Monday, April 14, 2008

The Malaysia-Darfur Connection

Malaysia must stop supporting the genocidal government in Khartoum, Sudan.

By Sally Ong

April 13, named “Global Day for Darfur”, marks the fifth anniversary of the genocide in Darfur, a western region of Sudan. Since the conflict in Darfur erupted in 2003, at least 200,000 people have died and more than 2.3 million people have been displaced from their homes. Most of the displaced Darfuris are now living in refugee camps in neighboring Chad and in a network of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Darfur.

Although the conflict began five years ago, it has its roots in decades of neglect, oppression, drought and small-scale conflicts in Darfur. The current crisis began when two rebel groups attacked the central government in Khartoum. The two groups represented agrarian farmers who are mostly “non-Arab black African” Muslims from different tribes. In response to the rebel movement, the Khartoum government increased arms and support to local tribal and other militias, who later became known as the Janjaweed. Members of the Janjaweed are mostly “Arab black African” Muslims who herd cattle, camels and other livestock. Janjaweed mean “devils on horseback” and are thus named because members of the militia would arrive on horseback to systematically murder, torture and rape hundreds and thousands of Darfuris. In addition, armed bands of Janjaweed have destroyed food and water supplies, effectively wiping out entire villages.

Malaysia is, unfortunately, complicit in the genocide. We are currently the second largest investor in Sudan after China, and thus funding Khartoum’s genocidal activities. Petronas, Malaysia’s state owned oil company, is a major player in Sudan’s oil industry. As of April 2007, Petronas had invested approximately RM 4.8 billion (or US$1.45 billion) in Sudan. Petronas’ involvement has also facilitated significant investment of other Malaysian companies in Sudan. Ranhill Berhad, Muhibbah Engineering Berhad, Kencana Petroleum Berhad, Kejuruteraan Samudra Timur Bhd, Scomi Group Berhad and PECD Berhad are other Malaysian companies that have major stakes in Sudan’s oil industry.

All these companies have been identified by Sudan Divestment Taskforce, a U.S. based non-profit, as companies with highly problematic practices in Sudan. They are thus labeled because their business dealings 1) involve engagement with the Government of Sudan, 2) provide little to no benefit to the disadvantaged populations of Sudan and 3) may be inadvertently contributing to the government’s genocidal capacity.

Because of these business dealings, Malaysia has also strengthened bilateral relations with Sudan. Malaysia has provided military assistance and political protection to Sudan. A memorandum of understanding between the two countries signed in February 2004 included an agreement to cooperate on military matters. Although Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has expressed concern about the conflict in Darfur, he has not called for increased pressure on the Government of Sudan. Instead, he appealed to Muslim world leaders to provide help to the Sudanese government. When he visited Sudan in April 2007, Pak Lah also urged western governments not to impose sanctions on Sudan.

Malaysia’s involvement in the killings in Darfur, whether direct or indirect, is shameful and must stop. The Malaysian government must use its economic leverage to pressure the Sudanese government to stop the killing and destruction of Darfuri lives. Malaysian owned companies in Sudan should also do the honorable thing and withdraw completely from Sudan if Khartoum refuses to restore peace to Darfur.

I urge all concerned Malaysians to protest our government’s role in empowering Khartoum. To learn about the lives of displaced Darfuris, please visit here , a website with videos and journal entries posted by volunteers who visited sites in Darfur and Chad. Lim Yuen-Ling, a Malaysian, visited refugee camps in Chad last year as a volunteer for Stop Genocide Now. To sign an online petition asking the Malaysian government to unequivocally oppose the genocide, please visit here

No one should have to die because of our economic interests. How many more thousands of people must die before we will speak up?

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