There is a cruel irony in recent headlines concerning the Sudan.
Even as a five-member independent commission appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reports that there is no “genocide” taking place in the country’s western region of Darfur, and before the ink could even dry on the peace treaty ending that country’s 21-year-long civil war, this country’s Cassandras of dissent, disinvestment and protest marches continue to bray at the moon of progress, advancing instead their official campaigns here for regime change there.
As mightily as some activists here have tried to equate Sudan with apartheid South Africa, the two are not synonymous. Nor is the grave crisis in Darfur synonymous with what happened in the killing fields of Cambodia; nor with Rwanda, when the world looked the other way; nor with what happened in Bosnia, right in the world’s spotlight.
“I am convinced that we must go beyond diplomacy,” argues Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in a Los Angeles Times editorial Jan. 30. Rep. Lee is trying to convince the California Public Employees Retirement System to divest its investment portfolio of $7.5 billion in holdings in 44 companies whose business is tied in some way to Khartoum.
Recently, the New Jersey Assembly approved legislation to divest its state pension fund from such companies, and Rep. Lee reports that similar efforts in Massachusetts are gaining momentum.
The UN commission on Sudan concluded in its report on Jan. 27, however, that systematic, government-backed violence in the western region of Darfur was not genocide. A recent delegation of Black journalists, human rights activists and community leaders who visited the country for 10 days in mid-January (at the same time the UN Commission was in the country) reached the same irrefutable conclusion.
The UN report, the Give Peace A Chance Coalition (GPAC) delegation which traveled at government expense, as well as a report by the Sudanese government itself all conclude that there is evidence of atrocities committed by forces supported by the Khartoum government, as well as by Darfurian rebels–acts that may rise to the level of “crimes against humanity with an ethnic dimension”–but there is absolutely no evidence that the Sudanese government has ever engaged in a state policy with the goal of eradicating a particular racial or ethnic group. That policy would constitute genocide.
The UN report documents violations of international human rights law, incidents of war crimes by militia and the rebels fighting them, and even names individuals who may have acted with a “genocidal intention.” But there was not sufficient evidence to indicate that the government in Khartoum had a state policy that could be fairly labeled “genocide.”
“From my own eyes, I think that while something is going on there, and there is certainly a loss of life which is regrettable to all of us, I don’t know that it reaches the level of what is commonly called genocide,” said GPAC delegation member Michael Davis, himself a former U.S. delegate to the UN Human Rights Commission. Mr. Davis is also the former western regional director of Amnesty International USA, and is now executive director of the Universal Human Rights Network.
What Mr. Davis saw with his own eyes after visiting Darfur itself–not the rebel refugee camps in neighboring Chad–is illustrative of a big problem in the U.S. political arena: misinformation that seems to be intended to simply slander the Islamic, National Congress government, rather than provide relief to those who are in need and are suffering.
“I tried my best in terms of this genocide–or this alleged genocide–to ask where might I find mass graves? Where might I find huge skeletal remains, as we saw in Rwanda, where more than a million people were killed in virtually hand-to-hand combat?” Mr. Davis asked rhetorically. “I have to say, and that’s not to say they don’t exist, but in my trip to the Sudan and down in Darfur, I did not hear of those kinds of instances. And that is not to reduce the tragedy of what has gone on in Sudan. There is an enormous humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and I believe that as Americans, and particularly as African Americans, we need to reach and we need to work with the government who is now showing signs that their attention is on Darfur, and encourage that they resolve that problem” Mr. Davis said.
Work “with the government,” not, in Rep. Lee’s words, work to “cut off Khartoum’s impunity by divesting from those companies that do business in Sudan.”
The current situation in Sudan is a grave humanitarian crisis that deserves the attention of the Black leadership in this country, including members of Congress, such as Reps. Lee and Donald Payne (D-N.J.).
As mightily as some activists here have tried to equate Sudan with apartheid South Africa, and Africa in 2005 with the apartheid days of 1986, the two are not synonymous. Nor is the grave crisis in Darfur synonymous with what happened in the killing fields of Cambodia. Nor is it synonymous with Rwanda, when the world looked the other way. Nor is it synonymous with what happened in Bosnia, right in the world’s spotlight.
If Blacks in this country and their leadership took “pro-Africa” rather than “no-to-Africa” positions, our Black communities could provide guidance toward solving the Continent’s problems, rather than clouding and confusing the picture concerning the Sudan.