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ICC NOTE: Kristof’s editorial is telling: Disposable people. How long will the agenda of the North be tolerated, and will it spread to greater destruction to the Christian South, and to those who are not in line with the government’s agenda of spreading Islam to the whole of the country? Their lives carry weight, and they are worth our time, our tears, and our willingness to speak up and lend a voice to their cries…

February 12, 2006

Op-Ed Columnist

Disposable Cameras for Disposable People

You should go to the full article for the pictures, which is vital to get the full

impact of this story:


Meet some of the disposable people of Darfur , the heirs of the disposable Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Rwandans and Bosnians of past genocides. Look carefully, for several hundred thousand people like these have already been slaughtered in Darfur in western Sudan — and the lives of two million more are in our hands.

On my fifth and last trip to Darfur , in November, I smuggled in 20 disposable cameras to hand out to these disposable people. While taking photos without a permit is illegal in Sudan, two aid groups agreed to distribute the cameras, teach the genocide survivors how to use them, and then send me the pictures (for their own protection, I’m not naming those aid groups).

Many of the resulting photos were unusable, for those shooting the pictures had mostly never held a camera before. Many of them were living until recently in thatch-roof mud huts, and their first direct encounter with the modern world came when Sudanese military aircraft strafed their villages.

The photos were taken in makeshift camps near the town of Zalingei where survivors have lived since fleeing their villages. Taking a photo more publicly might have led to an arrest or a beating. These scenes reflect the banality of waiting — for food, for protection, for death. In short, such photos are a bit like those from the Warsaw Ghetto in the early 1940’s.

The photo in the upper left shows Assim, 5, Asiel, 3, and Salma, almost 2; Assim says he misses the village trees he used to climb, for in the camps the trees have all been cut for firewood. The photo in the upper right shows a man named Adam in his tailor “shop.”

The photo in the lower left shows Aisha and Fatima, preparing their “stove.” And in the lower right is Halima, a 27-year-old widow whose husband and brother were murdered when the government-supported janjaweed militia attacked her village. An aid group helps her and other women make biscuits and cheese to sell in local markets — so they won’t have to venture out of the camps and risk rape by the janjaweed.

Granted, people like these die all the time in Africa of malaria or AIDS. And it’s true that it’s probably as wrenching for a parent to lose a child to malaria as to a machete. But when a government deliberately slaughters people because of their tribe or skin color, then that is a special affront to the bonds of humanity and creates a particular obligation to respond. Nothing rips more at the common fabric of humanity than genocide — and the only way to assert our own humanity is to stand up to it.