Cruel Choices

April 14, 2004
Cruel Choices

I can’t get the kaleidoscope of genocide out of my head since my trip
last month to the Sudan-Chad border: the fresh graves, especially the
extra-small mounds for children; the piles of branches on graves to
keep wild animals from digging up corpses; the tales of women being
first raped and then branded on the hand to stigmatize them forever;
the isolated peasants, unfamiliar with electricity, who suddenly
encounter the 21st century as helicopters machine-gun their children.

Then there were the choices faced by the Sudanese refugees I
interviewed. For example, who should fetch water from the wells?

The Arab Janjaweed militia, armed by Sudan’s government, shoots tribal
African men and teenage boys who show up at the wells, and rapes women
who go. So parents described an anguished choice: Should they risk
their 7- or 8-year-old children by sending them to wells a mile away,
knowing that the children have the best prospect of returning?

And what should parents do when the Janjaweed seize their children, or
gang-rape their daughters? Should they resist, knowing they will then
be shot at once in front of their children?

Or what about the parents described by Human Rights Watch who were
allowed by the militia to choose how their children would die: burned
alive or shot to death?

Some 1,000 people in Sudan’s Darfur region are still dying each
week. But at least the world has finally begun to pay attention – and
it’s striking how a hint of concern in the West has persuaded Sudan to
reach a cease-fire there.

President Bush finally found his voice last week, protesting the
“atrocities” in Darfur. More forcefully, Kofi Annan warned on the day
commemorating the Rwandan genocide that reports about brutalities in
Darfur “leave me with a deep sense of foreboding. . . . The
international community cannot stand idle.”

So far in Darfur, thousands have been killed, and about one million
black Africans have been driven from their homes by the
lighter-skinned Arabs in the Janjaweed. Vast sections of Darfur, a
region the size of France, have been burned and emptied. The Janjaweed
have also destroyed wells, or fouled them by dumping corpses into
them, to keep villagers from ever returning.

“You can drive for 100 kilometers and see nobody, no civilian,” said
Dr. Mercedes Tatay, a physician with Doctors Without Borders who has
just spent a month in Darfur. “You pass through large villages,
completely burned or still burning, and you see nobody.”

In the refugee camps in Darfur, malnutrition and measles are claiming
the survivors, especially young children. Roger Winter, assistant
administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development,
estimates that even if the fighting stops today, at least 100,000 are
still likely to die in coming months – of disease, malnutrition and
other ailments. Yet Sudan is still curbing access to Darfur by the
U.N. and aid groups.

I’m not suggesting an invasion of Sudan. But it’s a fallacy to think
that just because we can’t do everything to stop genocide, we
shouldn’t do anything. One of the lessons of the last week is how
little it took – from Washington, the U.N. and the African Union – to
nudge Sudan into accepting a cease-fire and pledging access for
humanitarian workers.

Now we need more arm-twisting to get Sudan to comply with the
cease-fire (it marked the first day, Monday, by bombing the town of
Anka). The Sudanese government is testing us, but so far the State
Department has shown a commendable willingness to stand up to it.

We can save many tens of thousands of lives in the coming weeks – but
only if Mr. Bush and Mr. Annan speak out more boldly, if the
U.N. Security Council insists on humanitarian access to Darfur and if
the aid community mounts a huge effort before the rainy season makes
roads impassible beginning in late May.

In the last 100 years, the United States has reacted to one genocide
after another – Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Bosnians – by making
excuses at the time, and then saying, too late, “Oh, if only we had
known!” Well, this time we know what is happening in Darfur: 110,000
refugees have escaped into Chad and testify to the atrocities.

How many more parents will be forced to choose whether their children
are shot or burned to death before we get serious?

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS