Did It Matter?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Did It Matter?

Here is the weekly post from the Coalition for Darfur:

Over a year ago, I wrote the post below urging the Bush administration to declare the situation in Darfur a "genocide." The Bush administration did eventually conclude that genocide was taking place, yet an estimated 400,000 people have died, Doctors Without Borders is warning that millions of lives "hang in the balance," and the International Committee of the Red Cross is warning of "chronic instability."

One year later, we have to ask if the "genocide" declaration made any difference at all.
Say The Word

On January 11, 1994, Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, the UN Force Commander for the United Nation's Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) sent an ominous fax to UN headquarters in New York. A high level informant within the ruling party informed UNAMIR that he had been training the Interahamwe militia and had been
[O]rdered to register all Tutsi in Kigali. He suspects it is for their extermination. Example he gave was that in 20 minutes his personnel could kill up to 1000 Tutsis.
Dallaire informed New York that he intended to act on the information and seize various illegal arms caches before they could be distributed to the Interahamwe. The UN prohibited him from doing so. And as Dallaire's executive assistant Brent Beardsley explained
We lost the initiative. We lost this fantastic opportunity, an absolutely incredible opportunity to maybe get this thing off the rails, take this train of genocide and knock it off its rails, get the initiative; maybe rally the moderates and be able to prevent what they obviously wanted to do, what [the informant] told us they wanted to do, which was exterminate Tutsis.
The 1994 slaughter of one million Rwandans was not some spontaneous outpouring of uncoordinated evil. Rather, it was an orchestrated, well-planned and systematic campaign to kill every Tutsi in the country.

It did not come out of the blue, but the various warning signs were routinely ignored and the US and the international community intentionally refused to legally recognize that genocide was taking place. As a result, during a horrific 100 days in 1994, hundreds of thousands of innocent people were slaughtered.

Ten years later, a similar crisis is again unfolding in Africa. Only today, hundreds of thousands of people are threatened with destruction, not via neighbors with machetes or screwdrivers, but rather by famine and disease.

The government of Sudan is currently engaged in a genocidal campaign against black Muslim farmers and villagers in the western section of the country. In Darfur, Arab militias backed by government bombs and troops are systematically wiping out thousands of villages and their inhabitants. Hundreds of thousands have fled into neighboring Chad, while millions more have been internally displaced.

The regime in Khartoum has vehemently resisted Western pressure to reign in the militias and grant access to humanitarian NGO's seeking to alleviate the suffering of some 2 million people who have been forced from the homes.

Just as in Rwanda, the crisis in Darfur did not come out of nowhere. Activists have been warning about the potential humanitarian catastrophe for months, but to no avail. While the looming crisis was more or less ignored as the international community focused its efforts and attention on the peace agreement between Khartoum and rebels in the South, the situation in Darfur deteriorated to the point where U.S. Agency for International Development chief Andrew Natsios warned
We estimate right now if we get relief in, we'll lose a third of a million people, and if we don't, the death rates could be dramatically higher, approaching a million people.
In other words, if NGOs could gain immediate access to those in need, the best case scenario was that "only" 300,000 people were going to die. And that was three weeks ago - and they didn't get access.

Though the Bush administration claims that the crisis in Darfur is a "matter of highest priority" for the United States, they have been unable to get the UN to take a strong and vocal stand on the issue. Everyone seems to be operating under the assumption that someone else ought to take the lead.

The US and everyone else points the finger at the UN and the UN points the finger right back at them.

As it stands now, hundreds of million of dollars have been allocated for relief efforts, but the supplies are not reaching those in need as the government of Sudan has failed to control the Arab militias and continues to throw up procedural roadblocks in order to prevent access.

For months, the international community has been hoping that it could pressure Khartoum into stopping its genocidal campaign and for months they have resisted. All the while, the situation grows more and more dire. The lives of hundreds of thousands are at risk and every day the rainy season grows nearer. And once the rains begin, even if the humanitarian organizations do manage to get access, tens of thousands will be beyond their reach.

It is widely accepted that Darfur is the world's worst humanitarian crisis. It didn't get that way over night.

Physicians for Human Rights has warned that "a genocidal process is unfolding in Darfur." The United States Holocaust Memorial's Committee on Conscience has issued a "genocide warning." The U.S. war-crimes ambassador, Pierre-Richard Prosper, has testified that "indicators of genocide" exist in Darfur.

How many "indicators of genocide" do there need to be before the genocide is officially recognized and the international community fulfills its legal responsibilities?

Let it not be said that, for want of the courage to utter this one word, hundreds of thousands died in vain.

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