Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Where are the reporters in Darfur right now?

Darfur has been, relatively speaking, stable for the past few years. Not stable in a good way; stable in a 150 people being killed each month way. More than 2 million Darfuris are displaced from home, mostly living in various camps, mostly in Sudan and some in Chad. The situation continues to be terrible, though nothing at all like the mass killing of 2003-2005. The Darfuris in these camps are being fed and given basic medical care by a vast aid network.

Now that might all change. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Bashir on March 4th. President Bashir then started expelling many of the aid groups.

There's a fascinating debate going on between the justice absolutists and whatever you call the other side. The justice absolutists (this basically includes Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Save Darfur Coalition, Kristof -- though they have very different takes on many of the issues) say that you can't bargain away justice for expediency. You can't delay trying to bring Bashir to justice on the hope that doing so might help lead to a peace deal. And, they argue, the arrest warrant could help lead to other countries turning against him, or even the end of his government.

The other side would probably call themselves something like 'pragmatists' -- they say that while of course justice ultimately should be done, the consequences of issuing the arrest warrant against Bashir right now appear to be high (aid workers kicked out), while the benefits appear to be low (Bashir isn't actually being arrested, and it's unclear if/how he will be any time soon). Alex de Waal has been in the news on this side in the US.

Anyhow, the situation in Darfur is in the process of changing drastically. The aid groups that have been kicked out represent more than half of the aid network, according to Eric Reeves, who provides an insanely comprehensive brief on this. Already in the past couple of weeks we have started to see the initial reports of food shortage and the lack of basic medical care

The larger humanitarian crisis will begin in the next several weeks, if nothing changes.

This was actually supposed to be a post about the news coverage of what's happening now, so forgive me for getting distracted in the backstory. Now to the news story:

The NYT had an initial piece from Darfur on March 22, by photographer Lynsey Addario. It was compelling and showed that things are headed in a very bad direction.

What's odd is the silence since then. The NYT's Lydia Polgreen (who does most of their Darfur coverage, much of it superb) hasn't had a byline for 2 weeks. The Post's Stephanie McCrummen, who's also done lots of good work, hadn't had a byline for more than 3 weeks until today's from Nairobi (pirates!). Maybe she was there and hasn't written it up yet. The LAT's Edmund Sanders has a byline from Nairobi today as well. GlobalPost has nothing.

NPR's Gwen Thompkins is in Darfur, though her first story a few days ago was on basketball.

The AP's Sarah El Deeb has been the one on the case right now, along with AP photographer Nasser Nasser.

It's worth nothing that John Kerry will also be headed to Darfur next week.

The big papers have covered Darfur relatively extensively over the years (unlike TV). My guess is that they will in fact be all over this story in the coming weeks, even despite whatever obstacles the Sudanese government puts in their way. Polgreen and Thompkins may very well be out in a camp somewhere now. I'm just saying I'm getting anxious to see more news on this.


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