Silent Horrors, Urgent Call for Action in Gaza and Sudan

Bombs are raining down on the occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza with devastation that makes even the horror of El Nino seem mild. Meanwhile, an eight-month-old Sudanese conflict seems to have dropped off the Kenyan government and the international community’s radar. With the National Assembly on recess from today until 13 February 2024, all eyes must now turn to the National Executive to speak up and act now on these two massive global human rights violations as we celebrate International Human Rights Day.

The conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has shattered Sudan’s fragile government and the lives of 46 million citizens since 15 April. UN estimates possibly 1 in 3 Sudanese need food relief to escape starvation, and 1 in 10 are on the run and seeking asylum in neighbouring countries. Between 1,300 and 2,000 have been killed in Darfur alone. Over most of November, ethnically targeted killings targeted internally displaced people from the Masalit people in Ardamata. Eyewitnesses testify over 95 unarmed children, women, and men have been murdered by the RSF.

Shockingly, this conflict and the misery it has caused receive little national or international media attention anymore. On 25 November, the African Union Peace and Security Council called for the warring parties to immediately and unconditionally reach a ceasefire. Three days ago, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced after “careful analysis of the available facts” that the SAF and RSF have committed ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Jeddah-hosted peace talks have been suspended, and several roadblocks remain as Kenya and others try to galvanise the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

The US determination that atrocities have taken place in Sudan is very welcome. Demands for an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian access, arms freeze and accountability for human rights violations now need to be applied to Gaza as well. With 24,000 dead or unaccounted for, a population equivalent to nearly a fifth of the Nairobi population of Eastleigh has been intentionally wiped out in three months.

Following the collapse of the ceasefire talks last week, Israeli Defence Forces have resumed their siege and bombing raids. The Israeli military has unrealistically demanded that 1.8 million unarmed Palestinians evacuate to al-Mawasi town, an area the size of Mombasa Island, or risk the consequences. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres boldly invoked UN Charter Article 99 to compel the Security Council to force peace this week. This action has happened only three times. In 1960, 1979 and 1989, previous SGs invoked it to protect the Congolese against Belgian colonialism, US hostages against Iranian militia groups and stop the civil war in Lebanon.

President Ruto’s 13 November statement called for the bombs to stop, civilians to be protected and a two-state solution as the solution to four decades of conflict. One month on, and after one week of indiscriminate bombing, the Presidency and Foreign Affairs Ministry have gone silent again. In the absence of a substantive statement from Kenya, should we assume the government does not care anymore?

As Kenya celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Sunday and the 60th anniversary of our national independence on Tuesday, let us #KeepEyesOnSudan and Gaza. All states have an obligation to protect citizens and refugees. Perhaps Gaza and Sudan remind us once more that without active citizenship, states can derail and lose focus. Silence normalizes and is fertile soil for state and public apathy.

Let us demand that we all remain focussed on Sudan and Gaza. Let each of us record and post #StopTheWar 10-second videos. Let’s support Africans Rising by organising events and rallies and praying for them. Let’s contribute to humanitarian organisations providing lifesaving services.

The Kenya judiciary taught me a new word, “demosprudence”, last week. Demosprudence is where ordinary people’s actions influence legal interpretation. Let’s extend that to “demospolicy”, citizens’ actions that drive policies that protect those at risk.

Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya’s Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]