Five years after the government-backed militias of Western Sudan began their assault on the civilians of Darfur, the villages are still burning. The world’s message to the displaced, destitute and dying people of the region hasn’t changed much either: “Help is on the way,” they’re told. But while the world pays lip service to the idea of finding a solution, the situation worsens. If no changes are made, international efforts could soon become futile gestures in a growing maelstrom of destruction. Five years later, we face our last decent chance to end the genocide in Darfur. Will we step up to the plate?
Let’s hope so. Because even in a world filled with evil and suffering, genocide is especially worthy of our close attention, though we rarely step back to consider why. The reason isn’t — or shouldn’t be — the mere scale of the suffering involved. Relatively, while 200,000 civilians have died at the hands of the Janjaweed militia and Sudanese army in Darfur, over a million people die of malaria each year. The numbers are incomparable. The greater tragedy of genocide over disease is that its perpetrators are as human as its sufferers. The oppressors become invariably swept up in a contagious and toxic moral climate that trivializes the worth of human life. On a frightening scale, genocide exploits the worst aspects of humanity.
If we’re going to fight the genocide in Darfur, we have to do it soon, as our opportunity to make a difference may soon draw to an end. Over the past several weeks, the violence has risen to its highest level since 2004. The government in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, seeks international support for escalating its bombing raids by claiming that they are continuing to fight rebel groups vying for control of the area. In reality, the chaos caused by the bombings simply paves the way for local militias to ravage villages.
Diplomats and humanitarian workers fear that the situation is taking a massive turn for the worse. In a recent column, Nikolas Kristof of the New York Times warned that Darfur could be a mere prelude to an even larger bloodbath in southern Sudan. “One of the lessons of Darfur, Rwanda, and Bosnia is that it is much easier to avert a genocide ahead of time than to put the pieces together afterward.” We lost our initial chance in Darfur and will, as a result, be faced with putting the pieces back together. Nevertheless, we still have the chance to send a message to the Sudanese government that could both curb the violence in Darfur and prevent it from boiling over into the rest of the country.
And with the Olympics in Beijing fast approaching, the next few months will be the most opportune time to get that message across. China, Sudan’s biggest trading partner, holds enormous sway over the government in Khartoum. With China’s support, Khartoum has successfully rendered past peacekeeping missions ineffective. But while China has responded to domestic human rights concerns by tightening its grip, suppressing uprisings in Tibet and dissidence on all fronts, it has taken small steps toward mitigating its unconditional support for Sudan. China approved a new U.N. peacekeeping force, and in the first act of its kind sent a special envoy to the region. Now with Khartoum stonewalling over the entry of non-African forces, international pressure — on Sudan, and on China — is needed to move the intervention along.
For now we can hold out hope that shaming China, through statements or threats from athletes and politicians, will trigger a chain reaction. By urging our representatives to speak out, we can make a difference. By supporting the decisions of those like Steven Spielberg, who recently quit as the artistic advisor of the Olympics because of Darfur, we can bring about change. As human beings, we have a responsibility to care. As a nation, it’s the least we can do for a people who have been waiting for help so long for our help.
Sam Post is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.