Return to hell

The Independent reports:

The conflict in Darfur has entered a violent and deadly new phase. Another “scorched earth” policy is being unleashed, reminiscent of the worst waves of government-backed violence that brought the Sudanese region to world attention five years ago and led the US to declare that what was happening there constituted genocide.

The brutal new onslaught is centred on western Darfur where clusters of villages have been aerially bombed and, in co-ordinated ground attacks, homes have been looted and burnt to the ground. Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed and tens of thousands forced to flee into neighbouring Chad.

“The tactics are exactly the same as those the government pursued right at the start of this conflict: aerial bombings, followed by sending in the militias to loot, kill and rape,” said one source in Sudan. “It is as ruthless as in 2003.”

Good news from Darfur

The L.A. Times reports:

At the peak of the Darfur crisis three years ago, health experts estimated that 6,000 to 10,000 people were losing their lives each month to disease, hunger and violence. Today, thanks to a drop in violence and improved healthcare, that figure is estimated at 100 to 600 a month, based on United Nations mortality estimates, news reports and interviews with U.N. officials, aid workers and Western diplomats.

(Hat tip to God’s Politics.)

Deadbeat nation

The U.S.’s chronic failure to pay its U.N. peacekeeping dues may have dire consequences. Recently, Sudan agreed to allow a 20,000-soldier U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur to stop a genocide that has killed at least 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million more. But the U.S.’s arrears is jeopardizing the deployment. The Guardian has the details.

The president has rightly referred to the tragedy in Darfur as genocide. If you think that the U.S. should put its money where its mouth is, then you might think about signing this petition.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend (sort of).

It seems that in spying on the insurgents in Iraq, the U.S. is getting help from Sudan, which is responsible for the tragedy in Darfur—the same tragedy that the U.S. president aptly describes as “genocide.” A story in the L.A. Times quotes an anonymous U.S. intelligence official: “Intelligence cooperation takes place for a whole lot of reasons. It’s not always between people who love each other deeply.”

In other news, humanitarian-aid workers in Darfur are still being shot at. For a profile in courage, check this item in the Christian Science Monitor. Here’s a taste:

“We can’t distribute food if we're being shot at, basically, but when you're feeding millions of people, failure is not an option and security is deteriorating,” says Simon Crittle, a spokesman for the World Food Program. “When you know who the rebels are, and who the government is, you can negotiate with them to get a food convoy through on a certain date. But when you don’t know who’s who, anyone can pull a gun and demand money, it makes it that much more dangerous.”

(Hat tip to God’s Politics for both items linked here.)

If it's really a genocide, then ...

An editorial from Commonweal says that it's fine to call what's happening in Darfur "genocide," but "the word 'genocide' is not enough; we must also accept and respond to the urgency such language implies."

The crisis [in Darfur] is no longer a local land dispute between Arab and non-Arab Muslims. It is systematic ethnic cleansing that threatens the stability of an entire region. The United States must use all its diplomatic resources to force Sudan's leaders into compliance with international law. But that may not be enough. If we are going to keep calling the violence there a genocide, we must be prepared to do whatever we can to stop it, even if this means using force. America’s military, already overcommitted in Iraq and Afghanistan, is in no position to undertake a unilateral intervention, but a small NATO force, with U.S. support, could push back the Janjaweed and establish a no-fly zone over Darfur. Recent events in Somalia have reminded us that the U.S. government is willing to involve itself in African conflicts when it thinks the stakes are high enough, and they could not be much higher than they are in Darfur. Now may seem like an especially bad time to propose yet another military operation, however modest. But if the new cease-fire fails to end the killing, who will tell the people of Darfur to keep waiting? They have been waiting, and we have been watching, for too long already.

So what are we waiting for?

War on the rescuers

Newsweek reports:

Last Sept. 11 was a momentous day in Darfur, too. After unidentified militiamen attacked aid workers from the Nobel Prize-winning Médecins sans Frontières at a roadblock on that date, most of the international aid groups ministering to Darfur's 6 million people stopped using the roads. On Dec. 18, in the southern town of Gereida, unrelated gunmen attacked the compounds of Oxfam and Action Contre la Faim. More than 70 aid workers subsequently pulled out of the refugee camp there—Darfur's largest, with 130,000 people—leaving only 10 Red Cross employees behind. Yet at the time no one revealed what had really sparked the dramatic pullbacks. In both cases, international staff, including three French aid workers, were either raped or sexually assaulted in territory controlled by the Sudanese government and its allies.

Rape as a weapon has become depressingly commonplace in Darfur, where 200,000 Africans have been killed and a third of the population have been sent fleeing into camps in three years of war. But the attacks on international aid workers herald a dramatic and dangerous new trend—the deliberate targeting of those helping to keep Darfur's millions of refugees alive....

Where's the outrage?


First the good news: 13 U.N. humanitarian agencies tell us that efforts to save lives have succeeded:

Over the last two years the efforts of humanitarian agencies in Darfur have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians caught up in the region's conflict. During this time mortality rates were brought below emergency levels, global malnutrition was halved from the height of the crisis in mid-2004 and nearly three-quarters of all Darfurians now have access to safe drinking water. In 2006 alone, 400,000 metric tons of food were delivered. In the face of growing insecurity and danger to communities and aid workers, the UN and its humanitarian partners have effectively been holding the line for the survival and protection of millions.

Now the bad news: the bad guys have figured out that they can kill their intended victims by targeting the relief workers.

Twelve relief workers have been killed in the past six months – more than in the previous two years combined. Their loss has had direct consequences on the Darfur humanitarian operations. The killing of three government water engineers in West Darfur in July 2006 led to a temporary suspension of water and sanitation activities in camps for IDPs. Nine workers from the same Government department were abducted in South Darfur in November 2006 – five are still missing.

In the last six months, 30 NGO and UN compounds were directly attacked by armed groups. More than 400 humanitarian workers have been forced to relocate 31 times from different locations throughout the three Darfur states, including from the capitals El Fasher and El Geneina and from rebel-controlled areas. Assets have been looted and staff threatened and physically harassed. In the town of Gereida (South Darfur), targeted attacks against six humanitarian compounds on 18 December forced the NGO staff to withdraw, seriously compromising the delivery of vital assistance such as food, clean water and health care for 130,000 displaced persons, the largest IDP gathering in all Darfur. Ten days earlier, in the town of Kutum (North Darfur), the staff of four NGOs and WFP were forced to withdraw to El Fasher, after an attack on a clearly marked humanitarian compound. These are but two examples of the types of incidents which have taken place throughout Darfur.

Jim Wallis suggests that the upcoming State of the Union Address gives Pres. Bush an opportunity to help:

We stressed the importance of making Darfur primary in the president's State of the Union address, with clear words about what we – and the world – will DO in the face of Sudanese intransigence. Deadlines have come and gone, with no real change. The State of the Union should mark the moment for the kind of commitment that is necessary to save Darfur. Next Tuesday, as President Bush delivers his speech, I will be listening for action. For God's sake, save Darfur.

To urge the president to take advantage of this opportunity, send him an e-mail.

Humanitarian aid isn't enough

Nick Kristof continues to remind us of what's going on in Darfur and Chad:

In diplomatic circles, the Sudanese government can be wonderfully polished as it scoffs at accusations of genocide and denounces calls for U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.

In isolated villages, everything is more straightforward — like the men in Sudanese military uniforms who on Tuesday captured Abdullah Idris, a 27-year-old father of two, in the fields as he was farming. They tried to shoot him in the chest, but the gun misfired.

"So they beat him to the ground," explained Osman Omar, a nephew of Mr. Abdullah who was one of several neighbors who recounted the events in the same way. "And then they used their bayonets to gouge out his eyes."

Mr. Abdullah lay on his back on a hospital bed, his eye sockets swathed in bandages soaked in blood and pus. A sister sat on the floor beside him, crying; his wife and small children stood nearby, looking overwhelmed and bewildered. He was so traumatized in the incident that he has been unable to speak since, but he constantly reaches out to hold the hands of his family members.

Three men and two women were killed in that attack by the janjaweed, the militias of Arab nomads that have been slaughtering black African farmers for more than three years now. A 26-year-old woman was kidnapped, and nobody has seen her since.

The janjaweed even explained themselves to the people they were attacking. Survivors quoted them as shouting racial epithets against blacks and yelling, “We are going to kill you, and we are going to take your land.”

Mr. Abdullah’s eyes were gouged out as part of a wave of recent attacks here in southeastern Chad. Officials from the U.N. refugee agency counted at least 220 people killed in the last week in this area near Goz Beida.


As I write this on my laptop, I’ve just returned from a long drive through abandoned countryside. The village of Tamajour was still smoldering after being burned by janjaweed attackers two days earlier.

I finally found some residents of Tamajour, clustered around the hospital of Goz Beida. Abdelkarim Zakaria, a 25-year-old man, lay in a bed with two bullets lodged in his back. Friends had carried him more than 20 miles to the hospital to save his life.

Outside the hospital, two old women from Tamajour lay on the ground, suffering from terrible burns. The women were too feeble to flee, and they said that the janjaweed fighters set fire to their huts even though they knew the women were inside. One woman, Gida Zakaria, who said she thought she was about 70, had a back that was just an ulcerating mass of raw flesh.

After more than three years of such brutality, it seems incredibly inadequate for the international community simply to hand out bandages when old women are roasted in their huts and young men have their eyes gouged out. What we need isn’t more bandages, but the will to stand up to genocide....

Don't let Congress and President Bush get away with offering platitudes and humanitarian aid. Someone needs to send in some troops. That someone should be the UN. If the UN fails, then NATO should intervene. If precedent is needed, then Serbia in 1999 is precedent. Every day that nothing happens is another day that people are brutalized.