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Genocide in Darfur | The Nation

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Genocide in Darfur

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Ten years after Rwanda, a genocide is unfolding again while the world watches and refuses to say its name. The failure of the United States and the international community to act in Rwanda a decade ago cost 800,000 lives. Now, up to 1 million people face a similar fate in Darfur, western Sudan, as a result of an ongoing government campaign to destroy a portion of its population. What is happening in Darfur is genocide, and must be called that. The term "genocide" not only captures the fundamental characteristics of the Khartoum government's intent and actions, it also invokes clear international obligations.

Africa Action has launched a petition, supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, that calls on Secretary of State Colin Powell to name the genocide in Darfur and to support immediate intervention to stop the killing.

About the Author

Ann-Louise Colgan
Ann-Louise Colgan is assistant director for policy analysis and communications at Africa Action, the oldest Africa...
Salih Booker
Salih Booker is executive director of Africa Action, the oldest US-based advocacy group on African affairs,...

Also by the Author

The Africa trip of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Irish rock star
Bono produced a bumper harvest of photo ops and articles about aid to
Africa. Unfortunately, media coverage was mired in the perennial and
stale aid debate: Should we give more? Does it work?

If the O'Neill-Bono safari resulted in Washington finally paying more of
its proper share for global health, education and clean water, that
would be cause for applause. But any real change requires shifting the
terms of debate. Indeed, the term "aid" itself carries the patronizing
connotation of charity and a division of the world into "donors" and
"recipients."

At the late June meeting in Canada of the rich countries known as the
G8, aid to Africa will be high on the agenda. But behind the rhetoric,
there is little new money--as evidenced by the just-announced paltry sum
of US funding for AIDS--and even less new thinking. Despite the new
mantra of "partnership," the current aid system, in which agencies like
the World Bank and the US Treasury decide what is good for the poor,
reflects the system of global apartheid that is itself the problem.

There is an urgent need to pay for such global public needs as the
battles against AIDS and poverty by increasing the flow of real
resources from rich to poor. But the old rationales and the old aid
system will not do. Granted, some individuals and programs within that
system make real contributions. But they are undermined by the negative
effects of top-down aid and the policies imposed with it.

For a real partnership, the concept of "aid" should be replaced by a
common obligation to finance international public investment for common
needs. Rich countries should pay their fair share based on their
privileged place in the world economy. At the global level, just as
within societies, stacked economic rules unjustly reward some and punish
others, making compensatory public action essential. Reparations to
repair the damage from five centuries of exploitation, racism and
violence are long overdue. Even for those who dismiss such reasoning as
moralizing, the argument of self-interest should be enough. There will
be no security for the rich unless the fruits of the global economy are
shared more equitably.

As former World Bank official Joseph Stiglitz recently remarked in the
New York Review of Books, it is "a peculiar world, in which the
poor countries are in effect subsidizing the richest country, which
happens, at the same time, to be among the stingiest in giving
assistance in the world."

One prerequisite for new thinking about questions like "Does aid work?"
is a correct definition of the term itself. Funds from US Agency for
International Development, or the World Bank often go not for economic
development but to prop up clients, dispose of agricultural surpluses,
impose right-wing economic policies mislabeled "reform" or simply to
recycle old debts. Why should money transfers like these be counted as
aid? This kind of "aid" undermines development and promotes repression
and violence in poor countries.

Money aimed at reaching agreed development goals like health, education
and agricultural development could more accurately be called
"international public investment." Of course, such investment should be
monitored to make sure that it achieves results and is not mismanaged or
siphoned off by corrupt officials. But mechanisms to do this must break
with the vertical donor-recipient dichotomy. Monitoring should not be
monopolized by the US Treasury or the World Bank. Instead, the primary
responsibility should be lodged with vigilant elected representatives,
civil society and media in countries where the money is spent, aided by
greater transparency among the "development partners."

One well-established example of what is possible is the UN's Capital
Development Fund, which is highly rated for its effective support for
local public investment backed by participatory governance. Another is
the new Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria, which has
already demonstrated the potential for opening up decision-making to
public scrutiny. Its governing board includes both "donor" and
"recipient" countries, as well as representatives of affected groups. A
lively online debate among activists feeds into the official
discussions.

Funding for agencies like these is now by "voluntary" donor
contributions. This must change. Transfers from rich to poor should be
institutionalized within what should ultimately be a redistributive tax
system that functions across national boundaries, like payments within
the European Union.

There is no immediate prospect for applying such a system worldwide.
Activists can make a start, however, by setting up standards that rich
countries should meet. AIDS activists, for example, have calculated the
fair contribution each country should make to the Global AIDS Fund (see
www.aidspan.org).

Initiatives like the Global AIDS Fund show that alternatives are
possible. Procedures for defining objectives and reviewing results
should be built from the bottom up and opened up to democratic scrutiny.
Instead of abstract debates about whether "aid" works, rich countries
should come up with the money now for real needs. That's not "aid," it's
just a common-sense public investment.

The war on terror is threatening to overshadow a far more deadly threat—the AIDS epidemic.

Yet, as horrifying reports continue to emerge, and as a humanitarian emergency grows, there is no indication that the United States or the United Nations is prepared to intervene--despite promises of "never again" and explicit obligations under the 1948 Convention on Genocide. For more than a year, the Khartoum government has systematically obstructed access to Darfur and blocked international efforts to establish a relief program. More recently, it has failed to honor the cease-fire it signed in April. As a result, Darfur now faces the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with 30,000 people already killed and more than a million internally displaced. International aid agencies say that even if humanitarian relief arrives now, 350,000 people may still die.

Sudan, geographically Africa's largest country, has experienced civil war with only a ten-year pause since independence in 1956. More than 2 million people have been killed and twice that many displaced in the long-running war between successive governments of the north and peoples of the south. Recent progress toward peace has brought hope that this troubled history will finally come to a close, but the growing crisis in Darfur, which began last year, casts a dark shadow. In Darfur, the Sudanese government is destroying African Muslim communities because some among them have challenged Khartoum's authoritarian rule. As in the conflict between north and south, in Darfur ethnic and racial identities have also been part of the conflict. But at its heart is a repressive minority Arab-centric regime in Khartoum that rules by force, cannot even claim to represent a majority of northerners and has relied on religious fundamentalism to maintain its power.

Ironically, the international community's unwillingness to intervene results--at least in part--from concern that a fragile peace deal between north and south will be jeopardized. Across several administrations, the United States has been involved in promoting peace in Sudan, and the Bush Administration is eager to claim credit for its diplomatic efforts. But as long as the Sudanese government is waging a genocidal war in Darfur, the United States cannot pretend that a meaningful peace deal can be achieved. The Administration had hoped that such an agreement would allow it to lift sanctions on Sudan. This, in turn, would permit US oil companies to pursue a share of the country's recently developed oil wealth. Such interests, however, cannot be allowed to compromise a larger moral obligation.

As parties to the Genocide Convention, all permanent members of the UN Security Council, including the United States and more than 130 countries worldwide, are bound to prevent and punish genocide. The convention names genocide as a crime in international law, describing it as the commission of acts with "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

The Security Council continues to hesitate on Darfur, largely because of the economic and diplomatic interests of its permanent members, who don't wish to antagonize Khartoum. Whether the UN can be spurred to action will depend largely on the United States, and Washington has an obligation to act. One reason is its treaty obligations under the Genocide Convention. Another is its involvement in Sudan's peace process, supported by an eclectic domestic constituency, including groups ranging from the evangelical right to the Congressional Black Caucus. A third is the unique US intelligence capacity to track militia activity in Darfur as well as the movements of the displaced. Finally, it has 1,800 troops in nearby Djibouti, some of whom could be mobilized quickly to lead a multinational force to secure the region, to facilitate humanitarian assistance and to enforce the cease-fire until a UN peacekeeping force can be assembled.

When George W. Bush hosted the G-8 summit in June, the leaders of the world's richest and most powerful countries merely urged the government of Sudan to disarm the militias. Were this tragedy unfolding in Europe, their summit would have focused on little other than intervention. Unless there is an immediate military intervention in Darfur, up to a million people could die this year. We should have learned from Rwanda that to stop genocide, Washington must first say the word.

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