OP-ED, by Samantha Power, The New York Times
New York, NY, Tuesday, April 6, 2004
Ten years ago this week, Rwandan Hutu extremists embarked on a genocidal
campaign in which they murdered some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus - a
genocide more efficient than that of the Nazis.
Graphic by Joseph Hart
(Click on image to enlarge it)
On this anniversary, Western and United Nations leaders are expressing their
remorse and pledging their resolve to prevent future humanitarian
catastrophes. But as they do so, the Sudanese government is teaming up with
Arab Muslim militias in a campaign of ethnic slaughter and deportation that
has already left nearly a million Africans displaced and more than 30,000
dead. Again, the United States and its allies are bystanders to slaughter,
seemingly no more prepared to prevent genocide than they were a decade ago.
The horrors in the Darfur region of Sudan are not "like" Rwanda, any more
than those in Rwanda were "like" those ordered by Hitler. The Arab-dominated
government in Khartoum has armed nomadic Arab herdsmen, or Janjaweed,
against rival African tribes. The government is using aerial bombardment to
strafe villages and terrorize civilians into flight. And it is denying
humanitarian access to some 700,000 people who are trapped in Darfur.
The Arab Muslim marauders and their government sponsors do not yet seem
intent on exterminating every last African Muslim in their midst. But they
do seem determined to wipe out black life in the region. The only difference
between Rwanda and Darfur, said Mukesh Kapila, the former United Nations'
humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, "is the numbers of dead, murdered,
A radio exchange between a Sudanese ground commander and a pilot overhead
(taped by a British journalist in February) captures the aims of the
Commander: We've found people still in the village.
Pilot: Are they with us or against us?
Commander: They say they will work with us.
Pilot: They're liars. Don't trust them. Get rid of them.
Pilot: Now the village is empty and secure for you. Any village you pass
through you must burn. That way, when the villagers come back they'll have a
surprise waiting for them.
The lessons of Rwanda are many. The first is that those intent on wiping out
an inconvenient minority have a habit of denying journalists and aid workers
access and of pursuing bad-faith negotiations. Thus far the Sudanese
government has pursued both approaches, and Western officials have been far
too trusting of their assurances.
A second lesson is that outside powers cannot wait for confirmation of
genocide before they act. In 1994 the Clinton administration spent more time
maneuvering to avoid using the term "genocide" than it did using its
resources to save lives. In May 1994, an internal Pentagon memo warned
against using the term "genocide" because it could commit the United States
"to actually do something." In the case of Sudan, American officials need
not focus on whether the killings meet the definition of genocide set by the
1948 Genocide Convention; they should focus instead on trying to stop them.
A third lesson is that even when the United States decides not to respond
militarily, American leadership is indispensable. This is especially true
because Europe continues to avoid intervening in violent humanitarian
crises. And it remains true despite the Bush administration's unpopularity
abroad. The United States often takes an all-or-nothing approach: if it
doesn't send troops, it tends to foreclose other policy options.
In Sudan, this tendency has been compounded by the administration's
reluctance to risk undermining the peace process it has spearheaded between
Sudan's government and the rebels in the south. While President Bush is
understandably eager to show he can make peace as well as war, he must stand
up to Sudan's government during these difficult negotiations.
After all, regimes that resort to ethnic killing and deportation as a tool
of statecraft rarely keep their word. An important predictor of Sudan's
reliability as an ally in the war on terrorism and as a party to the
American-brokered peace accord is its treatment of African Muslims in
What would standing up to Sudan entail? The administration has several
On the economic and diplomatic front, the United States has already
demonstrated its clout in Sudan, which is desperate to see American
lifted. So far, Secretary of State Colin Powell has rightly described the
humanitarian crisis as a "catastrophe." But the White House and the Pentagon
have been mostly mute.
President Bush must use American leverage to demand that the government in
Khartoum cease its aerial attacks, terminate its arms supplies to the
Janjaweed and punish those militia accused of looting, rape and murder. The
president made a phone call last week to Sudan's president, Omar Hassan
Ahmed al-Bashir, but one ritual conversation hardly counts as pressure. Mr.
Bush should keep calling until humanitarian workers and investigators are
permitted free movement in the region, a no-fly zone is declared and the
killings are stopped, and he should dispatch Mr. Powell to the Chad-Sudan
border to signal America's resolve.
The Bush administration can't do this alone. Ten thousand international
peacekeepers are needed in Darfur. President Bush will have to press Sudan
to agree to a United Nations mission - and he will also need United Nations
member states to sign on. The Europeans can help by urging the Security
Council to refer the killings to the newly created International Criminal
Court. Though the United States has been hostile to the court, this is one
move it should not veto, as an investigation by the court could deter future
President Clinton has said that one of the greatest mistakes of his
presidency was not doing more to prevent the Rwandan genocide. When he
visited Rwanda in 1998, he tried to explain America's failure to respond:
"It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost
members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me
sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate
the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this
Today, roughly 1,000 miles north of Rwanda, tens of thousands of Africans
are herded onto death marches, and Western leaders are again sitting in
offices. How sad it is that it doesn't even seem strange.
Samantha Power is the author of "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of
Genocide," which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.
The New York Times, New York, NY, Tuesday, April 6, 2004
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