A blind eye to genocide
|The Sunday Times, 17 Septembre 2006|
Here is an inconvenient fact about Africa: our genocides tend to happen away from television cameras. Almost 1m people were killed in Rwanda in 1994; 2m died in southern Sudan in the past two decades; and 4m people in the Democratic Republic of Congo have died since 1997. The totals are staggering, and hardly a column inch or minute of airtime have marked them.
On the 10th anniversary of Rwanda there was talk of never again allowing innocent civilians to be butchered with impunity. But even as the politicians were deploring the inaction of the international community, another African genocide was under way.
In our world of 24-hour news cycles, people could be forgiven for thinking Darfur did not exist. The Sudanese government’s policy of making it hard for the media and humanitarian groups to get access to its remote western region has paid off.
In Darfur 2m people have been ethnically cleansed since 2003, women and girls are systematically raped and tortured daily, there is cholera in the refugee camps and the violence is spilling into next door Chad, and all without the attention, or response, it deserves.
The World Food Programme warns it cannot reach half the people in Darfur who need help, and those it can feed are on rations below the daily minimum requirement. The Sudanese armed forces and their proxies, the Janjaweed militias, have stepped up their attacks on civilians, and aid workers are being killed despite a recently signed peace deal.
This summer, after 30 days of war between Israel and Hezbollah, and a thousand dead, the international community rightly intervened and dispatched UN peacekeepers. After 3½ years, and an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 dead in Darfur, it is still unclear if a United Nations force will be sent. We Africans conclude that double standards apply to our continent.
Today is the international day of action for Darfur. Around the world from Cape Town to London, Moscow to New York, concerned citizens are asking why the UN security council’s resolutions on Darfur have yet to be enforced. We are still waiting for a no-fly zone, targeted sanctions against the architects of the genocide, and referrals to the International War Crimes Tribunal. No wonder the Khartoum regime denies UN peacekeepers access to Darfur.
Today is also the first anniversary of the adoption by the UN of a policy called the Responsibility to Protect. According to that document the international community should put aside its narrow self-interest and act to prevent genocide or ethnic cleansing.
In practice, people are still being terrorised and murdered in Darfur with impunity. The UN has recognised Darfur as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, but it has not applied sustained pressure on the government of Sudan to accept a strong international peacekeeping force.
Meanwhile, amid the scramble to find excuses to abandon Darfur, experts scour the history books for evidence of “ancient tribal or ethnic hatreds” on which to blame the “savagery” of African genocides (as if it had not in fact occurred in the centre of Europe a mere 60 years ago).
We should be suspicious when people say the ethnic cleansing of defenceless civilians is in fact a civil war. They really mean: “These exotic people are all as bad as each other.” How can we be expected to put our soldiers in harm’s way when there is no good side to defend?
Another justification for our inaction is: “The situation is more complicated than you idealists appreciate.” In Darfur, they say, you cannot conveniently divide the population into Arab aggressors and black African victims.
True, there is intermarriage, and there are underlying issues about land ownership and the shortage of water due to climate change. But people who identify themselves as black Africans are being killed by others who describe them as racially inferior and not entitled to live in the land of their birth. Ninety per cent of black African villages in Darfur have been destroyed.
Here is another inconvenient fact about Africa: many of our nations have been cursed by their natural mineral wealth. Darfur has the misfortune to be in a country with vast oil reserves. China, France and Russia, all members of the UN security council, do business with the government of Sudan and they are reluctant to jeopardise their commercial relationships.
In 2001 Tony Blair declared that if Rwanda were to happen again Britain would have a duty to act. Britain deserves enormous credit for leading the world in the generosity of its humanitarian emergency response in Darfur. The government must also lead the international community in stiffening their resolve to act in the face of genocide.
A few years ago an American politician commented that if his phone had rung off the hook with his concerned voters asking him to do something about Rwanda he would have been forced to act.
Please pray for Darfur today. Then let your prayer inform your actions: ask your elected representatives to call for a significant UN force with an effective mandate to protect the civilians in Darfur. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).