Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Chicago Sun-Times features Commentary by IRI Board Member

October 14, 2004
U.S. not content to wait for U.N. action in Sudan
By Richard S. Williamson 

In Darfur, Sudan, the atrocities are horrific and the response of the international community has been anemic.

Sudan is the largest country in Africa, nearly the size of all America east of the Mississippi River. Sudan sits on the ancient crossroads between Arab North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. For countless generations the Arabs of the north and the blacks of the south lived in peace. They intermingled and intermarried.

But for nearly 19 months the Sudanese Arab government in Khartoum and an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed have been engaged in brutal ethnic mayhem and murder waged against the blacks in Darfur.

The government armed the Janjaweed. Government attack helicopters, in coordination with Janjaweed riding camels and on horseback, sweep into villages -- burning, killing, raping, branding women as slaves, destroying crops and stealing livestock.

Black males as young as 1 year old are being butchered. Non-Arab Sudanese are being systematically expelled from their homeland.

More than 60,000 have died. About 1.4 million people are now homeless: More than a million are internally displaced, and more than 300,000 now live in refugee camps in neighboring Chad. Hundreds more are dying daily, and added thousands are being driven from their homes every week. Hundreds of thousands may die by year's end from malnutrition and disease. It is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and it is manmade.

Professor Benjamin Valento in his important book, Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the 20th Century, has written that ethnic hatreds play a much smaller role in mass killings and genocide than most assume. He shows that the impetus for mass killing usually comes from a relatively small group of powerful leaders to counter threats to their power, and to solve their most difficult problems.

In Darfur the threats came in the form of a small insurgency by some of the region's non-Arab Muslims. The government leaders responded to this threat to their power by commissioning the Janjaweed to put down the insurgents. They armed the Janjaweed and execute coordinated attacks on villages. The overwhelming majority of the men, women and children victimized by these merciless atrocities have no relation whatsoever to the insurgents.

Terrible crimes have been committed. Innocent people suffer and many perish. The ethnic cleansing has risen to horrific levels. Meanwhile, the international community does little. The United Nations' response has been to begin an inquiry to determine whether the level of violence against the black Muslims of Darfur has risen to the level that satisfies the technical definition of genocide.

The sorry record of the international community, and particularly the U.N.'s failure to act to stop genocide in Darfur, should give pause to those who seek to entrust America's interest and security to summits, the United Nations, and "global tests."

Last winter, President Bush was the first world leader to publicly call for an end to the violence in Darfur. Last spring the United States pressed for a strong resolution at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights condemning the violence, demanding it end, and requiring free access for humanitarian aid to the desperate victims. Not surprising in a body on which Sudan sits as a member, the American initiative failed.

At the U.N. Security Council, the United States also has sought muscular action, including sanctions against the "small group of powerful leaders" in Khartoum. There, too, the diplomatic minuet has compromised and watered down language, weakened resolve and failed to help those in need.

Not waiting for the U.N., the United States is putting bilateral pressure on Sudan. The United States has sent more than $200 million in humanitarian aid to the victims, the overwhelming majority of all assistance given so far. The U.S. Congress has not waited for more to die while the U.N. inquiry proceeds. Congress has labeled the atrocities genocide and reprogrammed $150 million more in aid for the victims in Darfur.

Last month Bush went to the U.N. General Assembly. He said the vicious violence in Darfur is genocide and he called on the U.N. to act.

Tragically, the "global test" for action apparently has not yet been satisfied. Dead bodies pile up. Women are raped and branded as slaves. Thousands more are driven from their homes.

What do we say to the victims in Darfur?

If the international community does not act in Darfur, where will it act? If it will not act now, when will it act?

Richard S. Williamson, a Chicago lawyer, is a former U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.