By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, the New York Times
I doff my hat, briefly, to President Bush.
NEW YORK, May 29, 2004 — Sudanese peasants will be naming their sons “George Bush” because he scored a humanitarian victory this week that could be a momentous event around the globe – although almost nobody noticed. It was Bush administration diplomacy that led to an accord to end a 20-year civil war between Sudan’s north and south after two million deaths.
If the peace holds, hundreds of thousands of lives will be saved, millions of refugees will return home, and a region of Africa may be revived.
But there’s a larger lesson here as well: messy African wars are not insoluble, and Western pressure can help save the day. So it’s all the more shameful that the world is failing to exert pressure on Sudan to halt genocide in its Darfur region. Darfur is unaffected by the new peace accords.
I’m still haunted by what I saw when I visited the region in March: a desert speckled with fresh graves of humans and the corpses of donkeys, the empty eyes of children who saw their fathers killed, the guilt of parents fumbling to explain how they had survived while their children did not.
The refugees tell of sudden attacks by the camel-riding Janjaweed Arab militia, which is financed by the Sudanese government, then a panic of shooting and fire. Girls and women are routinely branded after they are raped, to increase the humiliation.
One million Darfur people are displaced within Sudan, and 200,000 have fled to Chad. Many of those in Sudan are stuck in settlements like concentration camps.
I’ve obtained a report by a U.N. interagency team documenting conditions at a concentration camp in the town of Kailek: Eighty percent of the children are malnourished, there are no toilets, and girls are taken away each night by the guards to be raped. As inmates starve, food aid is diverted by guards to feed their camels.
The standard threshold for an “emergency” is one death per 10,000 people per day, but people in Kailek are dying at a staggering 41 per 10,000 per day – and for children under 5, the rate is 147 per 10,000 per day. “Children suffering from malnutrition, diarrhea, dehydration and other symptoms of the conditions under which they are being held live in filth, directly exposed to the sun,” the report says.
“The team members, all of whom are experienced experts in humanitarian affairs, were visibly shaken,” the report declares. It describes “a strategy of systematic and deliberate starvation being enforced by the GoS [government of Sudan] and its security forces on the ground.” Read the 11-page report at www.nytimes.com /kristofresponds, Posting 426.
Demographers at the U.S. Agency for International Development estimate that at best, “only” 100,000 people will die in Darfur this year of malnutrition and disease. If things go badly, half a million will die.
This is not a natural famine, but a deliberate effort to eliminate three African tribes in Darfur so Arabs can take their land. The Genocide Convention defines such behavior as genocide, and it obliges nations to act to stop it. That is why nobody in the West wants to talk about Darfur – because of a fear that focusing on the horror will lead to a deployment in Sudan.
But it’s not a question of sending troops, but of applying pressure – the same kind that succeeded in getting Sudan to the north-south peace agreement. If Mr. Bush would step up to the cameras and denounce this genocide, if he would send Colin Powell to the Chad-Sudan border, if he would telephone Sudan’s president again to demand humanitarian access to the concentration camps, he might save hundreds of thousands of lives.
Yet while Mr. Bush has done far too little, he has at least issued a written statement, sent aides to speak forcefully at the U.N. and raised the matter with Sudan’s leaders. That’s more than the Europeans or the U.N. has done. Where are Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac? Where are African leaders, like Nelson Mandela? Why isn’t John Kerry speaking out forcefully? And why are ordinary Americans silent?
Islamic leaders abroad have been particularly shameful in standing with the Sudanese government oppressors rather than with the Muslim victims in Darfur. Do they care about dead Muslims only when the killers are Israelis or Americans?
As for America, we have repeatedly failed to stand up to genocide, whether of Armenians, Jews, Cambodians or Rwandans. Now we’re letting it happen again.