An international expert on the genocide in Darfur will be in Wisconsin on October 22.
Never again, again?
After the deaths of more than 6 million and the horrors unleashed by the Hitler regime in Germany were made detailed public knowledge through the Nuremburg Tribunals, people all over the world said, "Never again!" Never again would we allow such inhumanity to be perpetrated on anyone, anywhere, by anybody.
But then there were more. In "The Killing Fields" in the late 1970s, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge annihilated 2 million Cambodians. Then 800,000 died at the hands of extremist Hutus during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and 200,000 Bosnians were the victims of Serb violence in the early '90s. There were other, smaller outbreaks of hatred as well.
The term we use is "genocide," which was defined by the United Nations in 1948 as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."
We have a poor record as civilized human beings when it comes to such atrocities. In 1948, at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt, the General Assembly of the United Nations formally adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But despite what was stated clearly in that great Declaration, human rights are being trammeled all over the world today and we shamefully continue to turn our gaze away.
There was widespread hope that the 21st century might be free of such atrocities, but in 2003 a civil war broke out in Sudan, in the huge western region called Darfur (nearly the size of France), between forces of the government in Khartoum and the so-called Sudan Liberation Movements.
The government of Sudan is under the personal control of an autocratic dictator, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who seized power in a military coup in June 1989.
This conflict escalated, and very soon thousands were dead and refugees were escaping across the border into neighboring Chad, one of Africa's poorest and most corrupt nations. The number of these refugees quickly exceeded 100,000 and is still growing, throwing Chad into further instability.
Armed militia units called Janjaweed, supported by al-Bashir's Sudanese government (although he continues to deny it) proceeded to ravage the countryside, seemingly intent on killing all of the native Darfurians or driving them out of their country. This conflict has been loosely described as being between nomadic Arabs from the north and east and the agrarian people of the semi-arid plateau of Darfur. All of these people are Muslim.
The conflict continues unabated and hundreds of thousands have died or been displaced. The numbers are in some dispute, with different sources preferring different numbers, often for their own reasons, to inflate or to downplay the violence.
Most recently, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who has agreed to use his considerable influence to help engineer a resolution to this seemingly intractable conflict. It is ironic that this former international "bogeyman" might turn out to be the savior of so many innocent people.
There are many special interests at work in the Darfur situation, not surprisingly. Sudan produces petroleum, and their largest customer and business partner is China. China could put pressure on the Sudanese government to end the genocide, but they choose not to endanger their economic interests. The United States, as the world's only remaining super-power, could put considerable pressure on both the Sudanese and the Chinese, but China is far too important to annoy. They practically own us, after all -- so we are unfortunately reduced to acting as a paper tiger. (For more information, you can check in with the Darfur Action Coalition.)
An excellent expose of this international disgrace was produced for American television by CBS's 60 Minutes, with Scott Pelley following John Prendergast around eastern Chad and Darfur itself.
Prendergast was the Director of African Affairs of the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration, is the subject of a fascinating article in the magazine Men's Vogue , and is an acknowledged expert on this crisis.
Prendergast co-wrote the best-selling book, Not On Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond, with Hotel Rwanda star Don Cheadle.
John Prendergast will be in Wisconsin as the special guest of the Wisconsin Governor's Commission on the United Nations at a special event on October 22 on the campus of St. Norbert's College in De Pere. He will speak on the many crises facing the African continent and answer questions. The event is open to the public.
(For more information on Prendergast's visit, John Smart invites you to contact him at (715) 762-1895 or at email@example.com.)
September 23, 2007
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John Smart lives in Park Falls, is a member of the Wisconsin Governor's Commission on the United Nations, the board of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and a frequent guest on Wisconsin Public Radio's Ideas Network.