Saturday, June 26, 2004
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
ALONG THE SUDAN-CHAD BORDER The ongoing genocide in Darfur is finally,
fortunately, making us uncomfortable. At this rate, with only 250,000 more
deaths it will achieve the gravitas of the Laci Peterson case.
Hats off to Colin Powell and Kofi Annan, who are both traveling in the
next few days to Darfur. But the world has dithered for months already.
Unless those trips signal a new resolve, many of the Darfur children I've
been writing about over the last few months will have survived the
Janjaweed militia only to die now of hunger or diarrhea.
I've had e-mail from readers who are horrified by the slaughter, but who
also feel that Africa is always a mess and that there's not much we can
do. So let me address the cynics.
Look, I'm sure it's terrible in Darfur. But lots of places are horrific,
and we can't help everyone. Why obsess about Sudan?
The U.N. describes Darfur as the No. 1 humanitarian crisis in the world
today. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that at
best 320,000 more people will still die of hunger and disease this year
or significantly more if we continue to do nothing.
Moreover, apart from our obligation to act under the Genocide Convention,
acquiescence only encourages more genocide hence the question attributed
to Hitler, "Who today remembers the Armenian extermination?"
Haven't we invaded enough Muslim countries?
The U.S. is not going to invade Sudan. That's not a plausible option.
But we can pass a tough U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing
troops, as well as more support for African peacekeepers. If Germany,
France and Spain don't want to send troops to Iraq, then let them deploy
in Darfur. And we must publicly condemn the genocide.
What good is a speech in the U.N.? Why would Sudan listen?
Governments tend to be embarrassed about exterminating minorities. In
Sudan, a bit of publicity about Darfur coupled with a written statement
from President Bush led Sudan to agree to a cease-fire in April and to
improve access for aid agencies. More publicity prompted it to promise to
disband the Janjaweed raiders.
Sudan lies and wriggles out of its promises, but its genocide is still
calibrated to the international reaction. Likewise, it is still denying
visas and blocking supplies for emergency relief, but pressure has led it
to improve access.
So, Mr. Bush, if a single written statement will do so much good, why
won't you let the word "Darfur" pass your lips? Why the passivity in the
face of evil? You could save tens of thousands of lives by making a
forceful speech about Darfur. Conversely, your refusal to do so is costing
tens of thousands of lives.
If the Sudanese were notorious pirates of American videotapes, if they
were sheltering Mullah Omar, you'd be all over them. So why not stand up
just as forcefully to genocide?
Mr. Bush seems proud of his "moral clarity," his willingness to recognize
evil and bluntly describe it as such. Well, Darfur reeks of evil, and we
are allowing it to continue.
What can ordinary Americans do?
Yell! Mr. Bush and John Kerry have been passive about Darfur because
voters are. If citizens contact the White House or their elected
representatives and demand action, our leaders will be happy to follow.
Readers can also contribute to one of the many aid agencies saving lives
in Darfur. (I've listed some at www.nytimes.com/kristofresponds, Posting
Be realistic. We don't have our national interest at stake in Darfur.
But we do. Sudan's chaos is destabilizing surrounding countries,
especially Chad, which is an increasing source of oil for us. Moreover,
when states collapse into chaos, they become staging grounds for terrorism
and for diseases like ebola and polio (both have broken out recently in
In any case, America is a nation that has values as well as interests. We
betrayed those values when we ignored past genocides, and we are betraying
them again now.
In my last three columns, I wrote about Magboula Muhammad Khattar, a
24-year-old woman struggling to keep her children alive since her parents
and husband were killed by the Janjaweed. Each time I visited the tree she
lives under, she shared with me the only things she had to offer: a smile
and a bowl of brackish water.
Is a cold shoulder all we have to offer in return?