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Bush Points the Way

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  • Bush Points the Way

    Bush Points the Way

    New York Times
    May 29 2004

    I doff my hat, briefly, to President Bush.

    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 here.)

    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.