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What Would People Think?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Our Rwanda

I was 13 years old when the Rwandan genocide took place. Except for a few news updates on Channel One (which was shown at my junior high school), I was ignorant of the one million people that died in that horrible mass murder. I was also ignorant about how the Western world stood by and let it happen.

Now it's happening again in Sudan. I no longer have the excuse of ignorance. And neither do you.

For years, rebel force have battled the Sudanese government (and its proxy, the brutal Janjaweed militia) in the Darfur region. Most of the deaths came not from violence but from famine and disease that followed after the fighting (and intentional ethnic cleansing by the Janjaweed) left the region in ruins. So far, about 400,000 people have died and 2 million have been forced to flee their homes. 3.5 million are totally dependent on international aid. And that aid is about to disappear.

You see, earlier this year, the government signed a peace agreement with the largest rebel group. But other rebel groups never signed on. The agreement called for 8,000 under-equipped African Union peacekeepers to patrol a region the size of Texas. Not surprisingly, this has not ended the violence. The AU peacekeepers are scheduled to leave on September 30 - 11 days from the writing of this post. When they leave, any semblance of peace and safety leaves with them. And so do the aid workers.

George Clooney - of all people - gives an eloquent summary of the problem here.

What can you do?

To start with, you can call the White House and urge President Bush to use his UN speech today (and his other influences) to push for fully-equipped UN peacekeepers to provide stability and peace in Darfur. Bush has openly called the crisis a "genocide" before and has expressed concern about Darfur. If enough people call, perhaps Darfur can take a place beside Iran on the White House's foreign policy agenda.

There's an organization called Save Darfur. It's a coalition of community and religious groups dedicated to preventing another Rwanda from happening in Sudan. They've got a weekly action e-mail to help you find other ways to help. So here's another thing you can do: subscribe to that e-mail list. Yeah, I know...spam sucks. I got sick of getting e-mails from MoveOn, the Democratic Party, Sojourners, Democracy for America, People for the American Way, and occasionally random princes from Africa who needed my money. But this is worth it.

Also, you can donate to that group.

No more being frozen in despair and immobility at the size of the problem. Let's do what we can.

Update (1:09 PM):
Here's the text of what Bush had to say about Darfur in his U.N. speech:

To the people of Darfur, you have suffered unspeakable violence. And my nation has called these atrocities what they are: genocide.

For the last two years, America joined with the international community to provide emergency food aid and support for an African Union peacekeeping force. Yet your suffering continues.

The world must step forward to provide additional humanitarian aid. And we must strengthen the African Union force that has done good work, but is not strong enough to protect you.

The Security Council has approved a resolution that would transform the African Union force into a blue-helmeted force [read: United Nations force - Ben] that is larger and more robust. To increase its strength and effectiveness, NATO nations should provide logistics and other support.

The regime in Khartoum is stopping the deployment of this force. If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act. Your lives and the credibility of the United Nations is at stake.

So today I'm announcing that I'm naming a presidential special envoy, former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, to lead America's efforts to resolve the outstanding disputes and help bring peace to your land.

Hopefully this signals a renewed commitment to the people of Darfur and a willingness to pressure the Sudanese government to accept the UN force. It sounds like a step in the right direction, but if there's no follow-through the consequences will be deadly.


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