Collateral Damage

Sudan is Africa’s largest country, greater in size than Texas and Alaska combined. For decades, an unrelenting civil war has raged there between the Muslim-dominated north and the black animists and Christians in the south. Estimates say that more than 2 million people have died and twice as many have been displaced—most to border countries, but some as far away as to the United States. In recent years, the discovery of significant oil deposits in the south, coupled with the imposition of strict Islamic law by the government in Khartoum, has fed the ongoing conflagration. Following numerous broken cease-fires, the government and the southern rebels—neither group model citizens—have at last almost reached an agreement for a six-year truce.

But just when some respite from the bloodletting seemed possible, another disaster broke out, this one in the western Darfur region, an area the size of France. Responding to demands for greater autonomy from the black Muslim majority in that region, the government instigated and enabled Arab marauders to sweep in and pillage, rape, and kill their black co-religionists. In the last year alone, more than a million people have fled their villages, and another hundred thousand have streamed across the border to Chad, one of Africa’s poorest but most hospitable countries. Even there, the Khartoum government has pursued and attacked the refugees. Mukesh Kapila, UN coordinator for Sudan, told the Economist (May 15) that the situation constitutes “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

Samantha Power, an expert on wars of ethnic cleansing, spelled out the near-term consequences during an interview on PBS’s Now (May 7). She told interviewer David Brancaccio that as many as four hundred thousand refugees “will be dead by December if they are not reached and rescued. I mean,” she emphasized, “that’s half the Rwanda tally. That’s a lot of people.” (She was speaking just after the tenth-anniversary observance of the genocide in Rwanda.)

Legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress condemning Khartoum’s policy in Darfur, and President George W. Bush has called for an international response. According to Power, “the Bush administration is the at the UN that has drawn attention to this suffering.” Unfortunately, the president’s other foreign-policy initiatives, specifically in Iraq, have so weakened U.S. credibility and limited the number of troops Washington has to offer—none—that no other country has yet responded. In effect, said Power, “the United States has so undermined its standing in the world that it actually has proven itself incapable of speaking up on behalf of principle in other areas.”

Ten years after Rwanda, we must not remain silent on events in Sudan. Despite the debacle in Iraq, the American people and their representatives must, in concert with other nations, act to end ethnic cleansing in Darfur.


Related: Inaction on Darfur and What about Darfur? by the Editors

Published in the 2004-06-04 issue: 
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