In Sudan's Darfur: action, not just aid
The Sudanese government's genocidal campaign to expunge African tribes from its western provinces ripples with impunity. More than 1 million people have been uprooted from their homes, 30,000 have been killed, women have been systematically raped, children kidnapped to be used as slaves, farms burned, villages looted, and water sources contaminated with decomposing corpses. The brutality punctuates the unmistakable message: Don't come back.Skip to next paragraph
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The situation is going to get worse. The approaching rainy season threatens to strand large numbers of the displaced without access to food, medical supplies, and other basic necessities in a barren land soon to be an impassable slop. Aid agencies estimate that 350,000 to 1 million people could die from starvation and disease, conveniently advancing the government's aims while masking culpability - a technique Khartoum has perfected from its decades-long conflict in the south. Besides, time is on the unelected government's side: A prolonged displacement of black Africansprovides the opening for Darfur to be Arabized, as nomadic Arab tribes move into the area.
Obviously, there is cause for international action. But let's be clear about the goal: This crisis is entirely politically generated - and demands a political solution.
Much effort has focused on getting emergency supplies to refugees in the desolate border area with Chad. While meritorious, this is, in effect, treating the symptom. The objective of international engagement on Darfur should be to get the displaced back home - immediately. An early return provides them with a better chance of survival. It gives them access to their salvageable crops, wild foods, jobs, and repairable water and sanitation systems; traditional social and trading networks can also be recreated. Extended exposure to the overcrowded, unhygienic, and insecure conditions in centers for refugees and displaced persons is a recipe for death and despair - not to mention a Herculean challenge for humanitarian organizations. Moreover, once Arab settlers have moved in, resolution becomes far more difficult.
The US and other international actors have called on Sudan to rein in the Arab "Janjaweed" militias responsible and to provide security for the displaced. This is the political equivalent of imploring the fox to guard the henhouse. The Sudanese government has been directly involved in the killings. And it has a long history of sponsoring local militias to destabilize regions of the country and, for that matter, neighboring African countries, with which it is at odds. This "outsourcing" of military operations provides the government a low-cost and plausibly deniable device for advancing its political aims. Counting on the government to ensure the security of a population it wants to exterminate is reminiscent of recent government-sponsored pogroms in Kosovo, Kurdish northern Iraq after the Gulf War, and East Timor.
The upshot: by the predatory and abusive violation of its citizens, the dictatorial government of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, like those of Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, has relinquished its claims of sovereignty in Darfur.
So international efforts should aim at compelling the government to vacate the region, making Darfur a UN protectorate for the moment. A "no-fly zone" should be declared for the region. World leaders have done this in other cases of forced mass displacement - and a less vigorous response in Sudan raises questions of why they turn a blind eye to genocide only in Africa.