HERE WE go again with the "never again" cycle.
Because we, the world community, have decided that a mournful, post-facto "never again" pledge is simply more convenient than the action required by "never, period," Darfur will take its place in history alongside Bergen-Belsen and Bosnia-Herzegovina. History textbooks will find "Sudan" between "Rwanda" and whatever site the next genocide will ravage as we busy ourselves watering these most recent killing fields with our crocodile tears -- long after the chance to save a single life has passed.
Last week was a "Week of Conscience" for Darfur at the University, sponsored by a coalition of concerned student groups who hosted, among other events, a discussion on the genocide with Ross Gaine, a recent University graduate working for a humanitarian organization in Sudan, and Politics Prof. Gerard Alexander. The evening was an opportunity for frank discussion about the current situation in Darfur. Although Sudan has been plagued by civil war since its independence in 1956, this most recent outbreak of violence in Darfur dates back only to February 2003, when rebel groups began to instigate attacks against the government in Khartoum, which, in turned, dispatched the Janjaweed militia as a counter rebellion force.
The wrinkle in the conflict that is so deeply divisive for the Sudanese is the racism that divides the two sides; a racism that, according to Gaine, is "a primary element of war," making the violence in Darfur a likely candidate for the label of genocide. The Janjaweed is an Arab armed force, supported by Khartoum's Arab minority elite in their fight against the black African majority. The "scorched earth" campaign of destruction by the force has made 2 million Sudanese refugees, and at least 80,000 are dead. That 80,000 is a conservative estimate that human rights activists say does not include most violent deaths, most deaths before March, or deaths in refugee camps that aid workers cannot access; analysis outside the United Nations, from institutions like Britain's influential Parliamentary Brief, puts the actual number above 400,000.
Two weeks ago, the United States submitted a resolution to the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force to southern Sudan (where recent talks have brought a tentative peace to a war that has raged for two decades), but the resolution is short of details of how to address Darfur and long on controversy over where and how war criminals should be tried. Yet while U.N. member nations quibble over the possibilities of the International Criminal Court or oil embargoes, those in Darfur continue to suffer. As Alexander phrased it Thursday, this obsession with minutiae on the part of the United Nations "is a particularly cruel debate to have as violence is still going on." Alexander noted the reluctance on the part of the United Nations to declare the massacres in Darfur genocide, because to do so would come with an imperative to act, an option that seems unpalatable to U.N. members with oil interests in the area, or with national interests (as in the case of China) in avoidng a precedent for international intervention in a government's human rights abuses.
Yet while we are busy not naming it, genocide continues. Although teach-ins and panels on college campuses are useful and important for raising awareness, there is little we can do aside from sign a petition and murmur about how someone ought to "do something." Gaine, a passionate witness to the violence for two years, reminded his audience that "what's going on in the Sudan isn't Sudan's problem. It is humanity's problem," and certainly it doesn't hurt to remind our elected officials of that fact.
But in the end, the burden is, and can only be, on the leadership of the international community. The U.S. resolution is certainly a step in the right direction, and the Bush administration must take even further stewardship on the issue by publicly and openly pressuring member nations like Russia, China and France who stall action. Let the harsh light of truth illuminate their refusal to act in this crisis. And while America's rejection of compromise on the issue of the International Criminal Court is rightfully a point of contention within the United Nations, surely what to do with the war criminals is an issue that can be sidelined until the crimes themselves are stopped.
Each orphan that starves in a refugee camp, each woman that survives a brutal rape, each family that is destroyed by the murder, displacement and savagery that has enveloped Sudan underscores the hypocrisy, the cruel mockery of the "never again" memorials we place on the headstone of each holocaust past. The time for "never again" is too far in the past, and too far in the future. The present is time for action.
Katie Cristol's column appears Mondays in The Cavalier Daily.