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Reign of Terror

September 11, 2004
New York Times Op-Ed
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

On my last visit to the Darfur area in Sudan, in June, I found a man groaning under a tree. He had been shot in the neck and jaw and left for dead in a pile of corpses. Seeking shelter under the very next tree were a pair of widows whose husbands had both been shot to death. Under the next tree I found a 4-year-old orphan girl caring for her starving 1-year-old brother. And under the tree next to that was a woman whose husband had been killed, along with her 7- and 4-year-old sons, before she was gang-raped and mutilated.

Those were the refugees sheltering under just four adjacent trees. Thousands of other victims with similar stories stretched as far as the eye could see.

So I salute the Bush administration for formally declaring on Thursday that the slaughter is a genocide. But as we commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, let's remember that almost as many people are still dying in Darfur every week as died in the World Trade Center attack.

"There's kind of a reign of terror that exists," said Kenny Gluck, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders in the Netherlands.

Even in the camps where Doctors Without Borders is present, he says, Janjaweed gunmen often rape women or execute men who go off to seek firewood. So now, he said, many families are making an agonizing choice: they are sending their small children out at night to gather wood because small children are less likely to be murdered or raped.

So I've got some questions.

For President Bush Why don't you turn up the heat on Sudan? How about consulting urgently with the leaders of our allies about how to exert more pressure on Sudan? How about inviting victims to the White House and denouncing the genocide from the Rose Garden? How about threatening a no-flight zone in Darfur unless Sudan cooperates?

For France and Germany I sympathized with your opposition to the war in Iraq. But are you really now so petty and anti-Bush that you refuse to stand with the U.S. against the slaughter in Darfur, or even to contribute significant sums to ease the suffering?

Does the Chirac government really want to show the moral blindness to Sudan's genocide that the Vichy regime did to Hitler's?

For the Islamic world You're absolutely right to hold Israel's feet to the fire over its often brutal treatment of Palestinians, but why don't you also care about dead Sudanese? In August, according to a human rights monitoring group, Israel killed 42 Palestinians, including fighters. In the same period, according to the World Health Organization, more than 10,000 people died in Darfur - virtually all of them Muslim.

Islamic Relief is doing an excellent job, but the Muslim victims of Darfur are getting far more help from Jewish and Christian aid groups than from Islamic charities.

For the United Nations Agencies like the U.N. World Food Program are working heroically to keep the victims alive, but the U.N. as a whole has failed to respond to Sudanese atrocities. Mostly that's because of the failure of member states, but I'm afraid that some of the responsibility has to be charged to a man I like and respect: Kofi Annan.

I hate to say it, but the way things are going, when he dies his obituary will begin: "Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general who at various points in his career presided ineffectually over the failure to stop genocide, first in Rwanda and then in Sudan, died today. "

One of the people I met on my last trip to Darfur was Hatum Atraman Bashir, who was pregnant with the baby of one of the 20 Janjaweed raiders who murdered her husband and gang-raped her. A few days ago, I received an e-mail note from an aid worker in the International Rescue Committee, which is assisting Ms. Bashir, saying that she had given birth but could not produce milk for the baby - a common problem because of malnutrition.

The lives of Ms. Bashir, her new baby and about one million others are at stake as we dither over how to respond to the genocide. And so far we've failed them.

In Wednesday's column quoting Bob Mintz, who was at the Alabama National Guard base where George W. Bush apparently wasn't, I bragged that my interview was his first with a national news organization. It turns out that he spoke to CBS in February. Mea culpa.

 
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