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Every two hours, a child dies in Sudan. Our global silence is deafening.

As it stands now, only the vultures – whether birds or war profiteers – are benefiting from the slow collapse of the country.

Don Cheadle and John Prendergast
Opinion contributors

As the 21st century’s first genocide unfolded in the middle of the Sahara Desert 20 years ago, we were part of an unprecedentedly large coalition of citizens pressing the U.S. government to act. Sudan’s western region of Darfur was being ripped apart by militias collectively known as the Janjaweed (“devils on horseback”). Hundreds of thousands were killed, and millions rendered homeless.

We participated in rallies and met with politicians from all over the United States, traveled through rebel-held areas of Darfur, brought TV crews to spend time with refugees in the camps in Chad, co-authored an otherwise obscure book on Darfur that ended up a New York Times best-seller, and were part of an anti-genocide people’s movement called Save Darfur that was aimed at stopping the atrocities and supporting a peaceful democratic transition in Sudan.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could say this effort had a happy ending?

Tragically, genocide has returned to Darfur, along with mass atrocities being committed throughout Sudan in an escalating year-old war. But this time it has been met with a deafening silence. The only living creatures that are thriving in this environment are the vultures, feeding on corpses left in the streets to rot.

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The worst hunger crisis in the world in decades

Having spent the past two decades being organized and armed by the Sudanese army, the Janjaweed – since expanded and now known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – turned on their former army benefactors a year ago and have taken over large swathes of Sudan in one of the world’s deadliest civil wars.

With 10.7 million people already displaced, Sudan has the largest child refugee crisis in the world. The death toll is unknown because the nation’s medical system is collapsing. In one Darfur displaced camp, a child is dying every two hours. Immunizations have been dramatically reduced, setting many areas up for fresh epidemics. The school system has also cratered, while kidnapping and sexual slavery are on the rise. The capital city of Khartoum is being destroyed block by block, and religious persecution is spiking.  

Experts say this is becoming the worst hunger crisis in the world in decades. Seven million people face the prospect of mass starvation by June. The suffering may be off camera now, but it won’t be in a few months when babies are starving en masse.

The RSF is militarily backed by the United Arab Emirates and has profited greatly from selling conflict gold to Dubai, Chad and Russia, which seeks a base on the Red Sea. The RSF has used genocidal violence and mass rape against non-Arab ethnic groups in Darfur and mass atrocities in other regions to gain territory. 

The corruption-fueled Sudanese Armed Forces is backed by Egypt and Iran, with Iranian drones providing recent battlefield momentum. The SAF is dropping barrel bombs on urban neighborhoods, arresting and torturing Sudanese pro-democracy activists in ghost houses, and committing other grave rights violations.

The result is a country hurtling toward state collapse and mass famine, which will likely drive millions of Sudanese across an already fragile swath of Africa and northward across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. 

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The Sudanese people are crying out for peace. Will the US listen?

Kamisa Abdullah, 30, escaped a massacre in Ardamata, Sudan, in November 2023 with only her 5-month-old baby. She was separated from her three other children, who fled with her sister.

By sending arms to their respective Sudanese allies and allowing Sudanese gold to be smuggled to their countries, the UAE and Egypt are undermining their longer-term goals in Sudan. The chance of their desired end – a satellite Sudanese regime beholden to them – is diminishing. Sudanese investment opportunities have become largely illicit.

Hopes for Sudan becoming a breadbasket for the Red Sea region have been dashed. Islamist and Iranian influences are expanding. And the UAE and Egypt will be increasingly tied to the horrors unfolding in Sudan.

Russia is similarly undermining its chances to establish a base on the Red Sea as its support for the RSF results in further mayhem. 

Don Cheadle

With bipartisan encouragement from Capitol Hill, President Joe Biden recently appointed Tom Perriello as U.S. special envoy for Sudan, and he has hit the ground running, pressing all parties to return to a more inclusive negotiating table.

What was missing 20 years ago was any biting consequences for those committing genocide and any leverage for mediators like Perriello to use at the negotiating table. This time, the United States in partnership with its allies should utilize the vast array of policy tools of financial pressure such as targeted network sanctions and anti-money laundering measures.

These should be deployed in a rapidly escalating fashion against the dark money arrangements fueling the war, particularly against those benefiting from the gold being smuggled out of Sudan to the UAE. 

John Prendergast

With the Sudanese people crying out for peace, U.S. envoy Perriello seeks to turbocharge efforts at a cease-fire, humanitarian aid deliveries and a return to civilian rule. But mediation efforts need to be backed by policies that alter the war’s incentive structure by creating consequences for conflict gold trading networks and arms providers fueling the war.

As it stands now, only the vultures – whether birds or war profiteers – are benefiting from the slow collapse of the country. 

Don Cheadle is an actor and activist. John Prendergast is co-founder of The Sentry.

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