Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 15 June 2004

Congress acts against genocide. Will Bush?


By Nat Hentoff, Review Appeal

June 15, 2004 — On the night of May 17, the House of Representative voted 390-1 to adopt a resolution "condemning the Government of the Republic of the Sudan for its participation and complicity in the attacks against innocent civilians in the impoverished Darfur region of western Sudan." Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who has traveled around the globe to expose human rights abuses, introduced this call to the world to prevent further genocide by the Khartoum government.

The concurrent resolution, introduced by Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, and already passed by the Senate, "deplores the inaction of some member states of the United Nations and the failure of the United Nations Human Rights Commission to take strong action with respect to the crisis in Darfur," and urges our president "to ensure that the individuals responsible for crimes against humanity in Darfur are accountable for their actions."

Moreover, Congress "strongly urges the president to impose targeted sanctions, including a ban on travel to the United States and freezing of personal assets, against officials and other individuals of the Government of Sudan, as well as Janjaweed militia commanders, who are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur region."

On May 18, Wolf wrote directly to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, that "the United Nations should take a leadership role and stand with the innocent men and women who are being slaughtered in Darfur. I urge you to go to Darfur and stand in solidarity with the people." I have seen little media coverage of this letter to Annan or of the House resolution condemning Khartoum.

If Annan is truly repentant for his appalling failure to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, he will indeed personally shame the U.N. Human Rights Commission and U.N. General Assembly, which also refused to act on this genocide, by standing on the ground with black African women whose husbands and children have been murdered, and who themselves have been gang raped by the Janjaweed.

Those committing the crimes against humanity are Muslims, as are the African farmers who continue to be the victims of these horrors. And where are the condemnations of these atrocities from the Muslim nations?

On May 12, in the Daily Star in Beirut, Lebanon, Julie Flint, who is associated with Human Rights Watch, reported on "The shameful Muslim silence in Darfur." Her story begins: "The mosque in the village of Urum was packed with people mourning Yahya Abdul Karim, 80, when armed men on horseback rode in, firing indiscriminately ... Some of the attackers rode into the mosque, where they killed 16 mourners. Others chased the imam into his grass hut and killed him there, along with the 3-year-old boy (his orphaned grandson) he was trying to protect."

Flint added that "The Western world, reluctant to take the focus away from peace negotiations between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), has been shamefully late in acknowledging the atrocities in Darfur. But the Muslim world, even more shamefully, has yet to speak out."

On May 10, the U.S. Committee for Refugees — which, since 1958, has been defending the rights of refugees, displaced persons and asylum seekers worldwide — released this powerful message to George W. Bush headlined:

"Lead more boldly on Darfur, Mr. President. Don’t repeat Bill Clinton’s historic mistake on Rwanda."

The plea to the president emphasized: "One million internally displaced persons and refugees are facing starvation as a result of Sudan’s atrocities and denial of unrestricted access for humanitarian relief. In a few weeks, the rainy season will make the roads impassable, and hundreds of thousands may starve to death.

"Calling it ’genocide’ would require action under the Genocide Convention, so officials avoid using the word ... as they avoided using it in 1994. But everyone knows what’s happening and who’s to blame: the Sudanese government, which has been committing massive crimes in an area the size of France to displace the indigenous population, has not disarmed its proxy Janjaweed militia, and is blocking access by the international community to hide the extent of their atrocities and prevent food and medicine from getting in." There are signs the Sudanese government may issue visas for humanitarian groups to go in — while the killings are going on.

And what of the American Muslim organizations? Are they speaking out? The Beirut Daily Star’s reports that "in the village of Sandikoro, (Janjaweed) soldiers and horsemen tore up Korans and defecated on them before burning the mosque, with its imam inside ... (There have been other) murders inside mosques, often during prayer time."

Slowly, parts of the American media are illuminating these horrors, but will the president of the United States act more resolutely against this truly evil Khartoum government of Sudan? Many thousands of lives can still be saved before Kofi Annan puts himself in the line of fire — if he ever does. At last, Bush may ask the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Sudan. Even though the U.N. Security Council finally has — albeit belatedly — strongly condemned the attacks on civilians in Darfur and told the Khartoum government to disarm the Janjaweed, will that be enough to actually save lives? Can we trust the United Nations to do more than talk?

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work,, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance" (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

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