Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 10 July 2004

Dying in Darfur

Editorial, The Times Union

The U.N. and the Bush administration should act quickly to end the suffering

July 10, 2004 — What happened in Rwanda in 1994 should have shamed every civilized nation that could have done something to stop the genocide, but instead turned away. But that memory is apparently short-lived. For the last 16 months, Arab militias have driven more than a million Africans from their farmlands in Sudan’s western province of Dufar. Crops have been destroyed, homes and villages pillaged, women systematically raped. Deaths by famine are estimated at 1,000 a week. And through it all, the Sudanese government, which has been trying to put down rebels in Darfur, has been an active supporter of those responsible for these outrages.
Such a grisly scenario should have captured world attention long ago. But it wasn’t until this month that United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, accompanied by Secretary of State Colin Powell, visited Sudan and warned the government in Khartoum that it faces sanctions, and possible military action, unless it stops supporting the militias and opens talks with the rebels.

Humanitarian aid is vital, but Sudan’s rainy season will make delivery of food and medicines more difficult than ever. But right now money is the major obstacle. What is even more frustrating than the rainy season is the unwillingness of many U.N. members to donate to a relief fund of $350 million to ease the suffering of refugees in 137 camps throughout Darfur.

The appeal was made last March, but to date there have been few takers. According to The Washington Post, the U.S. has pledged the most, $62 million, and Britain, $11 million. By contrast, France, Germany and Japan have pledged only $4 million each.

Worse, France has so far refused to support a U.N. Security Council resolution designed to exert maximum pressure on Sudan’s leader, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Bashir, to end the violence. The reason: There is a debate going on over how to classify the suffering in Sudan, either as ethnic cleansing or genocide. Only the latter can require the Security Council to immediately intervene. So, while diplomats debate, thousands die.

If the U.N. can’t do better than this, it will reinforce its image as a powerless organization that has failed to intervene not only in Rwanda, but also in Bosnia and Kosovo. And now, inexcusably, it is dithering on Darfur.