Eric Reeves, Northampton, Massachusetts •
The end of the millennium has brought with it a ghastly reprise of the genocide that the Western allies of the Second World War vowed would never again be upon us. The terse, passionate cry–“Never again!”–was not simply the resolve of Jews to refuse ever to endure again such horrific destruction, but the blunt determination of Canada, the United States, and their European allies that whatever the context, this most terrible of historical lessons would never, never be forgotten. But the forgetting has begun.
I am speaking here not of the Balkan carnage, horrendous though it is, or of the Rwandan genocide five years ago, though a number of journalists and historians have made painfully clear that, with American leadership, much could have been done to avert the unspeakably brutal slaughter of 800,000 men, women, and children in little more than 100 days beginning in April of 1994.
Rather, I speak of Canada’s quiet, largely unnoticed slide toward complicity in the continuing genocide in southern Sudan, arguably the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of our lifetime–and yet one of the least reported. This complicity will take the form of acquiescence, as is so often the case in the history of genocide. For if Canadians do not successfully demand of their legislature that it restrain Talisman Energy, Inc. (Calgary, Alberta) in its oil venture in Sudan, revenues from that venture will very soon go to the ruthless regime that rules in Khartoum. And make no mistake about it, that regime will use oil revenues to effect a “final solution” to the military conflict that for so many years has been the source of almost unimaginable suffering in the south of Sudan.
The numbers alone are staggering: almost two million people have perished in the last fifteen years of civil war; more than twice that many have been displaced from their homes–either internally or into the hinterlands of central Africa. And at the height of the famine last summer, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) estimated that over two and half million people–mostly children–were at risk of starvation. These are numbers that bear legitimate comparison with those of the Holocaust of World War II. And they have been carefully assembled. The work of assessment done in the field by MSF, by the US Committee for Refugees, and others involved in Operation Lifeline Sudan has been painstaking, despite the extraordinary difficulty of conditions on the ground.
Just as ominous are the frequent reports from the UN’s former and present Special Rapporteurs on Sudan, Gaspar Biro and Leonardo Franco. For six consecutive years (1993-99) they have provided substantial evidence of outrageous human rights abuses, including human enslavement, indiscriminate aerial bombardment, and the denial of food aid to those at risk of starvation. Again and again in their reports, they make clear–as do the other humanitarian organizations reporting on this human catastrophe–that the overwhelming responsibility lies with the National Islamic Front (NIF), which dominates the government in Khartoum.
The only solution to this disastrous situation is a negotiated end to the civil war. But such a resolution will not come if the NIF thinks that it can win the war outright. And with great oil revenues in prospect, it has become clear that the NIF thinks it can buy the weaponry that will substantially change the military balance. The carnage, so often genocidal–directed with particular ferocity at the Dinka and the Nuba people who are the major ethnic groups in the south and center of Sudan–will continue.
Will Canada allow Talisman Energy, Inc. to generate for Khartoum revenues that we know will be used for such military purposes? Do Canadian citizens wish to be, even indirectly, the suppliers of the bombs that are so often dropped on hospitals in the south, hospitals that very well might be staffed by Canadian or American workers for MSF?
Minister for Foreign Affairs Axworthy would have Canadians believe that his hands are tied by laws governing sanctions. Why, then, hasn’t he strenuously and publicly argued for legislation that will insure Talisman cannot be party to genocide? Why hasn’t he energetically sought multilateral sanctions against Khartoum in which Canada would participate?
Again, make no mistake about it, the oil cannot flow without Canadian oil technology, expertise, and business leadership–the processing difficulties posed by Sudanese oil and logistical demands in getting the oil to port are presently too great. And just as important is the moral credibility the entire oil venture has by virtue of Canadian participation. For now, there can be no oil for Khartoum without the acquiescence of Ottawa.
If Mr. Axworthy is unwilling to act on his own, then it is the moral obligation of Canadian citizens to force him to remember that those potent words–“Never again!”–have just as much meaning for African lives, even if those lives are remote in culture and custom, and well beyond the range of television cameras. If the absence of an adequate sanctions law becomes an excuse for Canadians seeking to turn away from the enormity of the suffering in Sudan, history will be a savage judge.
[Eric Reeves is professor of English at Smith College in Northampton, MA]