Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The tolerable genocide

From http://coalitionfordarfur.blogspot.com/2005/11/darfur-tolerable-genocide.html

Who would have thought that a genocide could become worse? But after
two years of heartbreaking slaughter, rape and mayhem, the situation
in Darfur is now spiraling downward.

More villages are again being attacked and burned -- over the last
week thatch-roof huts have been burning near the town of Gereida and
far to the northwest near Jebel Mun.

Aid workers have been stripped, beaten and robbed. A few more attacks
on aid workers, and agencies may pull out -- leaving the hapless
people of Darfur with no buffer between themselves and the butchers.

The international community has delegated security to the African
Union, but its 7,000 troops can't even defend themselves, let alone
protect civilians. One group of 18 peacekeepers was kidnapped last
month, and then 20 soldiers sent to rescue them were kidnapped as
well; four other soldiers and two contractors were killed in a
separate incident.

What will happen if the situation continues to deteriorate sharply and
aid groups pull out? The U.N. has estimated that the death toll could
then rise to 100,000 a month.

The turmoil has also infected neighboring Chad, which is inhabited by
some of the same tribes as Sudan. Diplomats and U.N. officials are
increasingly worried that Chad could tumble back into its own horrific
civil war as well.

This downward spiral has happened because for more than two years, the
international community has treated this as a tolerable genocide. In
my next column, my last from Darfur, I'll outline the steps we need to
take. But the essential starting point is outrage: a recognition that
countering genocide must be a global priority.

It's true that a few hundred thousand deaths in Darfur -- a good guess
of the toll so far -- might not amount to much in a world where two
million a year die of malaria. But there is something special about
genocide. When humans deliberately wipe out others because of their
tribe or skin color, when babies succumb not to diarrhea but to
bayonets and bonfires, that is not just one more tragedy. It is a
monstrosity that demands a response from other humans. We demean our
own humanity, and that of the victims, when we avert our eyes.

Already, large swaths of Darfur are so unsafe that they are ''no go''
areas for humanitarian organizations -- meaning that we don't know
what horrors are occurring in those areas. But we have some clues.

There are widespread reports that the janjaweed, the government-backed
Arab marauders who have been slaughtering members of several African
tribes, sometimes find it convenient not to kill or expel every last
African but to leave a few alive to grow vegetables and run markets.
So they let some live in exchange for protection money or slave labor.

One Western aid worker in Darfur told me that she had visited an area
controlled by janjaweed. In public, everyone insisted -- meekly and
fearfully -- that everything was fine.

Then she spoke privately to two sisters, both of the Fur tribe. They
said that the local Fur were being enslaved by the janjaweed, forced
to work in the fields and even to pay protection money every month
just to be allowed to live. The two sisters said that they were forced
to cook for the janjaweed troops and to accept being raped by them.

Finally, they said, their terrified father had summoned the courage to
beg the janjaweed commander to let his daughters go. That's when the
commander beheaded the father in front of his daughters.

''They told me they just wanted to die,'' the aid worker remembered in
frustration. ''They're living like slaves, in complete and utter fear.
And we can't do anything about it.''

That aid worker has found her own voice, by starting a blog called
''Sleepless in Sudan'' in which she describes what she sees around
her. It sears at http://sleeplessinsudan.blogspot.com, without the
self-censorship that aid groups routinely accept as the price for
being permitted to save lives in Darfur.

Our leaders still haven't found their voices, though. Congress has
even facilitated the genocide by lately cutting all funds for the
African Union peacekeepers in Darfur; we urgently need to persuade
Congress to restore that money.

So what will it take? Will President Bush and other leaders discover
some backbone if the killing spreads to Chad and the death toll
reaches 500,000? One million? God forbid, two million?

How much genocide is too much?

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