March 25, 2005

An Easter Message to the Minnesota Press

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report

ROCHESTER, MN -- "For Christians, it is called Holy Week, the one we're passing through," a somber and penetrating editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune begins today. "It's supposed to be about death and this year, especially, it is."

The editorial asks how we can use death itself to seek a larger purpose in life, and thus to avoid for our loved ones, our fellow citizens, and for ourselves the disconsolate and tragic end to life that is so common in this world.

In the spirit of this editorial, I would like to add one more dimension to this search we Minnesotans undertake this Easter. I address these thoughts specifically to my friends and colleagues in the Minnesota press.

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch, the world's largest human rights organization, released a report accusing the government of Ethiopia of "widespread murder, rape, and torture" against the country's minority Anuak tribe.

Why Care?

The report says that the Ethiopian government's "targeted" campaign of violence against the Anuak "bears the hallmark of crimes against humanity under international law," and that murder, rape, and torture is "ongoing and frequent."

The world is full of misery and mass murder. Why should the Minnesotan press pay special attention to this one?

Because for the past decade, the ethnic cleansing of the Anuak from Ethiopia has resulted in more than 1,000 Anuak refugees fleeing for safety to our state, which is now home to the largest diaspora settlement of this tribe in the world.

With only 100,000 remaining members, the entire Anuak tribe with its unique culture and language is under immediate threat of extinction as a result of ethnic cleansing, according to the Cambridge, Mass.-based rights group, Cultural Survival.


What role might we in the Minnesota press play in trying to stop the violence against the Anuak tribe by genocide?

If we clearly see that we are able to play such a role by exercising the freedoms that we enjoy but that the Ethiopian press does not, would we then not only have an opportunity but also a responsibility to help end the genocide of the Anuak?

There is not only a free press argument, and a humanitarian argument, but also a self-interest argument for extending a hand of help to the Minnesota Anuak.

The Minnesota Anuak live in the Twin Cities primarily but also in Mankato, Austin, Worthington, Rochester, and other towns where they work in food processing plants, at megastores as shelvers, and are taking higher education degrees.

For the past year, life has been hell for the Anuak of Minnesota who all have lost family members and close friends to gruesome murders. Parents, children, and siblings have been murdered; mothers, wives, and sisters have been raped. In many cases loved ones have dropped out of sight with no word about their fate.

Rags and Tatters

Since December 13, 2003, when approximately 425 Anuak were massacred on a single day by the Ethiopian army, more than 50,000 Anuak in Ethiopia have been made homeless as they fled the carnage into the malaria-infested bush and to a refugee camp in southern Sudan.

Many Anuak in Minnesota have quit their schooling and risked losing their jobs to spend their life savings to fly to Africa, to discover the fate of their loved ones.

Some Anuak have flown back to Africa only to find their parents, brothers and sisters all killed. In other cases there is simply no trace of them. In the luckiest cases, the Minnesota Anuak find their loved ones living in rags and tatters in refugee camps in the Sudan desert or in Nairobi slums.

The impact on Minnesota of the Anuak genocide can thus be measured in many ways -- economic, social, cultural, spiritual.

Educations ended and jobs lost is an obvious economic loss. Time and money spent searching for loved ones in Africa also translates into more domestic crises in Minnesota as rents go unpaid, marriages fray, children get in trouble, and dependence on social services is extended.

Freedom of the Press

Many Anuak in Minnesota, feeling utterly helpless, are suffering depression in silence or need grief counseling to survive every day.

Thanks to the Human Rights Watch Report, the Anuak genocide is now virtually undisputed. Though the numbers of dead and missing are smaller, the genocide of the Anuak tribe is now a fact as solid as the genocides of Rwanda or Darfur.

As potential first-responders, the Minnesota press has the opportunity to demonstrate how the free press in a democracy can safeguard and extend precious freedoms across national and geographic borders, throughout the world.

Our meditation on death this Easter would be fruitful, I believe, if we in the Minnesota press decided to extend the powers and blessings we enjoy to the Anuak.

Copyright @ 2005 The McGill Report