Saturday, September 11, 2004

Nicholas Kristof, "Reign of Terror" (NYTimes)

A prefatory note: What is going on in Darfur is without question a massive atrocity, including ethnically-targeted mass murder on a large scale, mass rape, ethnic cleansing, and other brutalities. This constitutes more than sufficient justification for urgent action--and, as I've noted before, this is not ONLY a humanitarian crisis requiring large-scale relief work, but even more fundamentally a massive crime requiring a political solution. However, at this point I would not quite be willing to call it "genocide," since that is a term that I think should be used very carefully and sparingly. On the other hand, (a) there are good arguments to suggest that the Darfur atrocity already does meet the technical legal definition of "genocide" according to the Genocide Convention, and (b) there is a good chance that it could turn into full-scale genocide, if the Darfur refugees (who number over a million) die of hunger, disease, and continuing violence over the next several months. If nothing serious is done to stop this atrocity, there's a good chance that this could be the outcome. And so far, as Kristof points out in this article, nothing serious seems to be getting done.

As I said in an earlier message over two months ago, which unfortunately remains very timely:

The appalling fact is that practically no one with any clout in the so-called "international community" is doing anything serious to stop this. To their credit, UN officials from Kofi Annan on down have sounded the alarm (and Annan has even publicly raised the possibility of outside intervention). But in practice, the UN is powerless to act except on the initiative of member states, particularly the most powerful member states, which has not been forthcoming. In fact, this unpleasantness in Darfur did not prevent Sudan from being re-appointed to its seat on the UN Human Rights Commission (on the nomination, believe it or not, of the African regional bloc, apparently untroubled by the Sudanese government's mass murders of black Africans over the years in the southern and now western Sudan). (This is also, by far, the largest mass atrocity being committed against Muslims anywhere in the world--though by other Muslims--but I am not aware of any serious responses from the wider Islamic world, governmental or otherwise. The lack of even verbal condemnation by the Arab League is, of course, not surprising.)

Again, to give credit where credit is due: The US government (for complex reasons of US domestic politics and long-term diplomatic involvement in Sudan) has begun to play a significant constructive role. (The mobilization of an unusual coalition linking African-American groups, Christian groups from right and left, and Jewish groups opposed to the genocidal mass murder of ethnic minorities, has had a significant impact in this respect.) It has openly condemned the campaign of ethnic cleansing and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, explicitly recognizing that it is not only a humanitarian crisis requiring massive relief aid, but also--and fundamentally--a deliberate crime requiring a political solution. The US delegation at the UN strongly protested Sudan's reappointment to the UN Human Rights Commission . The US sent the Secretary of State to Darfur, a significant gesture, and while Powell was in Sudan he said forthrightly to the Sudanese government that the Janjaweed (the government-backed Arab militias who play the main role in this atrocity) "must be broken." And the US is attempting to coordinate more international pressure on the Sudanese government (so far without many visible results).

The US government should be pressed to do more [ .... ]. But the larger situation is that, as far as I know, at this point the US government is the ONLY one that has undertaken ANY serious initiatives to stop this atrocity and to prevent a gigantic, entirely foreseeable, humanitarian catastrophe in the coming months. This is a scandal. Those of you who are citizens of European countries, in particular, should do what you can to urge your governments to do something serious (in terms of diplomacy, political pressure, and urgent humanitarian relief, at the very least) ... or, at the minimum, not to obstruct a serious response. Obviously, only a JOINT response by some significant segment of the "international community" can address this crisis in any constructive way.

In the meantime, humanitarian relief organizations like Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, and so on have played a very useful role, not only though their directly humanitarian efforts, but also because their people on the spot have been in the forefront of bringing news about this atrocity to the world. (The Sudanese government understands this, which is a major reason why they are trying to prevent people from relief and human-rights organizations from getting into Darfur.) Contributions to them would, therefore, indirectly help to promote a political solution, which is the fundamental necessity.

Cheers (but not cheery),
Jeff Weintraub

New York Times
September 11, 2004


Reign of Terror


In my last visit to the Darfur area in Sudan, in June, I found a man groaning under a tree. He had been shot in the neck and jaw and left for dead in a pile of corpses. Seeking shelter under the very next tree were a pair of widows whose husbands had both been shot to death. Under the next tree I found a 4-year-old orphan girl caring for her starving 1-year-old brother. And under the tree next to that was a woman whose husband had been killed, along with her 7- and 4-year-old sons, before she was gang-raped and mutilated.

Those were the refugees sheltering under just four adjacent trees. Thousands of other victims with similar stories stretched as far as the eye could see.

So I salute the Bush administration for formally declaring on Thursday that the slaughter is a genocide. But as we commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, let's remember that almost as many people are still dying in Darfur every week as died in the World Trade Center attack.

"There's kind of a reign of terror that exists," said Kenny Gluck, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders in the Netherlands.

Even in the camps where Doctors Without Borders is present, he says, Janjaweed gunmen often rape women or execute men who go off to seek firewood. So now, he said, many families are making an agonizing choice: they are sending their small children out at night to gather wood because small children are less likely to be murdered or raped.

So I've got some questions.

For President Bush Why don't you turn up the heat on Sudan? How about consulting urgently with the leaders of our allies about how to exert more pressure on Sudan? How about inviting victims to the White House and denouncing the genocide from the Rose Garden? How about threatening a no-flight zone in Darfur unless Sudan cooperates?

For France and Germany I sympathized with your opposition to the war in Iraq. But are you really now so petty and anti-Bush that you refuse to stand with the U.S. against the slaughter in Darfur, or even to contribute significant sums to ease the suffering?

Does the Chirac government really want to show the moral blindness to Sudan's genocide that the Vichy regime did to Hitler's?

For the Islamic world You're absolutely right to hold Israel's feet to the fire over its often brutal treatment of Palestinians, but why don't you also care about dead Sudanese? In August, according to a human rights monitoring group, Israel killed 42 Palestinians, including fighters. In the same period, according to the World Health Organization, more than 10,000 people died in Darfur - virtually all of them Muslim.

Islamic Relief is doing an excellent job, but the Muslim victims of Darfur are getting far more help from Jewish and Christian aid groups than from Islamic charities.

For the United Nations Agencies like the U.N. World Food Program are working heroically to keep the victims alive, but the U.N. as a whole has failed to respond to Sudanese atrocities. Mostly that's because of the failure of member states, but I'm afraid that some of the responsibility has to be charged to a man I like and respect: Kofi Annan.

I hate to say it, but the way things are going, when he dies his obituary will begin: "Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general who at various points in his career presided ineffectually over the failure to stop genocide, first in Rwanda and then in Sudan, died today. "

One of the people I met on my last trip to Darfur was Hatum Atraman Bashir, who was pregnant with the baby of one of the 20 Janjaweed raiders who murdered her husband and gang-raped her. A few days ago, I received an e-mail note from an aid worker in the International Rescue Committee, which is assisting Ms. Bashir, saying that she had given birth but could not produce milk for the baby - a common problem because of malnutrition.

The lives of Ms. Bashir, her new baby and about one million others are at stake as we dither over how to respond to the genocide. And so far we've failed them.

In Wednesday's column quoting Bob Mintz, who was at the Alabama National Guard base where George W. Bush apparently wasn't, I bragged that my interview was his first with a national news organization. It turns out that he spoke to CBS in February. Mea culpa.