Hearing from Genocide Survivors

This article appeared in the Washington Times on April 13, 2009.
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The basic necessities for continued life — medical care, food, access to water — are disappearing from Darfur’s refugee camps. After President Obama called the Sudanese government’s expulsion of key international humanitarian organizations “an enormous human rights crisis,” the spokesman for heads of those refugee camps, Hussein Abu Sharati, sent a letter directly to Mr. Obama.

“Mr. President,” Abu Sharati wrote, “We need quick and immediate multilateral or unilateral intervention to save us from the imminent death: unconditional return of the international (humanitarian organizations) expelled by the regime … (their expulsion) is the regime’s final goal and the deadly blow to accelerate our death by slow motion through starvation, malnutrition and diseases.”

What has been Obama’s reaction? He has sent yet another special envoy — former Air Force Gen. J. Scott Gration — who said in Khartoum on April 3 that he is there “to look, listen and learn,” and hope that Sudan’s government will respond “with a hand of friendship and help fill the gaps of humanitarian needs” (Sudan Tribune, April 4).

I am old enough to remember my astonishment and despair when Neville Chamberlain offered his hand of conciliation to the original Hitler.

Meanwhile, after the Arab League disgraced itself by giving al‐​Bashir its enthusiastic support, and rejecting the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for him on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Africa’s Hitler demonstrated his utter confidence that he will remain a free war criminal.

The Al‐​Dustour newspaper in Jordan (Sudan Tribune, April 2), reported that the Arab League, in a bizarre effort to show the world it has not entirely removed itself from international law, suggested to al‐​Bashir that there be “a hybrid” Sudanese court — with only Arab and African judges — to try alleged perpetrators of war crimes in Darfur. (That’s like certain courts in China where judges write their decisions before trial.)

Al‐​Bashir dismissed this Arab League’s proposal, since, as head of the sovereign nation of Sudan, he is beyond the jurisdiction of any court.

The United Nations — under its 2005 Responsibility to Protect (R2P) provision allowing intervention by force even in sovereign states committing internal genocide and war crimes — could move militarily against Al‐​Bashir. But U.N. Security Council members China and Russia would not permit such arrant disrespect for sacred national sovereignty.

At the Arab League summit meeting in Qatar, the United Nations’ utter futility — throughout these years of Al-Bashir’s genocide, mass rapes and other barbarisms in Darfur — was terminally illustrated when U.N. Secretary‐​General Ban Ki‐​moon spoke there of his “extreme concern” at the expulsion of the humanitarian organizations. But the secretary‐​general took great care not to personally interact at the summit with Al‐​Bashir.

His legal advisers, reported Sudan Tribune (March 20), are said to have told the secretary‐​general “not to appear publicly with Bashir since his indictment.” Despite his august stature, Ki‐​moon could not even execute a citizens‐​of‐​the‐​world arrest of Al‐​Bashir.

So what, if anything, is to be done to prevent the final solution of al-Bashir’s long planned, meticulously executed genocide in Darfur?

As recalled in the March 30 Sudan Tribune, “During the US presidential campaign, Obama made several campaign promises on Darfur. At a presidential debate on Oct. 7, 2008, he said he intended to ‘help mobilize the international community and lead’ to impose a no‐​fly zone over Darfur and provide logistical support to the UN‐​African Union peacekeeping mission.”

Joe Biden, during his vice‐​presidential campaign, also called for the United States to encourage NATO to not only set up a no‐​fly zone but actually send NATO forces into Darfur.

But now, Biden, like the rest of us dreading the final solution, waits for the president to decide what will be done in the name of the United States. Obama met with his new envoy to al-Bashir’s fortress before sending Gration.

“He will be speaking for the administration,” said the president, “and will be coming back to report to me very shortly about what he’s found there, and additional steps that we can take to deal with this situation. And so I wanted to publicly affirm the importance of Gen. Scott Gration.”

But once in Khartoum, Gen. Gration gave Gen. Al‐​Bashir no reason I know of to fear any involvement but words from the United States. However, Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, after being among those meeting with Obama on March 30, said in the Sudan Tribune, March 21) “If we get several weeks down the road, and there hasn’t been any action, other options will have to be looked at.”

President Obama, why not, without sending U.S. troops, have Predator drone planes conduct a no‐​fly zone over Darfur, while urging NATO or other countries to go beyond words while there are still Darfurians still alive in the refugee camps? You have demonstrated how popular you are in Europe, as you are here. Spend some of that capital. President Bill Clinton failed to do that. The result was Rwanda. Will the result on your watch be any different?

You don’t need a special envoy to size up al‐​Bashir. If you don’t act, Mr. President, what will you be saying a year from now?

Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.