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The Way Forward

The strength of governments’ commitment to human rights will be measured in large part by the response to two current challenges.  Faced with Sudanese government-sponsored atrocities in Darfur, will the world continue to watch ethnic cleansing unfold, or will it respond meaningfully to end the murder, rape, arson, and forced displacement, and to force the Sudanese government to create secure conditions so the displaced can return home safely?  The answer will determine whether the world can credibly argue that there are limits to the horrors it will allow a government to visit upon its people. 

Faced with substantial evidence showing that the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were caused in large part by official government policies, will the United States continue to treat the torture of detainees as the spontaneous misconduct of a few low-level soldiers, or will it permit a fully independent, September 11-style investigative commission—the first step toward acknowledging the policy dimensions of the problem, punishing those responsible, and committing the United States to ending all coercive interrogation?  These steps are necessary to reaffirm the prohibition of torture and ill treatment, to redeem Washington’s voice as a credible proponent of human rights, and to restore the effectiveness of a U.S.-led campaign against terrorism. 

In neither case will the proper response be easy.  Saving the people of Darfur will require a significant commitment of international forces and resources.  Acknowledging the depth of the problem at Abu Ghraib will be politically embarrassing.  Yet both steps are necessary.  It is time to look beyond the convenient excuses and rationalizations to reaffirm what should be the guiding human rights principles for every nation.

<<previous  |  indexJanuary 2005