Should we care about genocide in Darfur?
Thousands of miles from the Vail Valley, in the remote and arid Darfur region of Sudan, Arab militiamen known as Janjaweed, often backed by Sudanese military planes, have for over one year been massacring African men, women and children and destroying their villages. Should we care? And if we do care, what should we do about it?The United States is taking the lead in pushing the United Nations Security Council to take action. After all, this country has ratified the 1948 Genocide Convention and is bound by this treaty to “prevent genocide”. Congress has already labelled the attacks in Darfur as genocide; and now U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has made the same designation. But American proposals in the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions against Sudan have encountered opposition, notably from China and France. Both of these countries have an interest in maintaining their economic ties with Sudan and access to its oil.In 1994 French President, Francois Mitterand, said “In such countries as this, genocide is not too important.” He was referring to Rwanda where in only 100 days in 1994 some 800,000 Tutsis were killed by Hutu, encouraged by the Hutu government in Rwanda. Unfortunately, the position of the US administration at that time was that no genocide was taking place in Rwanda and therefore there was no reason to act. Later, when the full extent of the genocide was apparent to the rest of the world, President Clinton apologized to the Rwandan people, saying “All over the world there were people like me sitting in offices who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terrorWe didn’t do anything to stop the genocide, but we didn’t know a horrific nightmare was happening.”And UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who at the time of the genocide was in charge of UN peace-keeping, said that “Rwanda’s tragedy was the world’s tragedy. All of us who cared about Rwanda, all of us who witnessed its suffering, fervently wish that we could have prevented the genocide. Looking back now, we see the signs which then were not recognized. Now we know that what we did was not nearly enough not enough to save Rwanda from itself, not enough to honor the ideals for which the United Nations exists. We will not deny that, in their greatest hour of need, the world failed the people of Rwanda …”With US troops being killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan on a daily basis, it is extremely doubtful that there is any political will in this country to get directly involved in Sudan, at least not without a clear commitment and burden-sharing from the rest of the world community. But it is in our national interest to see that genocide does not take place without some kind of intervention, such as imposition of sanctions.Sanctions did not work in Iraq because of Saddam’s megalomania, his disregard for the sufferings of his own people, and the corruption of the Oil for Food Program that left Saddam with billions to spend on building palaces and bribing key officials in other countries. But in Sudan, a poor country with few friends, imposing sanctions could be a first step to increasing pressure on the government to rein in the militia and to ensure the safe return of over one million Darfur refugees to their own homes before they die of starvation and disease.Anthony Lake, a former U.S. National Security Advisor, once said:”Neither we nor the international community have the resources nor the mandate to [end every conflict]. So we have to make distinctions. We have to ask the hard questions about where and when we can intervene. And the reality is that we cannot often solve other people’s problems; we can never build their nations for them …”People forget that at one time Saddam Hussein was an ally of the United States and that he was left a free hand to deal with Kurdish rebels in his country. In 1988 Saddam killed some 70,000 Kurds, (including 5,000 civilians on one day in Halabja using chemical weapons). Then, the US attitude, as reflected in the 1989 official “Guidelines for US-Iraq policy”, was that “In no way should we associate ourselves with the Kurdish rebellion in Iraq or oppose Iraq’s legitimate attempts to suppress it.”This is the attitude that encouraged Saddam Hussein to escalate his reign of terror over the years under the assumption that the international community would never intervene. He was wrong, but only after millions had paid the price for the outside world’s lack of will.The international community must send a strong signal to Sudan to stop this genocide immediately. VTPeter Leslie is a former CFO of the United Nations Development Program, now living in Vail. His comments on UN issues are on the website of the Foreign Policy Association and his column now appears bi-weekly in the Vail Trail.
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