Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 7 April 2004

Peril in Sudan


Editorial, The New York Times

April 7, 2004 — The worsening humanitarian disaster in western Sudan, where thousands of people have been killed and almost a million driven from their homes and farms by government-backed forces, will test whether the world has learned anything from its failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda 10 years ago. The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and African states must press the Sudanese government to halt attacks on civilians and to let aid agencies in. Absent swift and determined international action, Sudan could be another case of outside neglect allowing famine and disease to consume a nation.

For two decades, the Muslim Arab elite in Khartoum, the capital, has responded ruthlessly to political, economic and social demands from Sudan’s ethnically and religiously diverse regions. After a cease-fire was declared in 2002 in the long-running civil war between the government and rebels in the south, Khartoum turned its forces on black African rebels in the Darfur region in the west. Instead of aiming solely at the rebels, however, the government, helped by Arab militias, has also taken aim at civilians.

Throughout Darfur - a huge region the size of France - villages have been bombed and their inhabitants killed, raped and forced into government-run concentration camps, where they are preyed upon further by militia fighters. Aid agencies have been denied access to most of the displaced. Some people, though near starvation, are refusing aid for fear of retribution. The few international monitors in the area estimate that more than 1,000 people are dying each week from violence and disease. With no planting having been done in this agricultural region, the prospect of a devastating famine looms.

Peace talks between Khartoum and the rebels began this week in neighboring Chad, but are faltering for want of sufficient pressure from the United States, the European Union and African states. The United States should use its leverage with Khartoum - which sheltered Osama bin Laden for six years but now wants to improve ties with Washington - to demand that aid agencies and humanitarian monitors have unhindered access to the displaced. If they need military protection, then the international community should be willing to provide it.

Khartoum’s actions in Darfur amount to crimes against humanity, and should be recognized as such by the U.N. Security Council. It is a bleak paradox that Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir, is scheduled to attend commemorations in Rwanda this week of the genocide there 10 years ago while his forces back home are engaged in such appalling atrocities.

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