Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 14 July 2004

Why I got arrested in Washington yesterday


By CHARLES B. RANGEL, The New York Daily News

July 14, 2004 — Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell returned from a visit to Sudan. He saw evidence of the slaughter that has left tens of thousands dead and more than a million displaced, and in response he threatened the Sudanese government - blamed for being the sponsors of the slaughter - with sanctions and travel restrictions.

Yesterday, I made my feelings known about this crisis when I was arrested in a protest outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. My act of civil disobedience in blocking the doors of the embassy was to make the point that sanctions and travel restrictions will not alleviate this crisis; we need to get an international peacekeeping force on the ground to save lives immediately.

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios declared last week that by year’s end, 300,000 African villagers in the western Sudanese region of Darfur will have died either from the genocide or related disease and starvation. He said that if the crisis worsens, that toll could reach more than a million. At least 300,000 innocent men, women and children. Imagine three-quarters of Staten Island dead before New Year’s Day.

The people being slaughtered are Muslims of black African descent who have been marginalized by Sudanese government officials, who traditionally have discriminated against their darker-skinned countrymen. In response to an uprising in isolated regions of Darfur in February 2003, the Sudanese government unleashed the Janjaweed militia on the black Africans, and it now seems that government authorities would rather kill a million people than share power and resources with their countrymen. And without our intervention, they just might succeed.

Each time the world witnesses this sort of horror and intervenes too late or not at all, we say it was because we didn’t know. And then we pledge never to let it happen again. Four hundred years of African slavery. Six million dead at Hitler’s hands. Two hundred thousand slaughtered in Yugoslavia. Nearly a million massacred in Rwanda. And now, Sudan.

The international community - led by the U.S. - has a duty to take immediate action. Powell’s visit was an important first step, but we must follow up with action to stop the genocide and get adequate aid to the region.

The Bush administration should focus on getting a multinational force to Sudan to protect the innocents.

We’ve spent almost $200 billion on the Iraq war. There’s no reason the international community can’t find the $350 million the UN needs to ship aid to Sudan. Surely, saving a million lives is worth more than the $89 million the U.S. has committed so far. Let’s declare the situation the genocide that it is. We have to avert what threatens to become one of history’s greatest catastrophes. What’s happening is an atrocity, a crime and a sin. There can be no more excuses.

Rangel, who represents Harlem, is the ranking Democrat
on the House Ways and Means Committee.

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