Meanwhile in Darfur: Sudan Blocks Rescue


This week when Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond visited the campus to tour the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center exhibit, “Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide,” we were all reminded that mass killings are not just something limited to history books chronicling the Nazi era. Just over a decade ago, a genocidal impulse swept over the Balkans. Around the same time, hundreds of thousands were being slaughtered in Rwanda. In Darfur today, we are faced with yet another instance of genocide, in this case accompanied by a painfully slow response to the killing.

We must not allow ourselves to be so distracted by the American presidential campaign, the war in Iraq and hopes for revived peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians that we lose sight of the fact that the genocide in the Darur region of Sudan continues. An all-too-familiar and depressing story in the Jan. 9 edition of The New York Times reports that Sudanese soldiers shot at a convoy of United Nations peacekeepers in Darfur, “critically wounding a local driver and destroying a fuel tanker barely a week into the force’s new mission in the region.” Under a recent Security Council resolution which was unanimously approved after months of painstaking negotiations, the 7,000-member African Union peacekeeping force, which had proved absolutely ineffective in curbing the slaughter and expulsions of Darfurians, was to be replaced by a joint UN-African force.

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As of Jan. 9, according to the Times, the new United Nations joint force now stands at some 9,000 soldiers and police officers “and is supposed to grow to 26,000. The deployment is far behind schedule, and Western countries have not committed equipment, like attack helicopters.” Without an effective, properly equipped fighting force, there is no way that the “new” joint effort can become any more effective than the hapless African Union contingent. Indeed, most of the so-called “new” force to date is made up of former African Union soldiers who simply shed their old uniforms to put on the new UN uniforms. Meanwhile, The New York Times repeats the sobering numbers: “More than 200,000 people have died since ethnic African groups rebelled in 2003 over accusations that the Arab-dominated national government discriminates against them. About 2.5 million people have fled to refugee camps.” Figures as high as from 300,000 to 400,000 killed have been reported, but since no outside journalists or non-governmental relief agencies can operate freely in Darfur, accurate and up-to-date numbers are impossible to compile.

What will it take to stop the mass murders, which have been properly labeled a genocide by both houses of Congress, the White House and the State Department? Must we wait, as the world waited in 1994, when the mass murders in Rwanda reached 800,000 people before we take effective action? President Bill Clinton later apologized to the African people for not having done more to stop the genocide in that nation. By contrast, when similar mass murders began to occur in the former Yugoslavian areas of Bosnia and Kosovo, Clinton enlisted our NATO partners in a military campaign that succeeded in forcing the murderous Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milosevic from office.

The St. Louis Save Darfur Coaltion, ably chaired by community volunteer Lesley Levin, has been especially active on behalf of action to stop the genocide in Darfur. Levin recently wrote a letter to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch referring to Eric Mink’s column on the exhibit at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center on the genocide and crimes against humanity in Prijedor, Bosnia. “The exhibit and the stories of many of the Bosnians who have settled in St. Louis are vital reminders of the consequences of inaction during the genocide,” Levin wrote. Viewers of the moving series on PBS, shown locally on KETC-TV, Channel 9 entitled The Jewish Americans included a segment on the ineffective efforts by American Jews to pressure our government to do more to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.

Levin points out, “With the appointment of Richard Williamson as the new U.S. special envoy for Sudan, legislators should be reminded that it time for our government to make a more focused effort on the crisis in Darfur.”

We join with the Save Darfur Coaltion and the Jewish Community Relations Council in urgently asking our readers to write to their leaders in Congress, the White House and the State Department to demand that Williamson “obtain the manpower and resources that are needed to work full time at full speed at bringing peace to Sudan” and stopping the genocide. We must be there and we must care enough to do all we can to pressure our government into taking decisive action to end the bloodshed in Darfur immediately!

Published Jan. 23, 2008