What is being called the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster today is occurring in Sudan, 10 years after the genocide in nearby Rwanda.
Arab militias (the “Janjaweed”), backed by the Sudanese government, are carrying out deliberate mass murders, deportations, rapes and abductions of black Africans, belonging to the Fur, Massaalit and Zaghawa farming communities, in the western province of Darfur. Tens of thousands have died and more than 1 million people have been driven from their homes.
And, as in Rwanda before, the international community still has no effective means of stopping the violence, which is all part of a racially motivated ethnic cleansing campaign.
A cease-fire agreed to by Sudan’s government on April 8 has not ended the strafing and burning of villages and the destruction of irrigation systems and crops. Behind the attacks is both the desire of Arab herders to take over the black Africans’ land and the Khartoum government’s attempt to suppress demands for more resources and more power sharing for the impoverished Darfur region.
A senior American official predicts that 100,000 to 400,000 people will die in Darfur from starvation and disease if relief workers cannot reach those forcibly pushed into squalid camps where they remain subject to severe abuse. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President George W. Bush and other world leaders have issued appeals, but the government of Sudan continues to block humanitarian workers from reaching many of the men, women and children at risk.
Clearly, stronger measures will be needed if 10 years from now Darfur is not to become the object of regrets and apologies, just like Rwanda. The UN secretary-general has called for “swift” action, including military force as a last resort, should full access to Darfur be denied. But these words need to be backed up by enough diplomatic and political muscle to make the Khartoum government take notice.