Bush Points the Way
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
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
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
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.