“Never Again” Means Never Again…or Does It?

Michelle West

Many people out there may have heard about the events that have transpired in the northeastern African country of Sudan. What strikes me more, however, is the vast numbers of people, most notably on Colgate’s campus, who are unaware of the genocide that is occurring even now in Darfur. I would guess that virtually everyone on this campus knows about the Rwandan genocide; what we need to realize is that it’s happening again, today. The world was horrified, outraged, proclaiming loudly “Never again!” What happened?Some basic background information concerning the current situation seems necessary at this point. For years, there were sporadic clashes in rural parts of the country between nomadic groups and farming communities; the government, as has been the case with many governments historically, took very little if any action to intervene in this rural violence. In 2003, militias began to form in these rural areas as a result of the government’s lack of involvement and efforts in the marginalized, rural parts of the country. The government responded by allowing free reign to an Arab militia named the Janjawid (or Janjaweed) which began to burn, destroy, and plunder villages and rape, torture, and kill villagers. The government also often coordinated government attacks with the Janjawid raids, bombing villages and providing the Janjawid with uniforms.The casualty counts resulting from this crisis depend on how they are assessed; the numbers cannot be completely certain either because it is likely people that have been killed without being counted. However, one assessment is that over the past 21 years of conflict, more than 2 million have died and more than 6 million have been forced to flee their homes, many to neighboring Chad, and the death count since only 2003 is at least 180,000. The refugees are often beyond humanitarian aid, especially when the aid workers are arrested or detained as they try to alleviate the situation. This means that even the lucky ones who manage to escape attacks on their villages are often victims to the starvation, malnutrition, and countless diseases that ravage the refugee camps.Most recently, a ceasefire agreement was signed between the militias and the Sudanese government. The agreement lists human rights and allows for a new government to be formed from the preexisting one and the militia groups. However, simply listing human rights is ineffective if human rights violations continue to occur, and the peace agreement has not ended the violence in Darfur. The government is reluctant to recognize that violence continues because it would fly in the face of the claims of the peace agreement. The world realizes that there is a crisis in Darfur, the US government even declared that the situation is a “genocide.” Still, the violence continues and not a single perpetrator has been brought to trial for war crimes.If protecting the rights of citizens or saving people from oppressive regimes can be a sufficient post-war rationale for sending our troops to war, why is it not sufficient rationale for using America’s influence to improve the situation in Darfur? I am not suggesting that the United States should unilaterally send troops to Sudan and set up a military regime; however, passing a resolution declaring that the situation in Darfur qualifies as genocide and then doing nothing is a worthless gesture. The United States needs to work with the rest of the international community to lead the world in acting on this important issue. This means allowing the International Criminal Court (ICC) to do its job and try the war criminals responsible, encouraging an arms embargo against the Sudanese government, which is supplying the tools for genocide, and supporting a larger troop deployment to Darfur by the African Union. The United States needs to show its leadership power by working with the Security Council and the UN in general in order to bring about change in Sudan, rather than working against it by refusing to allow the ICC to try criminals.The following is a direct quote from President Bush’s 2005 inaugural address, and it’s about time that he and the rest of the US government lived up to it: “America’s influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America’s influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom’s cause…All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or ignore your oppressors.”America should lead the world in demonstrating for once that the African continent is not of minor importance. Atrocities that occur there should not be passed off as “just typical savage tribal warfare that happens all the time.” The world should for once act in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that no one should be treated as too unimportant to be guaranteed human rights. Amnesty International is holding a two week awareness campaign for this issue, attempting to ensure that students know not only where Darfur is located but also the atrocities that continue to occur there. This is an important issue. It may be that Colgate tends to be a “bubble,” preferring not to consider issues that are beyond the scope of the campus. I of course do not advocate ignoring issues that are closer to home, but there is no reason why every Colgate student must be so busy that he or she is unable to even think about people being massacred in this African country. Please take a moment to think about these innocent victims, and even more, please take the time to at least sign a petition or a letter to show that these people are worth our attention and our time.