Darfur Aid Halts With Bashir

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If a despicable African leader throws out international aid organizations during an ongoing genocide, will the world be denied from bearing witness to the atrocities, and from providing critical assistance?

In all likelihood, yes. And this is in all respects an unacceptable result.

Two weeks ago, the International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on war crimes charges. The Sudanese dictator’s response was to sneer at the ruling and to immediately banish 13 aid organizations which were performing life-saving and life-sustaining emergency services to the refugees.

A New York Times article by Neil MacFarquahar and Sharon Otterman indicates that the effects of Bashir’s brutal expulsion of the aid organizations have already been felt. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said it closed medical clinics in three camps, leaving hundreds of thousands without medical assistance. And it appears from several sources that almost half the aid workers in the region have been expelled.

The always-baffling United Nations Security Council deadlocked over a vote to halt criminal proceedings against Bashir. The African Union and Libya proposed the action, and others, including China, went along, claiming that a delay in prosecuting Bashir would create a higher likelihood of aid restoration.

Lest anyone accept this absurd rationalization, here’s a quote from African Union President and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi that illustrates some of his personal “logic” about Bashir:

“Why do we have to hold President Bashir or the Sudanese government responsible when the Darfur problem was caused by outside parties, and Tel Aviv (Israel), for example, is behind the Darfur crisis?”

This, by the way, is the same Libya whose UN deputy permanent UN ambassador uttered these words a couple months ago regarding Gaza: “Israeli aggression…is a terrible situation that has never happened in the history of mankind…it is similar to the concentration camps…”

So when a 300,000 lives are lost and almost 3 million people have been displaced, no action should be taken against the leader of the nation responsible? But a month-long Gaza war in which 1,300 lives were lost (tragic as that is) in response to over 6,000 rocket attacks over six years on civilian households constitutes “genocide”?

To her credit, Susan E. Rice, the new American ambassador to the United Nations, condemned the proposed delay. She said the United States is “gravely concerned by the reckless decision of the Sudanese government to expel international aid groups to ease the suffering of Sudan’s citizens.”

There is absolutely no question that a lack of aid, and a lack of observers, will exacerbate the situation. As we know from history, the world conveniently ignores atrocity when the watchers and helpers are not there to watch and help.

The U.S. has gotten it both wrong and right regarding the genocidal acts of recent history. President Bill Clinton’s administration failed to intervene in the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda, but took a much more forceful and courageous tack in the former Yugoslavia. In concert with our NATO allies, a mixture of limited but effective military action and aggressive diplomacy forced Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic from power. Whether complicit by affirmative action or equally offensive inaction, Bashir is responsible for the crimes occurring on his watch. He has callously thrown out world aid workers, perversely accusing them of complicity with the ICC. Does anyone of right mind truly believe this paranoid, irrational leader will all of a sudden sprout humanitarian wings as a result of a delayed prosecution?

Bashir has not taken one effective step to stop the deaths and violence in Darfur. Now he’s taken action to make the massacre free of world aid and oversight. Things can only get worse, and very fast. No delay of Bashir’s trial will make things better.

Opposing the delay of Bashir’s prosecution is a no-brainer. But we also urge the Obama Administration to follow the example of what President Clinton did to stop the mass murders in Bosnia and Kosovo.

As Jews who have proclaimed “Never Again” to mass expungement of human life, our obligation is to continue to speak out, loudly and relentlessly. And as American citizens, we should urge the United States to flex its moral muscle on the world stage, in all ways — by speaking out, by mobilizing the international community to bring Bashir to justice, and by affirmatively taking steps to end the killing in Darfur once and for all.