The “Routine”Tragedy in the Sudan

Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League

People are dying in the Sudan.

No, that's not being precise.

People—men, women and children—are being murdered, raped and beaten, and facing starvation—in the Sudan for ethnic-related and other reasons.
In the last eighteen months, at least 30,000 people, primarily Africans, have been slain by the Arab armed militias known as the Janjaweed in the brutal civil war waged in the country's western region of Dafur between its nomadic Arab tribes and the rebel forces of African farm communities; some estimate that as many as 20,000 more have already died of starvation as a result of the conflict.

At least one million Sudanese Africans have fled to United Nations refugee camps, which are rapidly being overwhelmed by the need. The agency's food program says that in all at least 2.2 million people in Dafur urgently need food and other assistance to stave off starvation.
There is a strong suspicion in some quarters that the Janjaweed has the support of the Sudan's Arab government in the capital of Khartoum. The government denies the charge; but it has been notably unable to significantly rein in the Arab militias.

As the world's media has focused increasingly on the unfolding humanitarian crisis in the refugee camps, the governments of the world have bestirred themselves—to mostly talk of their intent to do something.
In early August, Nigeria and Rwanda jointly sent a token contingent of 300 troops to the camps to help safeguard emergency food and medical supplies from Janjaweed raiders, and the African Union is considering sending a larger force of 2,000 or so.

Such high-profile government officials as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and the G.O.P.'s Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, of Tennessee have all traveled to the camps and proposed ways to stop the violence and reduce the threat of starvation.
In July the Congress adopted a resolution which described the Janjaweed attacks as "genocide"—a politically powerful word that provides the rationale for international intervention in the country.

Western governments have pressed the African Union to take send a sizeable force of peacekeeping troops to police an end to the civil war that would, in turn, permit an easing of the food crisis.

The Union, apparently concerned about the precedent of its violating the national sovereignty of an African country, has thus far demurred.
Meanwhile, beneath the tangle of the concerns of statecraft and international diplomacy, people are dying in the Sudan.

Haven't we seen this before?

Haven't we been at this same place before: at the place where the man-made crisis has become known beyond its immediate locale, and where urgent cries for action seem to echo across the international landscape—and yet, the steps taken seem puny compared to the dimensions of the tragedy?

Yes, we have. The past decade or so, which began with the seemingly bright promise for world peace of the collapse of the Soviet Empire, on the one hand, and the destruction of apartheid in South Africa, on the other, has instead in significant measure become "a chronicle of barbarism"that has drenched in blood one country after another.

That particular phrase comes from a 1999 Washington Post dispatch on the efforts to fully account for the murderous "ethnic cleansing"the Serbian government practiced against ethnic Albanians in the 1990s war in the Balkans in which 200,000 people perished.

That horrific chapter of world history has yet to fully chronicled, of course, as we were reminded this past week, when the defiant former Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, opened his defense against charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes at the International Court at The Hague, Netherlands. That trial, which has already lasted more than two years, isn't expected to conclude until late next year.

And, of course, the international trial to bring to account those chiefly responsible for the genocide in Rwanda a decade ago, where 800,000 were slain, is still underway.

To merely list the "chronicles of barbarism"of the last decade alone, is, sadly, to show how "routine"the tragedy that has been unfolding in the Sudan is—and how shockingly thin humankind's veneer of civilization remains.

There may be little we can do about the latter.

But certainly, the last decade has shown the world's governments and the world's peoples that one of their major tasks for the present is defining—and being willing to act on—the rules and procedures that will make such "routine"tragedies as the one now engulfing millions in the Sudan rare.

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