A Call to Action in the Face of Evil

by Burt Siegel, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Darfur Alert Coalition Communication Director and JSPAN Board member. The following analysis was written for the Philadelphia-area media on behalf of the Darfur Alert Coalition As I read about the dithering of many of the world's leaders regarding the International Criminal Court's (ICC) indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes, I am reminded of Edmund Burke's warning that evil will succeed when good people do nothing to stop it. Since 2003, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in the Darfur region of Sudan have been killed, injured or seen their villages destroyed by the Sudanese government and their allies. Over 2 1/2 million refugees have fled their homes and live in refugee camps in neighboring countries or as Internally Displaced Persons. Even these places of refuge are far from safe. Government supported raiders have stormed across the border into Chad, attacking non-Arab peoples living in camps -- and just last week, close to 2,000 gunmen, including members of the Sudanese army and Janjaweed "volunteers," staged a pre-dawn raid on the Kalma refugee camp in South Darfur, killing, raping and looting. According to UN sources, over 60 people were killed and 117 were wounded. Government officials had initially refused entry to the camp to medical or relief workers, and there have been reports of dead and wounded lying in the harsh African sun while the militia ran rampant. Sadly, little media attention has been paid to this latest atrocity. Perhaps Darfur has become old news or we are numbed to the slaughter of Africans. Even among those who care deeply about this ongoing genocide, there has been growing frustration and a sense of helplessness. Some might have started to feel that there was little the US and the European nations could do. This July, there was a ray of hope. The International Criminal Court prosecutor issued a call for an indictment against Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Most objective observers believe Bashir is orchestrating the brutalization of the people of Darfur. So for a brief time there was hope that Bashir might be brought to justice. But the Sudanese rallied their allies, mostly other nations with less than savory records of their own when it comes to human rights. Not surprisingly, China and Russia came to Sudan's defense. African countries, which have for the most part been hardly heroic in defending civilian populations anywhere on the continent, have essentially told the ICC to mind its own business. Both the Arab League and the African Union have urged the ICC to delay indictment for a 12-month period to allow the Sudanese regime to resolve the conflict and to bring the miscreants to trial. The chances of the regime doing that are about as likely as Sudan winning Olympic gold in cross-country skiing. Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak declared at a joint press conference with South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, "I reject the turning over of any African leader to the court.” He went on to say, "There are positive indications that the crisis will be resolved." This, of course, was prior to the attack on the Kalma camp. "It's an attempt by certain Western countries to internationalize the Darfur problem for their own political ends," claimed Ayman Shebana, political science professor at Cairo University's Centre for African Studies. Professor Shebana, it seems, has discovered the real culprits behind the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. He asserts that there is "considerable evidence of a U.S., French and Israeli presence in Darfur which has promoted rebel activity. If the rebels had not been supported and emboldened by these foreign groups, the crisis would have been resolved five years ago. Some humanitarian agencies in Darfur are doing brisk business by inflating the numbers of victims and refugees to obtain more funding from the international community. Such exaggerations also serve the ends of the foreign powers that want to internationalize the problem with the aim of dividing Sudan," he claimed. It now appears that the Sudanese may succeed in blocking the indictment -- dimming the likelihood of Bashir ever coming to justice. But here’s where the US can play an important, positive role. While the African and perhaps even the European members of the UN Security Council may support the delay in Bashir's indictment, the United States has the power to veto this delaying tactic. But will they? The Bush administration has demonstrated a genuine concern for the people of Darfur. Understandably, our government is very reluctant to commit US armed forces to the peacekeeping efforts. The possibility of our becoming militarily engaged in one more Muslim nation is indeed chilling. But our saying to the world that we will not turn a blind eye to the perpetrators of genocide would be a worthy coda to the eight years of George Bush's leadership. The president must heed Burke’s words. He must hear from the American people that letting Bashir off the hook – that doing nothing in the face of evil -- is not an option.