Genocide in Darfur: Will the World Act?

At Washington University last week, a simple and stark message was written in large black letters on white paper plates posted on university bulletin boards on the campus: City of St. Louis Population: 350,000; Number Killed in Darfur: 400,000. These chilling numbers speak for themselves; to date, more people are reliably believed to have been murdered in the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of western Sudan, than the total number of people who reside in the City of St. Louis. Last week, Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, an international development and relief organization based in New York City, was in St. Louis to report on the current situation and the urgent need for meaningful international action to stop the wholesale slaughter.

As reported in a page one story by Mike Sherwin in last week’s editon of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Messinger, whose organziation plays a leading role in advocating for the Darfur victims, visited the region in August 2004, and refugee camps in the neighboring nation of Chad, in 2005. Messinger told attendees of the Annual Rubin Feldman Memorial Lecture that an estimated 450,000 people have been killed and at least 2.5 million people have been driven from their homes since 2003. Messinger confirmed the widespread media and non-governmental organzation reports that the killing and plundering has largely been carried out by the Janjaweed, militias which are supported by the Sudanese government headed by President-Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, who has been in power since 1989. Two weeks ago, China’s President Hu Jintao, while on a wide-ranging tour of African nations, presented Bashir with the funds to build an elaborate new presidential palace in Khartoum.

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The cynical action by Chinese President Hu symbolizes one of the chief reasons that no meaningful action has been taken by the United Nations Security Council to force the Bashir government in Sudan to stop the genocide. Bashir and his henchmen know they can count on their friends, the Chinese or the Russians to veto any meaningful resolutions which would have real “teeth” to force Sudan to stop the carnage, which has been officially labeled “genocide” by the White House, the State Department and by resolutions passed in both houses of Congress.

Here in St. Louis and nationwide, the Jewish community has been extensively involved in the Save Darfur Coalition, a consortium of numerous religious, communal and civic organizations who have united to demand that Sudan halt the genocide. The Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis was one of the founders and is one of the most active members of the Save Darfur Coalition, and the JCRC has its own Save Darfur Committee, chaired by community volunteer activist Leslie Levin. Locally, the Coalition sponsored a major public rally at the Missouri Historical Society in Forest Park, which was attended by hundreds of people, representing scores of interested organizations as well as the public at large. St. Louis was also represented in the national Save Darfur Rally in Washington, D.C., last year.

We can also ask, does an official designation of “genocide” really mean anything if it is only applied after the fact, when the killing, which could have been prevented, has run its bloody course? The unfolding genocide, euphemistically called “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia and Kosovo, was effectively stopped, when the United States successfully persuaded NATO to use military force to end the killings. All of the rallies, signed post-cards and high-sounding resolutions labeling what is happening in Darfur a “genocide” will be empty words if there is no concrete action taken to stop it.

Again, the estimated 400,000 civilians killed already in Darfur exceeds the population of the City of St. Louis. The 800,000 killed in Rwanda, in the battled between Hutus and Tutsis, almost equals the total population of St. Louis County. The 2.5 million people driven from their homes equals the population of the Greater St. Louis region. Enough is enough! All Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, Democrats, Republicans and independents, private and non-profit organizations and individuals must rise up as one and demand that our leaders take urgent and immediate action to stop the genocide in Darfur while there is still time to prevent an already unthinkable and unacceptable tragedy from becoming even worse. Write to the President, to your senators and representatives and to the United Nations now to express your own outrage over the situation and your own demands that the killings be ended now.

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