Before the genocide, Darfur was one of the poorest regions of Sudan, and the Saharan climate made eking out a living an extreme challenge. But these difficulties only made Darfurians hardier and more self-reliant, mixing farming and livestock rearing in a complex strategy of survival that involved migration, intercommunal trade, and resource sharing.
It had been over a year since the genocide began, so Samantha and I expected certain evidence of mass destruction. And we were indeed witness to burned villages where livestock, homes, and grain stocks had been utterly destroyed, confirming stories we had heard from Darfurians at refugee camps in Chad.
Yet no amount of time in Sudan or work on genocide ever prepares anyone sufficiently for what Samantha and I saw in a ravine deep in the Darfur desertbodies of nearly two dozen young men lined up in ditches, eerily preserved by the 130-degree desert heat. One month before, they had been civilians, forced to walk up a hill to be executed by Sudanese government forces. Harrowingly, this scene was repeated throughout the targeted areas of Darfur.
We heard more refugees in Chad describe family and friends being stuffed into wells by the Janjaweed in a twisted and successful attempt to poison the water supply. When we searched for these wells in Darfur, we found them in the exact locations described. The only difference was now these wells were covered in sand in an effort to cover the perpetrators bloody tracks. With each subsequent trip to Darfur, I have found the sands of the Saharan Desert slowly swallowing more of the evidence of the twenty-first centurys first genocide.
To us, Darfur has been Rwanda in slow motion. Perhaps 400,000 have died during three and a half years of slaughter, over two and a quarter million have been rendered homeless, and, in a particularly gruesome subplot, thousands of women have been systematically raped. During 2006, the genocide began to metastasize, spreading across the border into Chad, where Chadian villagers (and Darfurian refugees) have been butchered and even more women raped by marauding militias supported by the Sudanese government.
Sadly, the international response has also unfolded in slow motion. With crimes against humanity like the genocide in Darfur, the caring world is inevitably in a deadly race with time to save and protect as many lives as possible. In the fall of 2004, after his visit to Sudan, Secretary Powell officially invoked the term genocide.* He was followed shortly thereafter by President Bush.* This represented the first time an ongoing genocide was called its rightful name by a sitting U.S. president. And yet in Darfur, as in most of these crises, the international community, including the United States, responded principally by calling for cease-fires and sending humanitarian aid. These are important gestures to be sure, but they do not stop the killing.
We believe it is our collective responsibility to re-sanctify the sacred post-Holocaust phrase Never Againto make it something meaningful and vital. Not just for the genocide that is unfolding today in Darfur, but also for the next attempted genocide or cases of mass atrocities.
And there are other cases, to be sure.
Right now, we need to do all we can for the people of northern Uganda, of Somalia, and of Congo. Though genocide is not being perpetrated in these countries, horrible abuses of human rights are occurring, in some ways comparable to those in Darfur. Militias are targeting civilians, rape is used as a tool of war, and life-saving aid is obstructed or stolen by warring parties. Furthermore, by the time you pick up this book, another part of the world could have caught on fire, and crimes against humanity may be being perpetrated. We need to do all we can to organize ourselves to uphold international human rights law and to prevent these most heinous crimes from ever occurring.
Excerpted from NOT ON OUR WATCH by Don Cheadle and John Prendergast. Copyright 2007 Don Cheadle and John Prendergast. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.
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