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Sweet Column: Save Darfur.


Today's column....

The United States is trying but it is not doing enough to stop the genocidal killings and mass displacements in Darfur.

You can help pressure the Bush White House and Congress to do even more by marching in a rally to "Save Darfur'' on April 30 on the National Mall or at 4:30 p.m. May 1 at the Kluczynski Federal Building, 230 S. Dearborn.

When the genocide in Rwanda took place in 1994, President Bill Clinton did not act, and he regrets it to this day. The world stood by, just as it did in the 1930s and the 1940s when the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of other victims of the Holocaust.

There was never even a rally to try to save Rwanda.

The horrible irony of Darfur in 2006 is that the world has been quite aware for years of the escalating violence in the western region of Sudan between ethnic Africans and Arabs, both of whom share the Muslim faith. There are estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 have died and 2.5 million people displaced.

There are photos, videos, reports from humanitarian workers on Web sites testimony to the horrific situation in Darfur. We know, and it is still happening.

With the United States overstretched in Iraq and its credibility questioned because of the war, it cannot send troops.

"There is an enormous protection void,'' said Samantha Power, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, when we talked Monday morning. It's fruitless to consider U.S. soldiers on the ground in Darfur, Power said. Jihadists would just follow U.S. troops to Sudan.

On Sept. 9, 2004, the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell threw a thunderbolt when he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "genocide has occurred and may still be occurring in Darfur.'' It was the first time a U.S. official used the word to describe the actions of another country and was intended to prod the United Nations to take action.

The killing in Darfur did not end. The bloodshed, rape, torture and internal and external forced migrations only continue, and the conflict is spilling over to neighboring Chad.

President Bush backs doubling the African Union military force -- now at 7,000 soldiers from other African nations -- for an area the size of Texas and eventually moving possibly to U.N.- or NATO-led forces with an African Union component. Will Europe help, or is the dangerous job of peacekeeping left for the poor countries?

The roots of the clash are tied to racial and ethnic strife that deepened in 2003, pitting Arab Janjaweed militias allied with the ruling Sudanese regime of President Omar al-Bashir against opposition rebel groups. This year, the situation got more complicated as rebel groups are fighting for position among themselves for an upper hand, faced with the potential of peace negotiations.

"I think it's good we called this genocide. It's bad that we're not doing more to stop it,'' said Ken Bacon, president of Refugees International and a former Pentagon spokesman in the Clinton administration. Bacon spoke at a briefing last Thursday on policy options for Darfur sponsored by the Brookings Institution.

It is not easy. "But I think this is an area where pressure from the public is having an impact on what our government is doing,'' Bacon said.

At the same Brookings briefing, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who handles the Darfur portfolio, said Darfur is generating "interest across a wide spectrum of Americans.''

The April 30 rally is being organized by the "Save Darfur Coalition'' comprising 155 groups, with faith-based organizations playing a central role. (Find the complete list of sponsors and more information at

A variety of Jewish organizations is taking a lead, along with Muslim, Evangelical, other Protestant and Catholic associations and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, dedicated to preventing future genocides as well as understanding past ones.

"The world needs to act,'' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said recently. The Sudan government is sporadically resisting the proposal to add African Union forces, "but they have failed in their obligation to protect the people of Darfur,'' Rice said.

China is a key actor.

The Bush administration, to its credit, asked the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to impose travel sanctions on four Sudanese officials accused of human rights violations as well as freezing their assets.

Sudan is an oil nation. There is a building boom in Khartoum, the capital, financed by growing oil profits bankrolled by the Chinese. Oil-hungry China, one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Russia, another member, are resisting pressuring Sudan.

Bush is meeting today with Chinese President Hu Jintao and has many trade items on the agenda. It's not clear yet if Darfur will be part of the discussions. Students at many universities are leading divestment drives. They are a new army of human rights activists. U.S. firms can't do business in Sudan, but China can and the United States does business with China.

Power, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, has been spending the year as a "fellow'' in the office of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), serving as a foreign policy adviser. Power said Bush needs to name a special envoy to Darfur -- someone with the stature of a Colin Powell or the Rwanda guilt-stricken President Clinton. Someone, Power said, ''needs to peel Sudan's friends away.''

It's time for a sense of urgency.





I would like to respond to the previous comment. This selective saving you are talking about is nonsense. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a bad person but the genocide that was occuring in Iraq was NOT in the hundreds of thousands. Rwanda occured in 100 days and cost the lives of 800,000 people. I know you're not going to like this, but the war in Iraq has cost the lives of more civilians than Saddam ever did. The conflict in Darfur is much worse than the situation in Iraq was before the war began. Do the Kurds and Shia deserve justice? Sure, but the way justice is being served is wrong because it is leaving more dead than were being killed in the first place.

I believe there should be selective saving - but saving those that need it. The Darfurians NEED it. They needed it more than the Iraqis.

You are right. The key to getting anything serious done about Darfur until it is too late is the European Union (or the individual European countries). The EU governments (as over so many things)conveniently wait on the US to act first. But, as you point out, the Bush Administration has too much else on its hands so it only mouths pious hopes.

The European peoples want something done and fast.
The key is to use that fact to put pressure on the EU and individual EU Govts. The African Union force must be supported, NATO must help. Forget the Chinese are relucant- that's just an excuse for the rest of us doing nothing.
John Pedler, JP Diplomatic Consultancy, France and Croatia.

As you might know, Illinois was the first state to require that public pension dollars be divested from the multinational corporations that are active in Sudan. As the law’s prime sponsor, I want to say “thank you��? for the column that you published yesterday in the Sun-Times, and to give you some information that might be helpful. Specifically, certain multinationals that do business in Sudan (such as ABB, AIG, BPAmoco, ExxonMobil, Pepsi-Co, Proctor & Gamble, Siemens, and Tyco) are threatening to go to court to challenge state and university policies that require divestment from Sudan. If you write of Sudan in the future, I hope you will tell these companies: “We are watching you.��?

Since the passage of the Illinois Act to End Atrocities and Terrorism in Sudan, other states are imitating it, including New Jersey, Louisiana, and Connecticut. Public and private colleges are imitating it, including UCal, Stanford, and Amherst. And Wall Street firms – such as Barclays and Northern Trust – are creating Sudan-free portfolios. Now, according to a March 20, 2006 article in Pensions and Investment, the group known as the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) is considering “filing a suit��? against the Act. And in October of 2005, the same group mounted a public relations campaign against divestment. Through this combined public-relations/legal strategy, the NFTC seeks to attack the Act and challenges its purpose. Perhaps the members of the NFTC think that they can stop a national movement by striking at the vanguard. Let’s hope they are mistaken.

In any event, the objections raised by the NFTC merit no shrift whatsoever. For starters, the so-called council is actually comprised of a host of multinationals, many of whom are actively invested in Sudan, usually through foreign affiliates and subsidiaries. At the same time, the corporations’ tidy little legal constructs make no sense in the face of facts: thousands of our sisters and brothers are being killed and tortured in Sudan. Within the confines of the boardroom, it might be possible to argue that the law requires states to sit on their hands while getting rich by doing business with a government that kills and maims its own people. But when counting-house ledgers don’t tally the loss of human life, the surreal must give way to the real. The esoteric legal constructs presented by these multinationals were not acceptable during the era of the Nazi regime, and they are not acceptable today.

Like Illinois State Board of Investment Director William Atwood, we believe that the decision made by Illinois lawmakers is “rightly the province of elected officials.��? Illinois’ Sudan divestment law ensures that Illinois state dollars do not end up in the hands of a regime that sponsors terrorism and commits genocide. The Act shows that the people of Illinois are outraged, and that they are willing to take action. In passing and implementing the Illinois law, Illinois’ state elected officials on both sides of the aisle, including Governor Blagojevich and Treasurer Topinka, have acted commendably. Here’s hoping that U.S. Senators will follow suit – particularly by concurring in Representative Hyde’s version of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act (H.R. 3127), which recently passed the House.

Please contact me if you want any more information about our efforts to stop the bleeding in Sudan.

Jacqueline Y. Collins
State Senator, 16th District

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on April 20, 2006 11:12 AM.

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