CATACLYSMIC HUMAN destruction in Sudan’s Darfur region and in eastern Chad continues to accelerate, even as the international community remains inert. Humanitarian workers are being evacuated at an alarming rate, as violence creates an intolerable lack of security. The murderous Janjaweed militias are more heavily armed and more deadly than ever, due to continuing support from the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum. According to Jan Egeland, departing UN aid chief, some 6 million people in the crisis area face an increasingly “hopeless” situation. A catastrophic wave of death is impending, and indeed has already begun.
Why is the international community so paralyzed in responding to the first great genocide of the 21st century? Why does UN Security Council Resolution 1706, passed in August, mean so little? Why hasn’t the authorized force of 22,500 troops and police begun protecting civilians and the rapidly collapsing humanitarian lifeline upon which millions now depend? Why has the world refused to confront Khartoum’s gnocidaires with an ultimatum on UN deployment?
The regime remains obdurate for two primary reasons: a lack of diplomatic, financial, and military commitment on the part of militarily capable Western nations; and steadfast diplomatic support from China, assuring the regime that the Security Council will never pass a truly threatening resolution. Wielding its veto threat, China forced changes in the text of Resolution 1706 so that it merely “invites the consent” of Khartoum, without stipulating what would happen if the “invitation” were declined.
Khartoum, of course, adamantly refused to accept any UN forces. Indeed, the regime has subsequently insisted that the UN cannot be part of the command structure of the thoroughly ineffectual African Union force presently on the ground, and cannot provide more than technical and logistical assistance. Hence the genocidal status quo.
So what will Western countries do to put serious pressure on the Khartoum government? The European Union cannot find the will even to impose economic sanctions, although its parliament declared in September 2004 that realities in Darfur are “tantamount to genocide.” That weasel phrase is designed to avoid the obligations of signatories to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. The United States imposed comprehensive economic sanctions on Sudan in 1997, but now seems more interested in making deals with the regime in exchange for intelligence on terrorists. (For Khartoum, this is a perverse benefit of having hosted Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda from 1991 to 1996.)
Despite the public hand-wringing and disingenuous bluster, the United States and its allies have acquiesced before Khartoum’s defiance, and in China’s determination to protect its biggest investment in Africa. Over the past decade, $10 billion in capital and commercial investments have bought China a dominant position in Sudan’s burgeoning oil industry, which now produces 400,000 barrels a day. Indeed, Sudan is China’s largest source of off-shore oil production.
In a sense, Western — and chiefly American — advocacy efforts have enjoyed remarkable success: Darfur has a visibility that is astonishing, given the remoteness and inaccessibility of the region. But these efforts must become more globally effective: European civil society is woefully inactive responding to Darfur. Even more critically, however, China must feel the pressure.
This is a tall order, given China’s imperviousness to foreign criticism of its increasingly rapacious behavior abroad. But the 2008 Olympic Games provide precisely the political platform that Beijing so ruthlessly suppresses domestically. The games represent for China a “coming out” event — a chance to show itself anew to a world whose memories of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre have largely faded. Despite continuing gross human rights abuses throughout China, and the brutal repression of Tibet, Beijing feels the moment is ripe.
Darfur advocacy needs to change this — needs to link “Darfur” indissolubly in the world’s consciousness with “2008 Olympic Games in China.” China is already rolling out the welcome carpet. These ruthless men must be convinced that their failure to persuade Khartoum to allow UN troops and civilian police into Darfur will make of the Olympics a gigantic protest venue. The Chinese leadership must be forced to make a choice: work now to halt genocide in Darfur, or see the Olympic Games used, at every turn, as a means of highlighting the Chinese role in sustaining the ultimate human crime.
This sort of advocacy will be difficult. But then nothing else can save Darfur.