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On genocide and 'organ theft'.

September 9, 2009

Misinterpreting the genocide in Darfur

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Marc Gustafson's op-ed on Aug. 19, "The 'genocide' in Darfur isn't what it seems," is misleading.

His most distorted claim is that activist pressure somehow cost lives in Darfur by diverting US government funding away from humanitarian assistance for displaced Darfuris and toward civilian protection. But even his own numbers show that US appropriations for humanitarian assistance in Darfur increased by more than 20 percent in the time period he references.

Indeed, the US government's annual financial assistance for humanitarian aid in Darfur has been one of the only things that has consistently gone right in the world's reaction to this ongoing crisis, providing funding at or near the targets set by relief organizations.

Save Darfur's efforts to spotlight what was clearly an unmet need for peacekeeping and civilian protection in Darfur did not diminish the allocation for humanitarian aid, both because that's not the way the system works and because that was never the intent.

Quite the opposite, the intent was to push for the creation of a stronger and fully funded peacekeeping force to complement the humanitarian lifeline already in place. And that's exactly what happened – the United States provided additional funds for the struggling undersized African Union peacekeeping force, pushed for the creation of the hybrid United Nations-AU force, and then provided additional funding to help field that larger force. All of these funds were additional to the US's strong financial commitment to funding humanitarian aid in Darfur, not in conflict with that commitment.

Though spending on civilian protection did increase in part because of our advocacy, as Mr. Gustafson notes, it has been necessary.

The UN Security Council authorized the AU-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in July 2007, because an under-resourced, outgunned AU protection force was on the verge of collapse. The AU force had neither the experience, the infrastructure, nor the stable funding support necessary to run a mission in Darfur. That such a mission was undertaken at all is a testament to just how violent a place Darfur remains, and just how critical civilian protection is to stability in Darfur.

Darfur's recent history is littered with failed cease-fires, and the April 2004 N'Djamena cease-fire agreement is sadly just another example. Were it in fact as successful as Gustafson claims, one wonders why new cease-fires were deemed necessary in subsequent years.

Civilians are not safe; in particular, rape remains endemic. And that lack of security is also a major problem for the humanitarian operations on which 2.7 million displaced Darfuris and another 1.3 million "conflict affected" civilians depend in order to survive.