Darfur: the New Rwanda

Darfur campaign poster
Oscar-winning actor George Clooney said that Americans should not "turn our heads and look away" from genocide in Darfur. The heart-throb star, who travelled to the region to see for himself,  told journalists that he wants to use his "credit card" as a Hollywood celebrity to highlight the plight of two million desperate refugees. The-Latest columnist Jonathan Brooker makes an urgent plea for action by the West.

Words can be sickeningly cheap. They are easy to use to escape responsibility after something awful has happened. Apologising or saying what is deemed expedient in order to avoid the repercussions of actions or the lack of them is a pathetic tactic of the sullied craft of international diplomacy. It is perhaps this that makes the lack of affirmative, resolute action by the powerful nations of the world, to prevent the genocide and mass human rights violations in Sudan’s Darfur region, seem so particularly loathsome.

Analysts speculate that about 200,000 people have died there since war began in 2003, when rebels took up arms, accusing the government of discriminating against the Black African residents of Darfur. Pro-government Arab militia then launched a campaign, described as "genocide" by the US, with 2.5 million people displaced from their homes as a result of the violence. Disease is rife and an estimated 3.5 million people are on the brink of starvation. The clashes between government aligned forces and rebels are costing hundreds of thousands of civilian lives and look set to continue to do so for some time. And this is happening after leading members of the international community, including UN General Secretary Kofi Annan and American President Bill Clinton, vowed that “never again” would they allow such human devastation to occur after the genocide which saw an estimated 900,000 people killed in Rwanda in 1994.

Darfur Map
 Events in Darfur conspicuously reflect the atrocities of Rwanda.  Militia attacks designed to ‘cleanse’ Sudanese society have lead to mass rape, indiscriminate killings and whole communities being displaced from their homes with nowhere to go where they can find food, water or shelter in order to survive. The Islamic Janjaweed, with the backing of the Sudanese government, are carrying out a meticulous and calculated campaign of slaughter, rape, starvation and displacement of humans, not seen since the murderous Hutu rampage in Rwanda.

The African Union (AU) does not have the resources to deal effectively with the situation, despite being set up precisely to deal with such crises. Nor does the over-stretched UN. The US and UN must fully recognise the genocide that is taking place and act immediately, fulfilling their obligation to do so as set out in the Geneva Convention. It must surely be deemed morally reprehensible that any so-called civilised nation or organisation can allow such atrocity to take place right under its nose. And, after Rwanda, there are no excuses left for anyone to claim they do not know what is going on. The ghosts of the hundreds of thousands of Rwandan dead still haunt us for our cruel apathy.

Never again must the international community stand by and watch people slaughtered. Governments have the opportunity to lay to rest accusations that they only act when their vital economic interests, such as oil or gas, are at stake. This is a chance for the West to start redeeming itself for their shameful abandonment of the Rwandan people. If we fail to act then generations to come will ask why we failed them. Why we let so many people die. But far more importantly, if the neglect of our responsibilities to save Darfur continue the hundreds of thousands of bodies of the people needlessly killed, burnt and buried in Sudan will become a grisly monument to our criminal abandonment. We wIll have done nothing to prevent an appalling human disaster when we could have stopped the genocide.  


LATEST: The largest rebel group in  Darfur have agreed to sign a peace deal with the Sudanese government.
Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM)  leader Minni Minnawi broke the deadlock when he returned to the African Union convened talks in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, following a late-night session. But two smaller groups say they are still not happy and are holding out for more concessions. One of Minnawi's officials told the Reuters news agency that the SLM wanted more seats in parliament but had agreed to the deal to end the suffering of the people in Darfur. But the smallest rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), insists that it still wants fundamental changes to the document.  The group's chief negotiator, Ahmed Tugod, reiterated the rebels' demands for the post of vice-president in the Khartoum government and for Darfur to have a greater share of national wealth.

Draft peace plan:

Janjaweed militia to be disarmed
Rebel fighters to be incorporated into army
One-off transfer of $300m to Darfur
$200m a year for the region thereafter.