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Many reasons can be cited for the world’s callous disregard for the death of an estimated 70,000 people and the displacement of some 1.6 million more in Darfur.  The second essay of this volume describes several of these reasons.  None, however, justifies this cruel indifference.  Once more, the U.N. Security Council has been hampered by its permanent members’ threatened parochial use of their veto—a veto that, as recommended by the U.N.’s high-level panel on global threats, should never be exercised “in cases of genocide and large-scale human rights abuses.”  This time, China has been the primary problem, demonstrating more concern for preserving its lucrative oil contracts in Sudan than for saving thousands of lives.  Russia, protecting its own valuable arms sales to Khartoum, has seconded this cold-hearted unresponsiveness. 

The non-permanent members also share culpability.  Algeria and Pakistan have been models of Islamic solidarity, so long as that is defined as fealty to an Islamic government rather than commitment to the lives of Muslim victims.  Other African members of the council, Angola and Benin, placed a premium on loyalty to a fellow African government.  In the U.N. General Assembly, scores of governments, hostile to any human rights criticism because of their own poor records, opposed even discussing Sudan’s murderous campaign, let alone condemning it.

Even the champions of human rights in Darfur—Washington foremost among them— have seemed more focused on limiting their obligation to the people of Darfur than on ending the killing.  A large U.N.-authorized military force is clearly needed to protect Darfur residents and to create conditions of security that might allow them to return home safely.  But the United States and its Western allies have handed the problem to the African Union, a new institution with few resources and no experience with military operations of the scale needed.  The situation cries out for involvement by the major military powers, but they have chosen to be unavailable.  The United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia are bogged down in Iraq, with the United States going so far as to say that “no new action is dictated” by its determination that the killing in Darfur amounts to genocide; France is committed elsewhere in Africa; Canada, despite promoting the “responsibility to protect,” is cutting back its peacekeeping commitments; NATO is preoccupied in Afghanistan; the European Union is deploying forces in Bosnia.  Everyone has something more important to do than to save the people of Darfur from inhuman brutality at the hands of the Sudanese government and its militia. 

Another key step for ending the ethnic cleansing is to ensure that those responsible for murder, rape, and other atrocities—and their commanders—face their day in court.  The Sudanese government has done nothing real to see justice done.  International prosecution is needed to silence the smug denials of responsibility emanating from Khartoum and to signal to the people of Darfur that the world no longer considers their demise and dislocation acceptable.  Just as impunity invited Khartoum to extend its murderous ways from the killing fields of southern Sudan to Darfur, so prosecution would demonstrate a refusal to tolerate in Darfur the kinds of government-sponsored atrocities that have plagued southern Sudan for over two decades. 

To its credit, the Security Council established an international commission of inquiry for Darfur—a possible prelude to prosecution.  When the commission reports back at the end of January, the council will have to decide whether to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.  Will China see past its oil contracts to allow the referral to go forward?  Will the United States overcome its antipathy for the court to allow prosecution of crimes it calls genocide?  Or, as the people of Darfur suffer and die, will it insist on wasting time setting up a separate tribunal?  The Security Council’s many professions of concern will ring hollow if its answer to the desperate pleas from Darfur is, through delay or inaction, to let impunity reign. 

Darfur today stands as testament to a profound failure of will to prevent and redress the most heinous human rights crimes.  Despite countless denunciations and endless professions of concern, little has been done to protect the people of Darfur.  A failure of this magnitude challenges the fundamental human rights principle that the governments of the world will not turn their backs on people facing mass atrocities.  For if the nations of the world cannot act here, when will they act?  How, ten years after the Rwandan genocide, can the gap between concern and action remain so wide?  How, when the worst of human cruelty is on display, can the world remain so indifferent?  As the death toll rises and the charade of feigned protection becomes painfully obvious to all, we must insist that the nations of the world finally rescue the people of Darfur.  Either that or vow “never again” to say “never again.” 

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>January 2005