An up-close view of brutality in Darfur

How would we react if Khartoum bombed our kids?

The brutality of the Khartoum regime's military actions in the Darfur region of western Sudan continually forces a question that seems to have no morally intelligible answer: Is there no act of civilian destruction so cruel, so savage, that the international community will finally respond vigorously and unambiguously?

On the afternoon of May 4, a market was bombed in the village of Shegeg Karo in North Darfur. The attack killed several people – including six students from a nearby school – and injured others. It also destroyed most of the shops in this vestige of a shattered agricultural economy.

The plane that dropped the bombs was an Antonov. It's not a bomber by design, but a retrofitted Russian cargo plane from which crude, shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs are simply rolled out the back cargo bay. There is no bombing guidance system, so Antonovs are useless as true military weapons. But they are exquisitely suited for their real purpose in Darfur: civilian terror.

Khartoum refuses to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the attacks, even as it refused to allow UN personnel to evacuate badly wounded children. But only Khartoum flies military aircraft in Darfur, so there can be very little doubt that the attacks were authorized by the military command of the National Islamic Front. As Human Rights Watch has conclusively demonstrated, Khartoum's chain of command – both military and civilian – is powerfully hierarchical. This was not the action of a rogue commander, but almost certainly an act of deliberate civilian destruction countenanced by senior officials.

Highly reliable sources report that the Antonov hovered over Shegeg Karo for a while before finally dropping its bomb load. There could have been no mistaking the civilian nature of the target.

This is hardly surprising. We have countless reports of similar bombing attacks in Darfur as well as during Sudan's earlier north/south conflict. Indeed, in southern Sudan, Khartoum repeatedly and deliberately attacked the sites of humanitarian operations.

This bombing attack, on a conspicuously civilian target, violates not only international law but a ban on all military flights in Darfur, nominally imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1591 in March 2005. Khartoum has shown nothing but contempt for both, and the international community has watched with nothing but idle words and unctuous hand-wringing – a fact not lost on the regime's génocidaires as they calculate the costs of their continuing campaign of civilian destruction.

Who are the victims of this international cowardice? Who suffers when the world refuses to demand justice of those who would deliberately kill children? Let's at least grant the dignity of names to the victims of this most recent barbarism:

Fatima Suleiman Adam Omar, 3rd grade, 10 years old

Fatima Ahmad Bashir, 2nd grade, 8 years old

Mubarak Mohammed Ahmad, 3rd grade, 10 years old

Yusuf Adam Hamid, kindergarten, 5 years old

•Munira Suleiman Adam, 2nd grade, 7 years old

Adam Ahmad Yusuf, 4th grade, 11 years old

How would Americans respond if terrorists acting on behalf of another country deliberately killed, with complete military impunity, six young children at one of our village markets? Outrage would bring the country to a halt. It would change the very nature of the presidential campaign. News coverage would be unending. Washington's response against the offending nation would be swift and destructive.

And yet in Darfur, an act all too analogous barely registers here. Darfur's victims are people whose lives have long since endured a ghastly moral discounting. These are not "our children," these are not "our problems," this is not "our responsibility."

The whole world should respond vigorously to a nation that barbarously bombs kindergartners such as Yusuf Adam Hamid. Instead, we lamely bow in deference to Sudan's "national sovereignty." Do we have the courage to accept the stark implications of our refusal to hold accountable those responsible for his death? The answer is painfully, disgracefully obvious.

[Editor's note: The original version relied on a report that has been corrected. The new report says the bombing was of a village market and occurred earlier than 4 p.m.]

Eric Reeves, a professor of English language and literature at Smith College, is the author of "A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide."

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