Two months ago, a massive earthquake struck southwest China. This disaster left nearly 70,000 people dead. It also left indelible images, transmitted the world over, of parents desperately clawing through rubble to reach their buried children and of a nation in mourning.
For a period, citizens of the world united in sympathy for the Chinese people and their loss. Nations as well as individuals poured relief into the devastated region. Human rights advocates, including our own organizations, reduced public pressure on China regarding its role in Darfur, Sudan. It was the right thing to do.
But we can’t afford to hold back on China any longer. The stakes are simply too high.
Since 2003, up to 300,000 people have died and some 2.5 million others have been displaced as a result of the government of Sudan’s genocidal campaign in Darfur. More than any other country, China has been an “enabler” of the Sudanese government’s reign of terror, rape and killing. China is Sudan’s largest trading partner and the largest importer of Sudanese oil. Between 2004 and 2006, China supplied more than 90 percent of the small arms imports to Sudan–the very same weapons used to slaughter and displace innocent people.
China does so with the full knowledge that Khartoum continues to violate a United Nations arms embargo prohibiting the transfer of weapons into Darfur. And it continues to act as Sudan’s staunch ally on the UN Security Council, watering down resolutions intended to hold the Sudanese government accountable and threatening to veto any call for sanctions.
The economic, military and diplomatic ties between the two countries have perpetuated the genocide of the past five years. Since May, new violence has displaced tens of thousands more, and the humanitarian crisis has become even more dire.
An estimated 50,000 people were forced to abandon their homes in the border town of Abyei after fighting broke out in mid-May between Sudanese government forces and South Sudan ex-rebel forces. Last month Chadian rebels raided several towns in Chad, including one used as a base by aid agencies working in surrounding refugee camps.
Meanwhile, UN officials warn of a “perfect storm” of mounting violence, poor harvests and overcrowding in refugee camps that are contributing to a major food crisis in the region during a time when child malnutrition in the region already surpasses emergency levels. Since May, cereals, sugar and other essential rations have been sliced by 42 percent.
Today Darfur holds the unenviable distinction of hosting the world’s largest humanitarian operation. As essential and lifesaving as humanitarian aid is, it is a tourniquet for a wound that can only be healed with the intervention of a nation like China, which has unique and powerful leverage over the Sudanese government and the fate of Darfur’s people.
Which brings us to the Olympic Games.
Beijing’s theme for this year’s Games is “One World, One Dream.” According to the official website, this theme is meant to convey China’s commitment to “peaceful development, harmonious society and people’s happiness.”
We’ll state the obvious: China’s espousal of universal brotherhood flies in the face of its policies in Darfur. But China still has time to set things right. This is why advocates worldwide are urging China to take the following steps. First, immediately stop dealing small arms in Sudan. Providing these weapons only serves to arm many of the actors that are killing, raping, and maiming at will. Second, pressure Sudan to comply immediately with all existing UN Security Council resolutions, including the deployment of African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) forces to secure the region from the government-backed Janjaweed militia. Third, if Sudan does not change its behavior, China should refrain from vetoing UN sanctions against Sudan and its officials.
The Olympic Games are the premier platform for the world’s nations to come together. For a few brief, magical weeks, we set aside our differences in language, ethnicity and culture to celebrate humankind. But the Olympics have also historically been an opportunity to consider the injustices of our times and to renew efforts towards peace.
The Beijing Olympics provide another such opportunity. But it will take the conscience and actions of the world’s citizens to make it happen. This is why, three months after the earthquake, and less than one month away from the Games, China’s role in Sudan must be spotlighted.