Brian Steidle is a former Marine who was charged with "observing" and documenting the conflict as the U.S. representative to the African Union's peacekeeping mission in Darfur from September 2004 to February 2005.
Following this fact-finding mission in the region, Steidle decided to devote his time to speaking out about what he experienced, sharing his records with the public and promoting strategies for action.
Steidle's current Tour for Darfur: Eyewitness to Genocide is a 21,000-mile speaking tour of 22 cities in 11 states to promote the "Million Voices for Darfur" campaign, sponsored by the Save Darfur Coalition and more than 150 faith-based, advocacy and humanitarian organizations.
The tour will stop in Bloomington on March 30 and 31, where Steidle will speak at the Kelley School of Business and the First Presbyterian Church.
The coalition's goal is to generate one million postcards imploring the Bush Administration to support a stronger, multi-national force and devote sufficient aid to protect the people of Darfur. The tour will culminate with the "Rally to Stop Genocide" and hand delivery of the postcards in Washington, DC on April 30.
Steidle hopes to inspire others to begin to address the problem and help the vast numbers of people affected by the Sudanese government's collusion with the Janjaweed militias to eradicate certain ethnic groups and political opposition.
In an online account of his Darfur experience, Steidle refutes the Sudanese government's denials of any involvement in the ethnic cleansing campaign.
"The Janjaweed militias do not act alone," he said. "I have seen clear evidence that the atrocities committed in Darfur are the direct result of the Sudanese government's military collaboration with the militias.
"... Before these attacks occur, the cell phone systems are shut down by the government so that villagers cannot warn each other. Whenever we lost our phone service, we would scramble to identify the impending threat. We knew that somewhere, another reign of terror was about to begin.
"Helicopter gunships belonging to the government routinely support the Arab militias on the ground. ... The gunships fire anti-personnel rockets that contain flashettes, or small nails, each with stabilizing fins on the back so the point hits the target first. ...
"On many of the occasions we tried to investigate these attacks, we would find that fuel for our helicopters was mysteriously unavailable. We would receive unconvincing excuses from the Sudanese government's fuel company. ... At the same time, government helicopters continued to strafe villages unimpeded."
SaveDarfur.org estimates that, since February 2003, at least 300,000 Darfur citizens have died in what the Bush administration and Congress recognized in 2004 as genocide. Three-and-a-half million are dependent on foreign aid for their survival. Two million are said to be displaced into make-shift IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps.
These camps are routinely harassed, relocated and destroyed by the Janjaweed and Sudanese central government, SaveDarfur.org says. One of the more effective accomplishments of the small force of African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) military stationed in the region, about 7,000 troops, has been protecting women from rape when they venture out from these camps to gather firewood.
The AMIS' mandate does not allow the mission to protect civilians from imminent attack unless troops are present at that very moment. Funding is expected to run out at the end of March. And the move to transfer peacekeeping and peace-building to UN forces could take many months and may not ultimately be adequately funded either.
Still, Margaret Hansen of the Bloomington Save Darfur group still finds reason for hope.
"The situation in Darfur, Sudan, remains tragic," she said. "However, I am encouraged by the growing momentum of the grassroots movement and Sen. Lugar's recent co-sponsorship of strong, meaningful legislation."
Mylo Roze can be reached by e-mail: .
Brian Stiedle is scheduled to speak on Thursday, March 30, from 7-9:30 p.m. in Room 223 of the Kelley School of Business, on Tenth Street on the IU campus. He will also speak Friday, March 31, from 7:30-9 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington.