Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 1 July 2004

Darfur’s inescapable horror


Editorial, The Chicago Tribune

July 01, 2004 — The killing taking place in Darfur, in western Sudan, has to be the best-documented humanitarian catastrophe ever. That makes the world’s inaction inexcusable.

This week’s Time magazine has a two-page photo of perhaps a hundred Darfurian refugees tightly huddled under a huge tree. They look like animals waiting helplessly for a storm to pass—or for someone to rescue them.

Lest someone question the significance of a single image, satellite photos also document the destruction of swaths of Darfur by janjaweed militias, supported by Sudan’s government.

What other evidence does the world need—especially fellow African nations—before it is moved to stop the slaughter?

So far the Sudanese government’s campaign to quash a rebellion in Darfur has killed as many as 36,000 people. It threatens the lives of another 500,000, now living in refugee camps, many on the verge of starvation.

To their credit, Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan paid an unusual joint visit to Sudan Wednesday to pressure the government to stop the 16-month-old killing and pillaging.

The U.S. has been the most active nation in pressuring Sudan’s government and donating tons of food for the refugees, mostly across the border in Chad.

The rest of the international community has done little beyond acknowledging the tragedy—if that. Annan’s dramatic visit with Powell is welcome, yet the rest of the UN is still doing its usual impotent hand-wringing.

The Sudanese government is not going to stop its ethnic cleansing of Africans in Darfur of its own accord. Indeed, the government in Khartoum denies there is a crisis at all.

More must be done. Economic sanctions are a start. An international military force, ideally made up of African countries, is another option. Sudan must stop supporting the janjaweed and allow shipments of food and medicine to flow unimpeded to the refugee camps.

Some diplomats and politicians still debate whether the horror in Darfur is genocide or ethnic cleansing. It doesn’t matter. The evidence of human suffering is before us, and it’s time for the world to act.

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