Genocide by Any Other Name is Still Genocide: Crisis in Darfur, Sudan

 

Genocide by Any Other Name is Still Genocide: Crisis in Darfur, Sudan

By Ruth Messinger

 

Originally written June 18, 2004 and published in many Jewish newspapers throughout the country. Revised July 12, 2004.

As early as March of this year, humanitarian organizations were issuing warnings of ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan. For a long time these warnings continued to be ignored by most of the mainstream and Jewish media, and Americans remain virtually unaware of the atrocities occurring there. Are we Jews to do nothing when we know better?

While most of the media and our elected officials have been ignoring the world's largest humanitarian crisis today, African tribal farmers in Darfur, Sudan have been displaced, murdered, raped, tortured, starved and kidnapped by Sudanese government-backed militias known as Janjaweed whose sole purpose is to rid the region of its black population.

As Jews, we have an increased moral obligation to respond, to speak out and take action against ethnic cleansing regardless of the ethnicity, race or religion of the people being victimized. Such lessons we learned only too well from the Holocaust.

Furthermore, Leviticus teaches, "Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbors." The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Committee on Conscience issued its second ever genocide warning in May, and its director, Jerry Fowler, recently returned from the region and described some of the horrors being committed there (USHMM.org).

Currently, the United States government is pondering whether or not to label the Darfur atrocities as genocide. While our government contemplates the political ramifications of the accusation of genocide, villages are being razed; women and girls are systematically raped and branded; men and children are brutally slaughtered. Murdered children and livestock have been thrown in wells to deliberately poison water supplies. Damns have been blown-up, water pumps destroyed, schools, houses, clinics and even mosques burned, though the
perpetrators, like their victims, are Muslim.

The purpose is to drive the ethnic Africans from the region. The brutal violence has resulted in over 30,000 deaths and the displacement of as many as two million Darfurians. An estimated 200,000 refugees have crossed the border into Chad, and only in the past few weeks have humanitarian agencies had access to limited portions of the affected region.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that a minimum of 350,000 people will die even if humanitarian aid reaches the affected populations. As many as a million people could die if aid is withheld or unavailable.

The world looked away when six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. In its shadow, The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide developed a definition of the term "genocide" and provided the world with a legal obligation to take action to both prevent and punish genocide. Yet, our government avoided using the term in Rwanda 10 years ago when 800,000 people of the Tutsi minority were slaughtered in 100 days by their government. The question we must now ask about Sudan is: Are we to repeat history or make it?

American Jews responded in Bosnia; we must respond in Sudan. We can prevent these atrocities from occurring and we can prevent a million people from dying.

The Jewish response is growing. Since April, American Jewish World Service has been providing essential humanitarian services to many of the affected populations in Darfur and Chad. The Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief created the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief in which 21 national Jewish organizations have pledged support. The Reform Movement, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and Jewish Council on Public Affairs have all issued statements.

And there is renewed hope in increased action as members of Congress begin to respond as a result of these pleas, and Secretary of State Colin Powell and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan visit the region.

As Jews who know firsthand the consequences of silence from the nternational community, we must do all that we can to prevent or stop deliberate attempts to annihilate any people. We must respond with aid and advocacy, both of which can be addressed quickly and efficiently through the AJWS Web site.

So call it what you want--genocide, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity--but do respond while there is still time to save as many lives as we can.

Please donate to our Sudan Relief and Advocacy Fund today.

Find out what else you can do to help.

Ruth W. Messinger is the president of American Jewish World Service.

Photos courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Photo Left: Woman seeks help for her malnourished daughter in a therapeutic feeding center in a refugee camp in Chad.

Photo Right: Makeshift shelters covered with sheeting provided by relief agencies in refugee camp in Chad.