A call to outrage

March 07, 2006|By TRUDY RUBIN

PHILADELPHIA -- Can an individual do anything to stop genocide?

Let's hope so, because governments certainly aren't doing much. Two years after Sudan began a genocidal slaughter in Darfur province, the killing of black African Muslims by black Arab Muslims continues. No government seems willing or able to force Sudan to stop.

The Bush administration calls this killing by its rightful name - genocide - but has yet to use the kind of political muscle that might stop it.

Former Marine Capt. Brian Steidle photographed Darfur's horrors, and the images are driving him crazy. He wants a million Americans to write President Bush and urge him to ensure that a strong multinational force is sent to Darfur.

Mr. Steidle, 29, was one of three U.S. military observers assigned to the African Union (AU), which has a toothless force of 7,000 monitors in Darfur. The monitors are permitted only to observe a nonexistent cease-fire. Mr. Steidle went to this killing field in September 2004 armed only with a pen, pad and camera; he took more than 1,000 photos.

"We saw villages leveled, burned bodies, babies that had been shot, and all we could do was write reports and take pictures," he recalls.

The ex-Marine had no doubt who was to blame for the carnage, which has killed about 180,000 in the last three years and driven 2 million Darfurians from their homes. The Sudanese government, in an effort to crush Darfur rebels, sent in its army along with an Arab militia known as the janjaweed. Their goal: to "cleanse" Darfur of its ethnic African population.

But Mr. Steidle's reports to the AU disappeared down a black hole. So he quit in February 2005, went home, met the media and found sympathetic legislators who displayed his photos.

Bush officials talk tough and give lots of aid, but their words have had little impact on the killing. The scale of mayhem has gone down - though Mr. Steidle says 75 percent of south Darfur's villages have already been destroyed. Yet the janjaweed still kill, attack refugee camps, rape women and spread terror into neighboring Chad.

"For the last year, I've been banging my head against the wall," Mr. Steidle says. "It's like screaming in a dream, and no sound comes out."

He is touring 22 cities in a campaign that will culminate in an anti-genocide demonstration April 30 in Washington. The goal: to get 1 million Americans to send this message to the White House:

"Dear President Bush: During your first year in the White House, you wrote in the margins of a report on the Rwandan genocide, `Not on my watch.' I urge you to live up to those words by using the power of your office to support a stronger multinational force to protect the civilians of Darfur." (You may send the message via e-mail or order preprinted postcards at www.savedarfur.org.)

No U.N. force can protect civilians unless it has the trained troops, weapons, communications, intelligence and helicopters to set up a no-fly zone to stop the Sudanese military from mowing down civilians with its choppers. The AU has none of the above.

To set up a robust force would require approval from the U.N. Security Council. The council would also have to authorize immediate help - perhaps from NATO - during the months it would take to set up a U.N. force.

But Sudan is lobbying the Security Council to block a U.N. force. China, which buys Sudanese oil, is opposed, as are Russia and Qatar, the current Arab representative on the council.

Khartoum has also persuaded the AU to back off its earlier willingness to hand over command to the United Nations. African solidarity apparently trumps saving African lives.

Sudan claims that a U.N. force would mean a Western takeover of the country, which should be resisted by Muslims and might inspire attacks from al-Qaida. Muslims who demonstrated violently over cartoons have yet to show the same passion about the murder of Darfurian Muslims.

Brian Steidle wants to show that one person can make a difference. But he can succeed only if, one by one, other Americans join in.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail is trubin@phillynews.com.

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