Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 5 July 2004

Sudan’s dismal disappearing act

Editorial, The New York Daily News

July 05, 2004 — Like everything having to do with Sudan and its atrocities, what happened was an outrage. This one, though, played out on the world stage.
Some reports say 1,000 people disappeared overnight. Others put the number closer to 4,000. The suffering individuals had been crammed into a particularly revolting refugee camp in the Darfur region. At least, they were there last Wednesday. On Thursday, when UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited, they were - poof! - gone. So were the miserable hovels that had served as their homes.

A government minister would say only that the missing had been "moved." "We did not like seeing people living like that," he intoned, in a falsehood that was nothing short of criminal.

When it comes to the black Muslims of Darfur, Sudan’s government does not like seeing them living at all. Arab militias, supported by Khartoum, have been ravaging the region for more than a year. One million black tribespeople have been displaced; at least 10,000 have been slaughtered. And the world shrugs and turns away.

Secretary of State Powell also was in Sudan last week, to reinforce the fact that the U.S. does not intend to allow the mass butchery to continue. It was nice of Mr. Annan to pay a courtesy call, too. His heart is in the right place, but his UN cannot stir itself to address the globe’s worst humanitarian disaster. Mustn’t upset the world order, you know. Mustn’t prod European nations or Arab states or other African countries to act against a member of the UN’s own Human Rights Commission. Ah, the irony.

The U.S. must keep up the pressure on both Khartoum and the UN to end the horror in Darfur. As is so often the case, unilateral action by America is the last best hope for millions. Ah, the irony again. The government has led the way in pouring aid into Darfur and has pledged $62 million more. Britain has offered $11 million. The rest of the alleged civilized world is looking behind sofa cushions for loose change, which it may or may not decide to donate.

In the meantime, the suffering and dying and murder and rape continue. Unabated. And unchallenged by countries that will pretend to be shocked when the final death toll is recorded.

New life for death

There’s still a death penalty battle to be fought in New York despite the Court of Appeals’ evisceration of the state’s capital punishment law 10 days ago. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown is picking up the cudgels in a case that will test whether the court is bent on barring all executions, as many suspect. The sooner that question gets resolved, the better. So Brown, a capital punishment opponent, is to be congratulated for taking up the fight.

When the court threw out the death penalty, it ruled that the law’s sentencing provisions violated the state Constitution. Those provisions stated that a jury had the power to decide between a sentence of death or life without parole. But if the jury couldn’t reach unanimous agreement, a judge would sentence a defendant to a term of 25 years to life.

Over a withering dissent, a 4-to-3 majority divined the possibility that in a deadlock, a juror who preferred life without parole could opt for death to prevent a killer from ever being paroled. The majority wrongly saw that as impermissibly coercive.

Brown’s case is different. The convicted killer is John Taylor, who participated in the massacre at Wendy’s in which seven workers were murdered in 2000. The judge was Steven Fisher, a death penalty expert, who smartly found a way to eliminate the very issue the Court of Appeals later keyed on.

Fisher told the jurors that if they deadlocked on the sentence he would "almost certainly" sentence Taylor to consecutive sentences for all the killings. Which foreclosed parole for 175 years. Which eliminated any possibility that the jury was coerced in sentencing Taylor to death. And there’s no doubt the jury didn’t feel pressure to opt for Taylor’s execution because the panel agreed to capital punishment for only two of the seven murders.

Those are the undisputed facts that Brown will present to the Court of Appeals. They demonstrate that Taylor was fairly sentenced to death by a jury that was not influenced by any remotely possible extraneous concerns. If the court disagrees or dodges the issue, its extralegal determination to override the will of the Legislature and governor will be plain for all to see.