THE G-8 LETS DARFUR SLIDE AS THE WORLD AVERTS ITS EYES
Nicholas D. Kristoff
July 11, 2008 Friday
As President Bush and the Group of 8 leaders who met in Japan again
shunned their responsibilities in Darfur, there is a serious argument
to be made that genocide is overrated as an international concern. The
G-8 leaders implicitly accepted that argument, which goes like this:
Genocide is regrettable, but don’t lose perspective. It is simply
one of many tragedies in the world today — and a fairly modest one
in terms of lives lost.
All the genocides of the last 100 years have cost only 10 million to
12 million lives. In contrast, every year we lose almost 10 million
children under the age of five from diseases and malnutrition
attributable to poverty. Make that the priority, not Darfur.
Civil conflict in Congo has claimed more than 5 million lives over
the last decade. That’s at least 10 times the toll in Darfur, but
because Congo doesn’t count as genocide — just as murderous chaos —
no one has paid much attention to it.
Does a mother whose child dies from banditry, malaria or AIDS grieve
any less than a mother whose child was killed by the janjaweed?
The world has been trying to pressure Sudan to stop slaughtering
Darfuris for nearly five years, yet the situation in some ways is
worse than ever. In contrast, we know how to combat malaria, child
mortality and maternal mortality. The same resources would save far
more lives if they were used for vaccinations and bed nets.
So instead of pushing President Bush to worry about Darfur, where
it’s not clear he can make a difference, get him to focus on bed
nets or deworming or iodizing salt in poor countries or stopping
mother-to-child transmission of the virus that causes AIDS or so many
other areas where his attention could have a humanitarian impact.
Genocide is horrific, but that doesn’t make it a priority.
This is a coherent and legitimate argument, and there are moments
when I catch myself sympathetic to it.
Yet in truth, genocide has always evoked a transcendent horror,
and it has little to do with the numbers of victims. The Holocaust
resonates not because 6 million Jews were killed but because a
government picked people on the basis of their religious heritage
and tried to exterminate them. What is horrifying about Anne Frank’s
diary is not so much the death of a girl as the crime of a state.
There are also practical arguments, for genocide can create cycles
of revenge and displacement that make it far more destabilizing than
any famine or epidemic. The Darfur genocide may well lead all Sudan
to fragment into civil war, interrupting Sudanese oil exports and
raising oil prices.
The Armenian genocide still festers after nearly a century; and former
President Bill Clinton has said that his greatest foreign-policy
mistake was his failure to respond in Rwanda. In the same way, the
G-8’s collective shrug this week about the Darfur genocide — because
the victims are black, impoverished and hidden from television cameras
— will be a lingering stain.
After five years of genocide, President Bush still hasn’t taken as
simple a step as imposing a no-fly zone or even giving a prime-time
speech about it. He gave Beijing a gift, his pledge to attend the
opening ceremony of the Olympics, without pushing hard for China to
suspend military spare-parts and arms deliveries to Sudan.
The Islamic world has been even more myopic, particularly since the
victims in Darfur are all Muslims. Do dead Muslims count only when
Israel is the culprit? Can’t the Islamic world muster one-hundredth as
much indignation for the genocidal slaughter of hundreds of thousands
of Muslims as it can for a few Danish cartoons?
This coming Monday, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court
is expected to seek an arrest warrant in connection with Darfur, and
his past statements suggest that it may be for the Sudanese president,
Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for genocide. That would be a historic step
A personal note: I have seen children dying of AIDS and hunger; I
have had malaria and been chased through the jungle by militias. I
want the G-8 to address all the aspects of global poverty, yet nothing
affects me as much as what I have seen in Darfur.
I tilt obsessively at the windmills of Darfur because, quite simply,
its people haunt me: the young woman who deliberately made a diversion
of herself so the janjaweed would gang-rape her and miss her little
sister running in the opposite direction; the man whose eyes were
gouged out with a bayonet; the group of women beaten with their own
babies until the children were dead.
Yes, genocide truly is "that bad."