By Nat Hentoff
After prolonged, fractious negotiations, there appeared to be hope
that the horrendous genocide in Darfur might be coming to an end after
hundreds of thousands of black Muslims and others have been killed or
died of disease, and 2.4 million of the survivors have been torn from
their villages into refugee camps. But a peace treaty signed on May 5
in Nigeria between the government of Sudan and one of the rebel forces
is coming apart.
Two weeks after the signing, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan
wrote in the French daily, Le Figaro, that "there is not a second to
lose...the region is undergoing the worst humanitarian crisis gripping
the planet." On the same day, Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s relief
coordinator, emphasized on the Sudan Tribune's Web site: "The next few
weeks will be make or break. We can turn the corner toward
reconciliation and reconstruction, or we see an even worse collapse of
our efforts to provide protection and relief to millions of people."
Earlier, he had warned: "The alternative to peace through this
agreement is too horrendous for any of us to contemplate."
But on May 18, the Sudan Tribune reported that Khartoum had
"detained" two well-known Sudanese human-rightsactivists
"incommunicado, putting them at risk of torture ...Detaining them
sends a clear message to victims of rape and torture that no one in
Darfur who attempts to stand up for the rights of the victims is
Meanwhile, on May 15, the Khartoum-directed Janjaweed, relentless
murderers and rapists, attacked two villages in the north of Darfur.
As a New York Times headline the previous day all too accurately
proclaimed: "Truce Is Talk, Agony Is Real in Darfur War." That story
told of how the Janjaweed again broke the so-called peace treaty,
attacking the village of Menawashie. They "killed one woman, wounded
six villagers and raped 15 women."
"They told us," said a villager, "you are slaves, we will finish
you. We will not allow you to move from Menawashie, not one
kilometer." Added another survivor, Aish Adam Moussa: "They always say
peace is coming, but we are still waiting."
The core hole in the quickly unraveling peace treaty is the
promise of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to demobilize the
Janjaweed fully, and with verification, by mid-October.
Says Ismael Haron in the Gaga refugee camp in Chad: "We know Omar
Hassan al-Bashir. We have seen him make agreements and then break them
10 minutes later." And, if the Janjaweed keep murdering and raping for
months to come and beyond October, who will stop them? After all, Mr.
al-Bashir has, for three years, earnestly insisted he would disarm the
As of this writing, the United Nations has agreed to send a U.N.
force to bolster the greatly inadequate African Union monitors in
Darfur, but it will take months to organize and provide for these U.N.
peacekeepers. And in the village of Menawashie, the survivors will
still be waiting.
Reporting for the past 10 years on Khartoum's horrific crimes
against its own people in the south, and then in Darfur, I continually
keep reading, and talking to, the most authoritative chronicler of
these atrocities, Eric Reeves of Smith College in Massachusetts, who,
as Nicholas Kristof noted in the May 7 New York Times, has financed
his ceaseless campaign to inform the world of this genocide "by taking
a loan on his house."
As Mr. Kristof adds, Mr. Reeves, while trying to save untold lives
in Darfur, "has been fighting for his [own] life, struggling in a
battle with leukemia." But I still can reach him on his Web site
(SudanReeves.org) and sometimes on the phone. His analyses can also be
read on SudanTribune.com.
And in the May 10 New Republic, Mr. Reeves wrote that the May 5
peace agreement "at face value amounts to an extraordinary gamble with
the lives of more than 3.8 million human beings...in Darfur and [in
refugee camps] of eastern Chad...In essence, the victims of genocide
are being asked to trust that the perpetrators of genocide will disarm
and restrain themselves." If, Mr. Reeves insists, there is not "a
meaningful international force" deployed to protect the survivors in
Darfur, the international community will sigh too late and say, alas,
that peace treaty was "a meaningless piece of paper."
My own view is that unless there is a willing coalition of nations
going outside the United Nations and into Darfur to rescue those still
waiting for deliverance, a message will be sent to other nations that
destroy their own people. And Mr. al-Bashir will become the patron
saint of these future perpetrators of genocide.
President Bush, more than any other world leader, has done a lot,
though not enough, to prevent the extermination of the black Muslims
of Darfur. With that record, he can, despite all his other problems,
gloriously enter history by moving to exterminate this genocide by
helping to organize a coalition of willing nations while there is