Wednesday, April 05, 2006 - Darfur

From Mr. Rusesabagina--the author, with Tom Zoellner, of "An Ordinary Man," published this week by Viking. The film "Hotel Rwanda," was based on his personal story as a hotel manager who saved the lives of numerous Tutsis by offering them refuge in the Hotel Milles Collines in Kigali, Rwanda. A recipient of the National Civil Rights Museum's 2005 Freedom Award, he lives in Brussels. - Darfur: "History shows us that genocides can happen only if four important conditions are in place. There must be the cover of a war. Ethnic grievances must be manipulated and exaggerated. Ordinary citizens must be deputized by their government to become executioners. And the rest of the world must be persuaded to look away and do nothing. This last is the most shameful of all, especially so because genocide is happening again right now in Darfur and the world community has done precious little to stop the killings.
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What is happening in Darfur is exactly what happened in my home country of Rwanda, which was left to choke on its own blood from April to July of 1994.

The United Nations took virtually no action during the genocide. A detachment of well-equipped peacekeepers, made up of less than one-twentieth of the American troops now stationed in Iraq, could have easily stopped the killings without risk and sent the powerful message that the world would no longer tolerate mass murders of civilians, a real expression of the phrase 'Never Again.' But this simple act was deemed, then and now, to be somehow beyond the power of the United Nations, the United States, NATO, the European community and everybody else with the real power to stop another holocaust.

There are now about 7,000 soldiers from th African Union stationed in Sudan, which is mostly an exercise in public relations. They lack helicopters, jeeps and firepower. More importantly, they lack a sense of purpose. There are no clear rules of engagement and many of the soldiers appear more interested in collecting their per diem payments than inserting themselves between the government-backed Janjaweed militia and their victims in the farming villages. The African Union recently said it will stay into September, and a handover to the United Nations might take place at that point. By that time, the genocide will have lasted for three years with a likely half-million dead, or more.

To be sure, part of the debate involves the fear of an Iraqi-style campaign of insurgence against any humanitarian or peacekeeping force deemed "too Western" by the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed thugs. But we should not let ourselves be cowed by these threats. Will we allow murderers to intimidate us away from doing the right thing and saving lives?

Historically, I am sorry to say, the answer has been "yes." When modern genocide has loomed, the United Nations has shown more concern for not offending the sovereignty of one of its member nations, even as monstrosities take place within its borders. Yet "national sovereignty" is often a euphemism for the pride of dictators. Darfur is just such a case. The world cannot afford this kind of appeasement any longer.

The real lesson here is that the United Nations is not only in need of reform but also a basic rethinking of its peacekeeping philosophy. World governments must agree that the extinction of a race is a crime worth stopping at any cost, and back up this sentiment with action. And the U.N. Security Council must create a tool that it has lacked for far too long -- a small multinational "rapid response" force which can quickly airlift tanks, jeeps, helicopters and troops to spots where the evidence of genocide is overwhelming.

Such a force would not require endless dickering, delicacy and will-testing; it should be made up of no more than 10,000 troops and deployed only in extreme situations, because its real power is not in its gunbarrels -- it is in the message to genocidal regimes that the world will refuse to overlook atrocities. This would have stopped the Rwanda tragedy from happening, probably without a shot being fired. It could now stop Darfur from getting worse, with similar ease.

History offers us another lesson about genocides: The apologies, recriminations and resolutions of Never Again usually begin after the genocide is safely finished and it becomes safe once more to mourn the lack of action. That should not happen this time. The proposed extinction of an entire race should now be considered an override clause to the rule of national sovereignty. Rwanda is over and everybody mourns it comfortably. We ought not to wait until Darfur is over to start saying Never Again yet again."

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