Darfur needs action

September 22, 2006|By Trudy Rubin

PHILADELPHIA -- As world leaders gathered at the United Nations this week for the opening of the 61st General Assembly, the shadow of Darfur hung over them all.

On Tuesday, from the U.N. podium, President Bush again labeled the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Darfur as genocide. Yet the killing, conducted by Sudanese government forces and militias, is intensifying.

Sudan is blocking a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force of 20,000, which would have strengthened an unarmed observer force from the African Union. The 7,000 Africans are now set to leave by Sept. 30, depriving 2 million Darfurian refugees of their last shred of protection.

One year ago at a U.N. summit, world leaders adopted a historic doctrine called "Responsibility to Protect." The doctrine endorsed international intervention when governments fail to protect their populations from mass murder. This was a stunning departure for an organization based on the inviolable sovereignty of states within their borders.

Memories were still fresh of the genocidal horrors of Bosnia and Rwanda (where an estimated 800,000 were slaughtered in 1994 as the world dithered).

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that they would "be pledged to act if another Rwanda looms." Clearly, some signatories had no intention of honoring their pledges.

Sudan's western region of Darfur was obviously meant to be the first test case. The Sudanese government was engaged in massive ethnic cleansing of black Muslims.

Mr. Bush, along with prominent Republican senators, has been outspoken on Darfur. He backed a U.N. Security Council resolution in August that authorized a peacekeeping force of 20,000 for Darfur. The United States would not send troops but would help with logistics. Even China and Russia, which do business deals with Sudan, did not overtly oppose the resolution.

However, Sudan has refused to let the U.N. peacekeepers into the country. The world leaders who so movingly denounce genocide, including Mr. Bush, have yet to pressure the Sudanese regime to accept the blue-helmet troops. So the killing goes on.

Here's what is especially infuriating about the impasse: The United States and its allies have the leverage to squeeze the government in Khartoum. In 2005, the Security Council authorized sanctions - an international travel ban and a freeze of any international assets - on individuals who impede peace in Darfur. A U.N. expert panel proposed a list of top Sudanese officials for such sanctions. None has been punished.

Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Bob Dole have another excellent suggestion on how to pressure individual Sudanese leaders. The United States and its allies should use satellite technology to record Darfur atrocities and then remind Sudanese leaders that the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction to prosecute them for war crimes.

So, why hasn't the United States pressed for enforcement of U.N. sanctions on Sudanese officials? Some say Washington has hesitated because it wants Khartoum's cooperation in the hunt for Islamist terrorists. Whatever the reason, the need for sanctions is urgent.

If African Union forces leave next week, Sudanese leaders will have free rein to kill Darfurians with impunity. Even if the Sudanese let the Africans stay, these unarmed troops can do little but record the massacres. Nor can Mr. Bush's new special emissary on Darfur, Andrew S. Natsios, be effective if the Sudanese feel the pressure is off.

America can urge China and our Arab allies to squeeze Khartoum, but it's time to lead by example. Otherwise, Mr. Bush will be complicit, along with other world leaders, in the final chapter of the Darfur genocide.

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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