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Have we forgotten ‘never again’?

By Dvir Abramovich - posted Friday, 29 December 2006

The Italian poet Dante once wrote that "The hottest places in hell are reserved for people, who, in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality".

The silence about the bloodshed in Darfur - the first genocide of the 21st century - is deafening. How can we sit passively by when an estimated 300,000 people have died in a campaign of ethnic cleansing and 2.5 million people (more than 50 per cent of them children) have been uprooted and deported from their homes into refugee camps in arid regions and neighbouring Chad? Is it simply the old refrain of “this doesn’t involve me” or “Darfur is remote and far away”?

Memories of the world’s apathy during the Holocaust and the almost total global indifference shown to the one million dead in Rwanda’s genocide (murdered in 100 days) still cast a giant shadow. These memories should have been enough to compel most nations to intervene in the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian crisis. Shamefully, the international community has failed to respond decisively to the mounting carnage, remaining unconscionably spineless, idle and neglectful.


Warnings issued in 2003 about the widespread slaughter went unheeded. In 2004, then US Secretary of State Colin Powell finally admitted, “Genocide has been committed in Darfur”: an assessment reiterated by President Bush. The US, the only country with real leverage to pressure Khartoum to change its wicked ways, has been feckless.

The Sudanese Government has backed the Arab Janjaweed marauding militias which have indiscriminately pillaged and destroyed whole villages and have terrorised, tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of defenceless men, women and children. Armed bandits and security forces subject girls as young as 12 to beatings, rape and kidnappings.

Living in fear and unable to cultivate crops, countless starving and sick civilians are reliant on the World Food Program which in May reduced its rations by half due to lack of money.

Over the last few months things having been getting worse and reaching new levels in the killing fields of Darfur. Despite a May 5 peace agreement between the main rebel faction and the Sudanese regime, Sudan’s military dictator has ruled out the deployment of UN peacekeepers in the war torn region. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan noted recently that the situation in Darfur was out of control as 600,000 children under five suffer starvation and disease.

Outrageously, the UN has again shown impotence. This week, it was agreed that the United Nations Human Rights Council will dispatch a high-level mission to Sudan's Darfur region to examine claims of worsening abuses against civilians. Incredibly, it stopped short of condemning the Sudanese Government for widely documented atrocities.

Over the last year, the only forces on the ground belong to the African Union, whose inadequate 7,000 members have been unable to handle the catastrophe and stop the butchery. They have been charged only with issuing reports rather than with confronting the gunmen. Their mandate was to end September 30, but was extended through to the end of the year.


Some experts predict the death toll will eventually pass one million

In Bosnia, American, British and NATO forces intervened to end the sickening campaign of violence against Muslims, but in Sudan only envoys have been dispatched. Attempts to halt the heart-rending anguish have been thwarted by countries with vested economic and political interests. China, for instance, with its veto power on the Security Council, is Sudan’s largest supplier of arms and has oil interests there.

An 18-page report by the International Security Group, a renowned think tank, concluded, "Darfur is a test-case on whether the international community is prepared to translate its political commitment into effective action. The response to date has been extremely disappointing".

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About the Author

Dr Dvir Abramovich is the Jan Randa senior lecturer in Hebrew-Jewish studies and director of the University of Melbourne centre for Jewish history and culture.

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