The result of the Scottish referendum played out on television screens up and down Britain in a montage of Alex Salmond’s disheartened expression, and monochrome graphics beaming “Scotland votes NO” as if the story was simultaneously the end and the beginning of political history as we know it. Whilst Scotland’s decision has momentously inspired constitutional change throughout the United Kingdom, it seems as though we forgot that anything else was happening in the world. We forgot that the crisis in Ukraine can now be constituted as war; we forgot that international human rights organisations are still trying to prevent genocide in Sudan after over 30 years; we forgot that the Mexican Drugs War is the longest ongoing major war this century.
Despite the political earthquake that the Scottish public have generated, the people are treated, not only by politicians, but by the media, as children; frequented by news stories that are pitched to us as if we need to be anesthetised from the horrors and tragedy of the world outside our own. Britain doesn’t just need to see constitutional change; it needs a complete overhaul of the way that it acts on the international stage. We need to be reminded that the world is in crisis because something needs to be done about it. We demand change for the people of Britain, but what do we have to say for the people of the world?
In less than six months, conflict in Ukraine has resulted in the deaths of over three thousand people. Although not yet a member of the European Union, Ukraine sits on the edge of Europe, embattled in a war against pro-Russian forces for its own political freedom. The turmoil began in November 2013, when former President Viktov Yanukovych rejected an arrangement for greater integration with the EU and instead accepted a $15 billion bailout from Russia’s Vladamir Putin. This was regarded as yet another facet of Yanukovych’s corruption at a time when many people were living in depressive circumstances.
Western powers can only translate their disagreement with Russia through soft power measures, such as barring the nation from the G8, and holding much stricter economic sanctions over Putin. But how can Russia’s perceptively undemocratic power-play be stopped by the EU if they rely on a third of Russia’s natural gas supplies? Much more crucially, Russia’s permanent place on the United Nations Security Council has led to arguably preventative suffering of Syrian people over their veto to allow the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate war crimes committed by the Assad regime.
Ukraine remains in a state of instability despite a ceasefire, reportedly “in name only”, and further EU sanctions against Russia without a date of implementation. The apparent power struggle against Russia continues whilst more lives are lost in Ukraine and in Syria. Our government cannot continue to turn a blind-eye to the fact that there is a war being fought in Europe. The situation on the edge of Europe’s boarders demonstrates the prevalent domination that Russia can still hold over the West, and the sheer inability of the United States and the EU to do anything significant about it.
Sudan has been in crisis for over 30 years. In 2011, Sudan was divided into two socially broken countries after a referendum which saw 98% of the population vote yes to independence. This followed an agreement in 2005 which ended a 22-year-long ethnic civil war, leaving two million people dead and four million displaced. To deepen matters of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and slavery, a food crisis bordering on famine has developed as foreign aid has restricted.
The Sudanese conflict is not based strictly on a division between the North and the South. Sudan is a predominantly Muslim country to which the government and a variety of Arab militant groups (mainly militias known as Janjaweed) have been held responsible for the oppression of Sudan’s and Darfur’s non-Arab population. Reports from the countries have been horrific, detailing a death toll as large as 100 lives every day that the conflict continues. In March 2009, President Omar al Bashir became the first sitting President in history to be accused by ICC for directing a campaign of ethnic cleansing, the rape of women and children, and “pillage against civilians in Darfur”. Furthermore, the Lord’s Resistance Army (Joseph Kony’s LRA, made infamous by Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign) operate within South Sudan, adding to the stringent need for help from the international community.
The region has faced conflict and mass atrocities since the first Sudanese civil war began in 1983. All peace agreements thus far in Sudan and South Sudan have resisted implementation as a result of the sheer complication at appeasing prominent individual militant groups and struggling with an almost lawless central African region. Holding economic restrictions on an albeit abhorrent government is no help to a nation in famine. Efforts to deliver the decreasing amounts of aid available are heavily hindered by logistical structural matters; no surfaced roads and heavy rains can severely delay relief, besides aid being intercepted by rebel groups.
The conflict in Sudan and South Sudan has remained unresolved for so long that arguably the rest of the world has given up trying to solve it. Despite being discerned as "the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today" by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown seven years ago, little improvement has been made to help, and it seems that our governments are stuck as to what to do.
Over 100,000 lives have been claimed by drug violence in Mexico; regarded as the longest ongoing major conflict outside of Africa and worth an estimated $33 billion annually. Over 100,000 lives have been lost over a commodity established by its illegality and thrill. And while money is poured into preventing drugs from being smuggled into North America, many innocent people are brutally murdered in Mexico and the surrounding region for nothing other than the pursuit of power and money:
“While other cartels prefer bribery tactics in the drug war, Los Zetas [a cartel] use gruesome tactics such as beheadings, torture and el guiso (the stew), a form of torture where victims are boiled alive in giant kettles using water or gasoline.”
The blame for Mexico’s conflict extends to the US and the ever heated dispute on gun-control laws. When traced, almost 70% of guns seized by Mexican authorities that were used by drug cartels originated from the US. Videos showing the murder of journalists, not too dissimilar to those committed by the ISIS terrorist group in the Middle East, and the excavation of mass graves, tells a horrifying story of war taking place on America’s doorstep. Yet, the anti-Hispanic sentiment in the US is growing.
However, the biggest debate concerning the solution to this conflict lies with the legalisation of drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and cannabis in the United States and Europe, although the impact of such measures is somewhat disputed. What is clear is that Mexico is in dire need of support from the US government. What is yet clearer is that such support is a long way lost in the realm of divided US politics.
These are just three major cases of forgotten stories of suffering in our world and we cannot allow ourselves to be forgiven for turning off repeated reports of tragedy on the international stage. If we don’t speak up for those in need then we allow innocent people to die on our watch. We are international bystanders to atrocities committed on the basis of nationality, religion, and money, and we cannot allow it anymore.
By Soila Apparicio