Dr. Epstein advocates for the South Sudan Crisis
In 2013 when the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, suspected his vice-president of planning a coup d’état, the nation quickly fractured along ethnic lines and a volatile civil war began.
Dr. Norman Epstein, an emergency room physician currently working in the Toronto area, hopes to raise awareness about the conflict and prevent it from turning into a genocide.
Epstein first decided to speak out against the atrocities taking place in Sudan 16 years ago. In 2001, he co-founded the organization, Canadians Against Slavery and Torture in Sudan with Dr. Acol Dor, a Sudanese woman who had witnessed such atrocities first-hand. Their organization raised awareness about the violence going on in the region and served as a platform for further advocacy.
“When [the genocide in] Darfur emerged, we were instrumental in forming a Canadian coalition dealing with Darfur and my co-chair was actually the catalyst. She spoke at a national student conference in Montreal,” Epstein said.
Since then, there have been a few changes in the region. The Republic of South Sudan gained its independence in 2011 and became the world’s newest country. Not too long after this, however, did the country devolve into a civil war largely waged between competing ethnic groups.
“During the civil war, each side has targeted the other side’s civilians. Gross atrocities have occurred: rape, murder, torture. The area of South Sudan is littered with mass graves,” Epstein said.
The ongoing conflict is happening amidst other problems, exacerbating the situation for the South Sudanese people.
“Because of the civil war and devastation, a famine has emerged … Lives are hanging in the balance,” Epstein said.
Some groups have warned that the civil war could turn into a genocide.
When asked about the role the Canadian government is playing to prevent such a thing from happening, Epstein seemed discouraged.
“Well I don’t know if [Justin Trudeau] has done anything to be quite frank with you. I’m not sure how engaged he is. As I say, he’s promised in the last election that he would re-engage the world and be a leader internationally when it comes to human rights,” said Epstein.
When asked how students and young people could get involved and help prevent the impending genocide, Epstein sounded a little more optimistic.
“Ten years ago, an organization emerged in the United States, then in Canada and around the world, called STAND: Students Taking Action Now in Darfur. And I think many people have largely contributed to the success of the anti-genocide movement to mobilizing the international community, to the voices being raised and the international focus by the media on what was happening,” Epstein said.
“There’s already that infrastructure, it’s just a question of mobilizing the students to embark on the same campaign that occurred ten years ago.”
Disclaimer: Dr. Norman Epstein is Features Editor Mitchell Consky’s uncle