Genocide, again and again

February 28, 2005

WATCH Hotel Rwanda, a movie based on the slaughter of nearly 1 million African Tutsis by the rival Hutus a decade ago, or visit museums documenting the systematic extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis during World War II, and grasp the awesome power of denial.

How else can human beings become so detached from their humanity that they can cold-bloodedly rape, torture and murder innocents, including sweet-faced children? And how else can the rest of the world become so distracted it simply looks away and lets the killing go on?

One answer seems clear: The mantra "never again" that arose out of the Jewish Holocaust doesn't count for much. As the brutally sadistic genocide of black Muslims by Arab militiamen in Darfur approaches its third year, the operative phrase appears to be "again, and again."

Under President Bush, the United States has done more than any other nation to try to stop the massacre and create a situation in which nearly 2 million displaced villagers can return to their land in peace. But horrifying evidence shows those efforts have fallen woefully short. And President Bush isn't likely to do everything possible unless Americans demand it.

At least 70,000 people have been murdered by the janjaweed militiamen, yet the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Khartoum that unleashed the marauders on Darfur has yet to face any consequences for its brutality. The Bush administration wants the United Nations to impose economic sanctions on the Sudanese government, but has bowed to resistance from Russia, which sells arms to Sudan, and China, which depends on Sudanese oil.

Africa-based human rights organizations have joined U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in calling for officials responsible for the Darfur atrocities to be put on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But the Bush administration refuses to recognize that court for fear it might someday be used to prosecute American soldiers.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese government agreed to allow only 3,500 African Union peacekeepers to monitor a region the size of Texas. So far, African Union nations have been able to muster no more than 1,200.

Frustration over the stalemate prompted the leak of classified photographs documenting Darfur horrors gathered by African Union monitors and published last week by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof. A dead little boy lying face down. A man shot as he scrambled to hide in a bush. A skeleton with its wrists still manacled and pants pulled down below the knees.

This "Hail Mary" play was intended to provoke a collective scream loud enough to wake all the dithering politicians and diplomats out of their torpor. The Khartoum regime is so flagrant in its disregard for the toothless international protests so far, it must believe the world isn't much concerned about what happens in Darfur.

Don't let it be proved right.

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