What we mean when we say "genocide"

America stands by as the rape and the murder continue.

By Michael Scherer
April 1, 2006 3:07AM (UTC)
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On Wednesday, before heading to Cancun, Mexico, President Bush tried to talk tough about ending the genocide in Sudan. "This is serious business," Bush said. "We're just not playing a diplomatic holding game When we say genocide, we mean that the genocide needs to be stopped."

But the victims in the Darfur region of Sudan, and increasingly in neighboring Chad, should not get their hopes up. America likes to talk the talk on genocide, but it shows no sign of walking the walk. In a recent post on his Web site, Sudan expert Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, quickly tore apart Bush's humanitarian rhetoric.


Start with the fact that Bush said Wednesday he wants NATO to provide an "overlay" of support for the few African Union forces on the ground in Sudan. This, Bush said, would send a "clear signal" to the Khartoum government. But on the same day, in Brussels, Belgium, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said allied nations were still studying the possibility of providing more support. As for actually committing troops, Appathurai said, "No one is discussing, planning or considering a NATO force on the ground in Darfur." African Union forces, meanwhile, operate under a mandate that limits soldiers to protecting civilians only when they are "under imminent threat and in the immediate vicinity." In other words, the genocidal gangs can do their dirty work by avoiding the sightlines of fewer than 8,000 soldiers patrolling an area the size of France.

We know what is happening in Sudan. The U.S. government called it genocide back in September 2004. Now more than 2 million people have been displaced, and more than 4 million are affected. Hundreds of square miles are vulnerable to random attacks from government-backed militias. In January 2005, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry (PDF) found that "government forces and militias conducted indiscriminate attacks, including killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement, throughout Darfur."

The dead number in the untold thousands. And the New York Times reported that thousands of women and girls have been gang-raped. Roughly 2 million children are imperiled by international aid funding shortages. "No one disputes that the situation on the ground is unraveling," one U.N. advisor told the South African Press Association this month.


There are no easy answers to the problems of Darfur, but one thing is clear: The United States, with a silent nod from the rest of the world, is standing by as genocide continues. It would be nice if President Bush could muster the courage to tell it like it is.

Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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