Crisis in Darfur

According to the United Nations, one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises now afflicts a Muslim people who face a horrific campaign of ethnic cleansing driven by massacre, rape and looting. These horrors are unfolding not, as Arab governments and satellite channels might have it, in Iraq or the Palestinian territories, but in Sudan, a member of the Arab League.

Maybe because there are no Westerners or Israelis to be blamed, the crisis in Darfur, in northwestern Sudan, has commanded hardly any international attention. Though it has been going on for 14 months, the U.N. Security Council acted on it for the first time yesterday [April 2, 2004] , and then only by issuing a weak president’s statement. More intervention is needed, and urgently.

The victims of the ongoing war crimes are non-Arab African people who have lived in the Darfur region for centuries. In February 2003, as the Sudanese government began to negotiate a peace agreement with rebel movements representing the non-Arab peoples of the south, an insurgent movement appeared in Darfur demanding more government resources and power-sharing.

The Khartoum-based government responded by sending troops and by enlisting Arab tribes in the region as allies. Early this year, after the breakdown of a cease-fire, it launched a scorched-earth offensive in the region that, according to the United Nations and human rights groups, has taken on the character of an ethnic war.

According to a report issued this week by Human Rights Watch, “the government of Sudan and allied Arab militia, called janjaweed, are implementing a strategy of ethnic-based murder, rape and forcible displacement of civilians.”

More than 750,000 people have been forced from their homes, and 100,000 more have fled across the border to neighboring Chad, an area of desperate poverty and little water. The dead number in the tens of thousands, though no one knows for sure how many: Humanitarian aid groups have had almost no access to the Darfur region.

For years Sudan’s government, a dictatorship headed by Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Bashir, waged a similarly ruthless campaign against the rebellious south. At last, under considerable international pressure — much of it from the Bush administration — it agreed to a cease-fire and negotiations that now inch toward a peace settlement.

Some of the governments that pushed for that accord are concerned the deal may be disrupted if the international community also presses Mr. Bashir about Darfur. They should take a lesson from the 10th anniversary this month of the Rwandan genocide, which the United Nations failed to stop: Political and diplomatic calculations should never prevent the international community from intervening to stop mass murder. Washington Post/Editorial)

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