Southern Sudan Prevent Genocide? Diplomats and celebrities are highlighting the risk of mass violence in Sudan in advance of next month's independence vote in Southern Sudan. After the failures in Rwanda and Bosnia, this is a new strategy for dealing with the problem of persistent genocide. But is attention enough to prevent violence?
NPR logo

Will Focusing On Southern Sudan Prevent Genocide?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132193784/132195809" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Will Focusing On Southern Sudan Prevent Genocide?

Will Focusing On Southern Sudan Prevent Genocide?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132193784/132195809" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

After the Second World War, the world pledged there would never be another holocaust. But mass killings have not stopped. They've taken place over the decades in Cambodia, Rwanda, the Balkans and, most recently, Sudan's Darfur region. Now, American officials and activists see a new risk of bloodshed: next month's independence vote in Southern Sudan.

Frank Langfitt, NPR's East Africa correspondent, reports that this time celebrities, human rights groups and American diplomats are trying a new approach. They want to draw attention to the risk of mass violence in hopes of preventing it.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): The situation North-South is a ticking time bomb of enormous consequence.

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): I do believe that there is a real possibility of saving a lot of lives, making it harder to kill people.

Mr. EMMANUEL JAL (Hip-Hop artist): I don't want my country to go back to war. If the world knew six million Jews were going to die, they would have done something.

LANGFITT: That was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, George Clooney during a recent, hour-long NBC program on Sudan, and Emmanuel Jal, a Southern Sudanese hip-hop artist. They're talking about a vote January 9th that is expected to split Africa's largest nation in two.

After two decades of civil war with the North, most people in Southern Sudan seem to want their own country. But the North doesn't want to let the South go, and some fear it will use violence to stop it.

Emmanuel Jal recently recorded a song to try to draw attention to his homeland and his concerns.

Mr. JAL: (Singing) Oh, yeah. I'm looking for some people who are looking for peace. Maybe together, we can make the war cease.

LANGFITT: Jal was one of Sudan's so-called Lost Boys, war orphans who suffered at the hands of Northern Army and its Arab militias.

Mr. JAL: When I was young, you know, I witnessed my home burn down, and my brothers and sisters were scattered for years.

LANGFITT: Jal worries next month he could see more of the same. He says the more people pay attention to Southern Sudan, the safer people there will be.

Mr. JAL: What I always think is: A thief will not steal if the neighbors are screaming.

LANGFITT: No one in power screamed before the mass killings in Cambodia and Rwanda. Mike Abramowitz wants to change that. He runs the program on genocide prevention at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Abramowitz spent two weeks in Southern Sudan this fall to evaluate and publicize the risks of violence. He says this new approach by activists and politicians is driven by past failures.

Mr. MIKE ABRAMOWITZ (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum): The prevention of genocide really came up as a concept, started to build in the 1990s after Rwanda and after the Balkans, that you started to have people in government -Bill Clinton, as an example - who were very regretful about what happened on their watch.

LANGFITT: But publicity alone has its limits. Mohammed Hamad teaches political science at the University of Khartoum. Speaking on a cell phone, he says people there pay little attention to foreign activists, including stars like George Clooney.

Professor MOHAMMED HAMAD (Political Science, University of Khartoum): He is not well-known in Khartoum. People like Clooney, they don't very much respect their views, actually.

LANGFITT: But they do pay attention to the American government. And the U.S. is pressing both sides to solve their deep differences short of war. Samantha Power is the Obama administration's point person on human rights and preventing atrocities. She says, in the past, it often took a lot of bloodshed to get international attention.

Ms. SAMANTHA POWER (Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights): That's not the case, in this instance. Quite the contrary. A single incident is enough for us to reach out and say OK, tempers cool. Understand the temptation to retaliate. If you retaliate, we know what's going to happen. It's going to be bad for your people, as well as innocent people on the other side. At the end of the day, of course, it's going to be up to the parties to take the courageous decisions they need to and to restrain themselves in the face of provocation.

LANGFITT: Power says diplomacy and awareness can only do so much. Ultimately, it's up to the Sudanese leaders to make sure next month's vote is peaceful.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Nairobi.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.