Last April, existing tensions between Arab nomads and black African farmers in Sudan exploded in an incident where African rebels from the so-called Sudanese Liberation Army attacked an airport, killing 75 government soldiers and damaging military property in the process. In retaliation, the Sudanese government in the capitol of Khartoum recruited Arab nomads as militiamen to squash the revolt. Since August of 2003, however, these Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed or “devils on horseback,” have used the weapons and support afforded to them to conduct genocidal ethnic cleansing and land grabs at the expense of Sudan’s black Africans.
The Janjaweed have terrorized black African settlements throughout the region of Darfur, killing, raping and pillaging as they advance. As of Friday, the United Nations reports that 70,000 people have already died in the underfunded, understaffed and undersupplied Sudanese refugee camps. This does not estimate those who have been murdered or left to starve away from the camps—which Eric Reeves, an independent Sudan watcher working from reports by displaced people, claims to be approximately 300,000, as reported recently in the Washington Post. The UN estimates that over 10,000 people could die monthly in the camps without more emergency aid now that nearly two million black Africans have been left homeless.
In 1948, in the wake of the Jewish holocaust, the United Nations adopted the Genocide Convention, its first human rights treaty, which declared genocide a crime under international law that all signatories were obligated “to prevent and to punish.” Since the treaty requires intervention, many world leaders have been loathe to even use the word “genocide,” but despite semantics, reality is clear. Arab farmers are killing black men and gang-raping and mutilating black women so that they will have lighter-skinned babies and be too ashamed to return to their villages.
To their credit, the Bush administration has managed to take the world lead on this issue, but to be the first one there when everyone is late does not merit any extraordinary distinction. The administration has contributed the most emergency food aid of any country through the USAID program, while Colin Powell was one of the first world leaders to visit the region and declare it genocide. However, that was only five weeks ago—this has been occurring since last August. The most frustrating thing about the administration’s hesitance is not its lagging pace, but that it contradicts the rest of their foreign policy to this point. After 9/11, the administration has claimed to be scouring the globe for terrorists and the governments that harbor them. Sudan is the clearest example to date of a government supporting the murderous terrorism of a gang of Arab militants. The loss of life on 9/11 should not be denigrated, but nearly one hundred times as many lives have been lost in this genocide than on 9/11. While we have been spending billions of dollars looking in vain for weapons of mass destruction, we have been overlooking mass destruction itself.
The Bush doctrine of pre-emptive, unilateral military action has been exposed as problematic because it extends an all-volunteer army to the point where it is stretched too thinly to respond to other crises that arise. At this point it is futile to demand that the United States intervene militarily simply because we cannot—too many troops are committed to fighting Iraqi insurgencies and policing Afghanistan. The only things that the Bush administration can (and must) do are enact economic sanctions, provide technical support to peacekeeping troops, and launch air strikes against Sudanese military installations to disable aircraft the government uses to terrorize Darfurians and provide air cover for ground troops from the European and African Unions.
To be fair, however, I emphasize that at least the Bush administration has done something. China, with its expanding economy fueled by Sudanese oil, has avoided conflict with Khartoum, choosing economic progress over human rights once again. The European Union, for all of its moral posturing at the outset of the Iraq war, has been largely silent on this crisis, with the notable exception of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The worst, however, is the Arab League, whose members relish characterizing Western military policy as neo-crusades against Islam and decrying the violent Zionism of Israelis in the West Bank, yet have nothing to say when the murderers and the victims are both Muslims. This blatant refusal to support the innocent black Muslim civilians is undeniable evidence that the historically racist leadership of Arab countries is still hostile to the very idea of black humanity. I would call on Arab students within the United States, many of whom sought legal protection under statutes originally gained by black struggle after 9/11 made them targets for racial discrimination, to reject this moral hypocrisy and stand up and condemn the inaction of the Arab League and participate in the movement to protect human life in Sudan.
Finally, although the world is at fault because it is failing to live up to the standards of moral responsibility set forth by the UN Genocide Convention, much of the blame falls on Africa itself. The African Union has committed to sending military observers next week to the region, but their diplomatic response has been slower than that of the U.S. They must take this opportunity to establish Pan-Africanism as the prevailing doctrine of governance in the continent and demonstrate a bold commitment to the protection of black people’s human rights in the form of military force. Africans within the U.S., specifically African students, should be using their opportunity as U.S. citizens or residents to lobby the government for support for such ventures as well as raising overall awareness of the crisis. African students here at Harvard, for example, have Sudan currently running far behind the Red Sox and the Pring-Wilson trial in campus discourse.
Those black Americans who sacrificed their lives and material prosperity to attain affirmative action programs and access power for black people—programs designed for descendants of American slaves which have unintentionally benefitted African students—did so with the world and the future in mind. Since they sacrificed on behalf of black people, they expected that those who followed would do the same. It is beyond me how African students, at Harvard in particular, could fail to use their opportunity and power to raise the profile of Sudan across the campus, and even the nation as a whole. Those black students and activists who came before us understood that the prestige and power of Harvard must be leveraged for the benefit of others, not just ourselves. Black students are only here because of people that thought beyond themselves. That mission must be central to every day we spend at this University.
Brandon M. Terry '05 is a government and African and African American studies concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.