Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 26 May 2004

SOS Sudan


By CARROLL BOGERT, The Wall Street Journal

May 26, 2004 — One is tempted to celebrate. The 20-year civil war in Sudan — the Bush administration’s main focus in Africa and the centerpiece of its international human rights efforts — appears to be drawing to a close. Barring any last-minute glitches, the "framework agreement" for peace will be signed in Nairobi today, with a final peace treaty envisioned later this year.

The Bush administration deserves real credit for this achievement. Concerned about reports by religious groups that spotlighted the Islamist government’s persecution of Christians in southern Sudan, the White House appointed former senator John Danforth to bring government and rebels to the peace table, and expended substantial diplomatic energy in addressing the Sudan crisis.

But don’t uncork the champagne just yet. Over the last year, the Sudanese government has been applying the same brutal tactics it has long used in the south against Muslims in the western region of Darfur, deploying ethnic militias to torch villages across huge swathes of territory and then denying humanitarian aid to displaced civilians. Khartoum has armed and supplied Arab militias known as Janjaweed that have chased more than a million people from their homes, and massacred, raped, and looted thousands more.

As the rainy season gets underway, it seems less and less likely that the farming families in Darfur will get back to their villages in time to plant the year’s crops. Mass starvation looms. This puts the Bush administration in a delicate position. The enticements it’s used to get Khartoum to the peace table have to be shelved for now: moving Sudan off the list of countries that sponsor terror, easing economic sanctions, holding some kind of Rose Garden-like ceremony — all would look exceptionally inappropriate now as the killing in Darfur continues.

Many governments have muted their calls to take action on Darfur, and are characterizing the ethnic cleansing campaign as only a humanitarian problem — as though the world just needs to send more food and blankets. The Bush administration should face down those governments and insist that the Janjaweed militias be withdrawn, disbanded and brought to justice. The U.S. should take the lead in the U.N. Security Council — where members are reluctant to take a stand in the face of strenuous lobbying by the Sudanese government — to lay out a schedule for the reversal of ethnic cleansing. If Sudan fails to meet these deadlines, the U.S. must insist on stronger measures. With so much effort invested in ending Sudan’s human rights tragedy, this is no time to stop and declare victory.

Ms. Bogert is the associate director of Human Rights Watch.

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