Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Ethnic Cleansing in Darfur

Bravo to Nicholas Kristof for bringing attention to this issue. I know that Bush is eager to get the Sudanese government to sign on to a peace deal, but he shouldn't let his eagerness get in the way of reining in that government's malevolent behavior towards Sudan's non-Arab citizens.

ALONG THE SUDAN-CHAD BORDER — The most vicious ethnic cleansing you've never heard of is unfolding here in the southeastern fringes of the Sahara Desert. It's a campaign of murder, rape and pillage by Sudan's Arab rulers that has forced 700,000 black African Sudanese to flee their villages.

The desert is strewn with the carcasses of cattle and goats, as well as fresh refugee graves that are covered with brush so wild animals will not dig them up. Refugees crowd around overused wells, which now run dry, and they mourn loved ones whose bodies they cannot recover.

Western and African countries need to intervene urgently. Sudan's leaders should not be able to get away with mass murder just because they are shrewd enough to choose victims who inhabit a poor region without airports, electricity or paved roads.

The culprit is the Sudanese government, one of the world's nastiest. Its Arab leaders have been fighting a civil war for more than 20 years against its rebellious black African south. Lately it has armed lighter-skinned Arab raiders, the Janjaweed, who are killing or driving out blacks in the Darfur region near Chad.

"They came at 4 a.m. on horseback, on camels, in vehicles, with two helicopters overhead," recalled Idris Abu Moussa, a 26-year-old Sudanese farmer. "They killed 50 people in my village. My father, grandmother, uncle and two brothers were all killed."

"They don't want any blacks left," he added.


The U.N.'s Sudan coordinator, Mukesh Kapila, described the situation in a BBC interview on Friday as similar in character, if not scale, to the Rwanda genocide of 1994. "This is ethnic cleansing," he said. "This is the world's greatest humanitarian crisis, and I don't know why the world isn't doing more about it."

Countless thousands of black Sudanese have been murdered, and 600,000 victims of this ethnic cleansing have fled to other parts of Sudan and are suffering from malnutrition and disease. The 110,000 who have fled into Chad are better off because of the magnificent response of the Chadian peasants. Chadians are desperately poor themselves, but they share what little food and water is available with the Sudanese refugees.


To his credit, President Bush has already led the drive for peace in Sudan, doing far more to achieve a peace than all his predecessors put together. Now he should show the same resolve in confronting this latest menace.

In the 21st century, no government should be allowed to carry out ethnic cleansing, driving 700,000 people from their homes. If we turn away simply because the victims are African tribespeople who have the misfortune to speak no English, have no phones and live in one of the most remote parts of the globe, then shame on us.

What's truly disgraceful about the domestic response to the atrocities going on in Sudan is that it's been mostly the Religious Right, whose influence has been baleful in other arenas of American life, that's been putting any real pressure on the American government to do something to end the bloodshed. Preserving the lives and property of black Sudanese just doesn't seem to carry the same cachet as marching against Israel or chanting "No war for oil!" does in the minds of so many complacent, self-styled "liberals." Hey, Indymediots, Sudan has oil too! If you can come out to march everytime a killer like Saddam or Ahmed Yassin gets his due, surely you can spare a moment or two for the 700,000 Sudanese driven from their homes! What's that you say? Too busy inveighing against "Zionazi" Sharon and Bushitler™?

Nicholas Kristof is a genuine liberal, in the best sense of that word; those whose "liberalism" consists only of advocating higher taxes on the rich, but can't be bothered about the sufferings of other human beings outside their borders, are nothing of the sort.