UNITED NATIONS – Leaders representing over 100 million Christians, Muslims and Jews urged Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) to report the number of deaths and rapes in Sudan's Darfur (search) region daily to highlight what they say is genocide.
Nobel peace laureate Eli Wiesel (search), a Holocaust survivor who led the delegation, said not enough is being done to end the conflict that has killed at least 70,000 people and forced 1.5 million people to flee their homes, creating what U.N. officials say is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.
The representatives of the major faiths saw the secretary-general Wednesday "to tell him of our pain, of our anguish, of our outrage at the situation in Darfur, where people are dying day after day, in the hundreds, in the thousands," Wiesel said.
During the meeting, he said, the delegation raised the idea of U.N. personnel in Darfur reporting daily on how many people were killed.
Hannah Rosenthal of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs said that "one way to educate the public and to demand an end to silence is to frame the issue — not one group against another, not whether or not it fits a diplomatic definition, but how many people are being killed, starved, raped."
The delegation was "very thrilled" to hear that the U.N. Security Council will be traveling to Nairobi, Kenya, to hold a meeting Nov. 18-19 focusing on Sudan. "And that will be in 10,000 deaths (timewise), and that's how we want to frame the issue," she said.
Dr. David Nabarro, head of crisis operations for the World Health Organization, said in September that as many as 10,000 refugees a month were dying in camps. But it has been difficult for aid agencies and the U.N. to provide a more precise death toll because they have been unable to travel throughout Darfur, a dangerous region the size of France.
It was Annan's first meeting on Darfur with interfaith leaders, many of whom are also members of the Save Darfur Coalition, which represents over 100 faith-based and civic organizations working to mobilize efforts to end the conflict.
The coalition was formed in July after an emergency summit on Darfur convened by the American Jewish World Service and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which teaches about past failures to prevent genocide.
Wiesel said Annan highlighted the need for money for Darfur and urged the religious leaders to work with governments to raise awareness.
"I really believe if people knew, then good people would try to intervene," Wiesel said. "For me, the indifference of the past is a source of anguish and despair. We ... say no more indifference. Wherever and whenever people kill other people, and people die, we must, must be sensitive to their pain and to their death."
Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, chairman of the justice committee of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, said it had worked with the Islamic Circle of North America to set up a charity four months ago to collect money and clothing for Darfur.
Support for the people in Darfur exists "not only throughout the Muslim world but among the 7 to 8 million Muslims who are American citizens," he said.
The crisis began in February 2003 when two black African rebel groups took up arms over alleged unjust treatment by the Sudanese government and ethnic Arab countrymen. Pro-government militias called Janjaweed reacted by unleashing attacks on villages.
Bishop William Murphy of the U.S. Catholic Conference, which represents about 60 million Catholics, said the Catholic Relief Service has already spent $2 million in Darfur on food and bedding.
"There is a huge response from the American Jewish community," said Ruth Messenger, executive director of the American Jewish World Service. "We know of about $650,000 that we've raised that is going to support humanitarian efforts in both Sudan and Chad."
"We are encouraged by the request from the secretary-general that we keep the pressure on — and that he will keep public information before the public," she said.
Anthony Kireopoulos of the National Council of Churches, which represents some 50 million Christians in the United States, said all the religious groups consider what is happening in Darfur a genocide that is taking place "as we speak, in slow motion."
Annan, however, has appointed a five-member international commission to investigate whether a genocide had occurred. The panel, named in early October, is expected to report in three months.
Wiesel said Annan told the delegation "we should be really careful with the word and wait" for the commission's finding because "once you use the word it's very difficult to take it back."