Raising the Political Will to Confront Crimes Against Humanity
Preventing genocide and other mass atrocities is a challenge made all the more difficult by a lack of public concern, media coverage, and effective response, especially to events in Africa. Crimes against humanity on that continent are largely ignored or treated as part of the continents political inheritance, more so than in Asia or Europe. The genocide in Darfur is competing for international action with human rights emergencies in Congo, Somalia, and northern Ugandaconflicts that along with southern Sudan have left over 6 million deadbut the international response to these atrocities rarely goes beyond military observation missions and humanitarian relief efforts, which are insufficient Band-Aids.
Crises like these need the immediate attention of a new constituency focused on preventing and confronting genocide and other crimes against humanity. Of these four conflicts, only Darfur has generated sustained media and public attention. Images of innocent Darfurian civiliansmen, women, and childrenhounded from their homes by ravaging militia have triggered significant activism on the part of Americans and citizens around the world. But these public expressions have not, by the time of this writing, at the end of 2006, yielded a sufficient international response. The United States government has yet to take bold action to protect the victims, build a viable peace process, and hold those responsible for this genocide accountable.
There is some positive momentum building. At the United Nations World Summit in 2005, member nations agreed to a doctrine called the Responsibility to Protect, or R2P. R2P states that when a government is unable or unwilling, as is the case with Sudan, to protect its citizens from mass atrocities, the international community must take that responsibility. We believe that this doctrine, developed by a high-level panel cochaired by Gareth Evans (the president of the International Crisis Group, where John works) and Mohamed Sahnoun (former Algerian diplomat and UN special advisor) commits us all, as individuals and nations, to do our part to fulfill that responsibility.
During our visit to Darfur and the Darfurian refugee camps in Chad, we heard story after story of mind-numbing violence perpetrated by the Sudanese government army and the Janjaweed militias they support. We heard of women being gang-raped, children being thrown into fires, villages and communities that had existed for centuries being burned to the ground in an effort to wipe out the livelihoods and even the history of those communities. We heard things that simply should not be happening in the twenty-first century.
In one of the refugee camps in Chad in 2005, we met Fatima, forty-two, who described how she had to escape her village of Girgira in western Darfur after her mother, husband, and five children were all killed by the Janjaweed militias. She said she feared the government would kill her as well. In desperation, she walked for seven days to a refugee camp. She couldnt walk during daytime hours because of the Janjaweed gangs. She hid under trees and plants. Despite all this, she wanted to return home, but she wanted to be sure it was safe. Having lost everything, she no longer trusted anyone, even the African Union troops deployed in Darfur.
Omda Yahya, a tribal leader we talked with from Tine, also saw all his children die in a violent raid on his town and in the subsequent escape to safety. His town, he says, was attacked by men on horseback, planes dropping bombs, and armies on foot. He fled with many of his tribe, and after more than fifteen days of walking without food or drink, they arrived at a refugee camp. We lost our village. They burned it. If we get all our possessions back, then after that we can go back. But now we dont think it is safe to go back.
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