Saving ‘lucky ones’ in Darfur

Originally published in the Orlando Sentinel, May 30, 2006.

Imagine you are the captain of a hostage negotiation team. Three weeks into a standoff, you know that some of the captives are still alive. Half of them are children, and with little food or water, they’re growing weaker by the moment. Having survived unspeakable torture, one might say that they are the lucky ones — because they are not dead — yet.

You are on the phone with the ringleader of this nightmare and you know that, in a few minutes, the final group of hostages will be executed.

Once again, your rescue team is poised and awaits your instruction. Once again, you ask him for permission to send them in. Once again, his answer is “No.”

You tell your team to hold its position . . . and the remaining hostages are killed.

Welcome to Darfur.

The monumental, real-life tragedy in Africa is now entering its fourth year. And despite, or perhaps even because of the most recent peace accord between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels, many more people are likely to die.

Without the deployment of a powerful, multinational protection force, the agreement is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Instead, it includes more of the same nonsense we’ve been hearing for the past two years — such as an offer to provide “logistical support” to 7,000 undermanned and overmatched African Union monitors who have helplessly observed the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children; the violent displacement of 3 million more and an endless number of brutal gang rapes.

Nowhere to be found are the thousands of NATO troops who, months ago, were rumored to be on their way to stabilize the chaos on the ground until a larger U.N. contingent arrived. Instead, U.N. peacekeepers — whose mission must still be approved of by the perpetrators — are reported to be as many as six months away.

Apparently, those living in this African region, which is the size of Texas, are lacking in importance to the rest of the world. How else to explain the discrepancy between Darfur and, for example, Kosovo, where, in 1999 under similar circumstances, 50,000 NATO peacekeepers were deployed to defend an area the size of Connecticut?

Without the physical presence of the international community, the prospect of Khartoum voluntarily disarming its militias and halting their practice of using rape as a weapon is grim. Furthermore, a lack of security will severely impact the distribution of President Bush’s much-ballyhooed shipment of humanitarian aid, thereby increasing the expected number of deaths from starvation and disease.

“Never again” has become nothing more than a meaningless, almost sickening refrain, associated more with hypocrisy than anything else. And in the case of Darfur, it serves as a painful reminder that there is a deadly difference between doing what is necessary to end genocide and merely doing something.

If there is any hope for the current survivors of this catastrophe, we must raise public pressure to an unprecedented level: similar in spirit to the recent protests in the Ukraine, where tens of thousands of people camped out in their capital city for weeks until a fair national election result was determined.

The most realistic way to replicate that kind of urgency and energy is for people around the world to partake in daily action — be it by phone or e-mail — demanding from their country’s leaders nothing less than the immediate deployment of a powerful protection force and the institution of a no-fly-zone in Darfur, regardless of Sudan’s posturing.

The rape and the killing in Darfur will come to an end. The only question is who will be left standing.

The answer is up to us.
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John Morlino is president of The Essence of True Humanity Is Compassion (The ETHIC) and director of The ETHIC’s Darfur Pledge campaign, www.DarfurPledge.org.

Copyright © 2006