Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 18 June 2004

Time for action on Sudan


Editorial, The New York Times

NEW YORK, June 18, 2004 — The United States and the U.N. secretary general have strongly condemned the vicious ethnic cleansing campaign sponsored by Sudan’s government, which threatens hundreds of thousands of people with starvation before autumn. That’s not enough. The situation demands strong action.

The civil war of the last two decades between Sudan’s Arab Muslim rulers and the partly Christian south now appears to be ending, after a cost of some two million lives. But just as a peace agreement was being worked out, a new war erupted in the mainly Muslim region of Darfur, where non-Arab residents rebelled against Arab domination.

To suppress this revolt, Khartoum’s autocratic clique of generals and politicians has backed a thuggish militia known as the Janjaweed, which has terrorized non-Arab communities. Women have been raped and branded, villages razed and crops destroyed. More than 15,000 people have been killed and about a million more driven from their homes.

Bush administration lawyers are busily studying whether this meets the legal definition of genocide, but that misses the point. Whatever you call it, the rising death toll could soon evoke memories of the tragedy in Rwanda a decade ago, when both the United States and the Security Council found excuses to stand aside while 800,000 died. That shameful failure must not be repeated.

Washington and the United Nations are working closely with Sudan to support the north-south peace agreement, for which the Bush administration deserves considerable credit. But both Washington and the United Nations need to convince Khartoum that they will not settle for a peace that permits terror and starvation in Darfur.

Sudan’s government should cut off support for the Janjaweed and send its army to disarm these war criminals. It should allow international relief groups and human rights monitors access to the camps where hundreds of thousands of people now live under harsh and insecure conditions. And it needs to arrange emergency food airlifts until Darfur’s people can return to their lands and provide for themselves. This will not happen without strong pressure on Khartoum, but in the Security Council, Pakistan, Algeria and China have been more interested in shielding Sudan’s government from criticism than in protecting its people from starvation.

Washington can act on its own and with more enlightened partners, like the European Union. So far the administration has talked about imposing travel bans on Janjaweed leaders and freezing their assets. That is meaningless because none of those leaders are expected to try to travel to the United States, and none have assets anywhere Washington can seize them. It would be a more useful start to impose these and other penalties on Sudanese government officials until they move against the Janjaweed. Hundreds of thousands of lives may depend on quick, firm action.

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