Friday, February 11, 2005

Politically-driven semantic games resulting in unchecked genocide

Last night, I attended an open lecture on the Whitworth campus concerning the genocide that is occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan and the hypocrisy of US foreign revealed by the apalling lack of American action concerning this situation. The lecture was delivered by Dr. Elnour Hamad, a naturalized American citizen who was born in northern Sudan, but was forced to flee due to political action he was associated with while residing in his homeland. Dr. Hamad currently teaches at Eastern Washington University in the area of art education and is a correspondent for the Sudanese newspaper Al-Adwaa.

While I do not intend to marginalize the suffering of the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein, the situation in Darfur is far more deserving of American attention, if, as our President tells the nation, the US is very concerned with "ending tyranny" and promoting democracy in addition to freedom abroad.

Since only 2004, the UN and humanitarian aid organizations estimate that up to 400,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the current civil war between the Sudan's People Liberation Army and the combined efforts of the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militia. Additionally, another 1.8 million people have been displaced from their homes due to the violence and destruction stemming from the civil war. This map (large PDF file) from the US statement illustrates the number of villages destroyed.

Since the civil war began in 1983, UNHCR estimates put the death toll at approximately 2 million, with 570,000 Sudanese refuguees fleeing their country and 3 to 4 million internally displaced.

These numbers clearly demonstrate that the severity of the war is escalating, as 20% of the total deaths occurred in the last 14 months of what has been a 22 year war.

However, due to political actions from some Western nations on the Security Council, UN forces have been prevented from intervening. Such actions bear shades of Rwanda and the genocide of Tutsi people that occurred there in 1994, which could have been halted had Western nations acted on their hollow promises to fight oppression. Instead, the UN was limited to sending a peace envoy to broker an agreement between the warring forces in Rwanda. The agreement was signed, but broken a day later. This led to the deaths of nearly 1,000,000 civilians at the hands of the Hutu Interahamwe militia, while the Rwandan military sat on its hands and did not intervene.

The situation in Sudan is uncannily similar, as the UN has been limited to attempts at peace agreements and government-supported militia has been responsible for most of the killing. The United States has been a key player in blocking more extensive operations in Sudan, as the US State Dept. has clearly demonstrated its intent not to become involved. Though the killings are obviously cases of genocide, UN studies undertaken by Western nations have described the situation as one of "ethnic cleansing" rather than genocide. Compare that to Rwanda, via this BBC article.

Ten years ago in public, the world's powers were struggling to decide whether Rwanda's massacres were genocide or war.

In reality, they already knew but did not want to get involved.

A few weeks into the crisis, a US defence department document marked "secret" said this: "Be careful, 'genocide' finding could commit the US government to actually do something."
This fear is corroborated with a poll done by PIPA-Knowledge Networks and reported on by the Washington Post.

A recent PIPA-Knowledge Networks poll of 892 Americans found that, if the United Nations were to determine that genocide is occurring in Darfur, 57 percent would favor foreign intervention, including American intervention, while only 32 percent would be opposed.
The heroic UN General Romeo Dollaire, the head of the UN peace envoy in Rwanda, believes history is repeating itself once again in the case of Sudan.

"Nobody feels the blood nor the sin of it all," said General Romeo Dallaire, former commander of a small United Nations force in Rwanda. He did not have the manpower or the orders to intervene.

He sees history repeating itself in Sudan and says intervention is already late.

"No-one wants to get involved again. The... casualties [are] still there and I think the most catastrophic affair is [that] there's nobody who's giving the UN the teeth to be able to do something tangible on the ground. And that, to me, is the scandal of it all."
The lack of attention for Sudan from the media is appalling. How many of these genocides must occur in Africa before the West decides it should take a pro-active approach in stopping them? How can the Bush claim to be concerned with ending tyranny and then manipulate UN reports to prevent public outcry? What is happening to our country, that we turn a blind eye to the deaths of 2 million civilians?

If any of you have not seen the film Hotel Rwanda yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. Without that film, my concern for the situation in Sudan would be nothing compared to what is currently.