Today's annual Holocaust Remembrance Day is meant to commemorate the millions of Jews and others who were systematically murdered by the Nazis during the World War II era, to call attention to subsequent incidences of genocide, and to prevent future cases of such atrocities against humanity. This year's solemn observance is marred by the publically communicated views of the president of Iran, who denies that the Holocaust ever transpired. Further, it is happening at a time when there is clear evidence of mass murder of innocent civilians of a certain race by the government of Sudan.
Twenty years ago, Sudan emerged from a civil war to form its second democratic government following free elections.
Unfortunately, that government was overthrown three years later. Since the early 1990s, the country has been largely ruled at the end of gun and has seen multiple military coups.
Recent power-sharing arrangements and efforts at forming a national unity constitution have proven futile. Meanwhile, the ongoing disputes between the northern and southern regions of Sudan, between the government and its Arab militia supporters on the one hand and rebels intent on fighting the government on the other, and between those who want to follow strict Islamic law and those who want religious diversity, has morphed into outright extermination in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
Since 2003, innocent black civilians who are members of tribal groups in the Darfur area have suffered murder, rape, torture and air bombings that have left an estimated 200,000 dead and 2 million homeless. The desperate situation has led more than 200,000 residents of this area to flee to neighboring Chad, though attacks have continued in some refugee camps there. The Sudanese government and its supporters have inhibited the United Nations and other international groups from gaining access to the Darfur area. All of these actions fulfill the definition of genocide as put forth by the 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention, which is why the United States declared the treatment of black Sudanese in Darfur as genocide in 2004.
There has been some effort to reverse the slaughter of innocents in Sudan. The African Union, comprised of all African countries except Morocco, has dispatched 7,000 troops to the Darfur region for peacekeeping duties. The cost of the latter operation to date, approximately $250 million, has been subsidized by the United States and members of the European Union. However, the crimes against humanity continue unabated, as witnessed by relief agency personnel, Western media representatives and others. At present, no non-African group is willing to commit military forces to the region. Further, the U.N. Security Council, which has passed a resolution threatening oil sanctions against Sudan, has failed to follow through on that action, in part due to China's insistence that it will veto any future resolution actually imposing sanctions.
China, which buys about 70 percent of Sudan's oil exports and has invested more than $10 billion in Sudanese oil fields, has been accused of furnishing the Sudan government with weapons and with openly siding with the authorities and the nomadic Arab militias that are acting as their mercenaries. Chad, whose military repulsed a rebellion of its own just last week, has accused Sudan of fomenting trouble and has announced it will expel Sudanese refugees by June 30 if the humanitarian crisis is not dealt with by then. The Central African Republic, whose border has been used for attacks into Chad, has sought to prevent both rebels and refugees from entering its territory. Other nations that border Sudan and Chad, that might otherwise be of assistance in the current crisis, have issues of their own to worry about.
The deteriorating conditions in Darfur, Sudan and its surroundings portend a crisis that could envelop a significant proportion of the African continent. So far, proposals forwarded to deal with the crisis have been singular rather than part of a comprehensive strategy. The following actions should be simultaneously undertaken:
• Furnish humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Darfur and in Chad, including medical staff, housing, food, clean water and sanitary facilities.
• Quadruple the size of the African Union peacekeeping force to at least 28,000 troops, backed by U.S.-EU funding.
• There must be additional aid sent to relief agencies in the Darfur region, both by the UN and private groups.
• The International Criminal Court, which has already received inquiries about the genocide in Darfur, should be allowed to proceed with an investigation that could result in charges of crimes against humanity and the prosecution of Sudanese officials and their supporters responsible for the atrocities.
• France, which has a major military base in eastern Chad, should assist the latter nation in securing its border.
• International pressure should be placed on China to halt any overt effort to support the Sudanese government in its pursuit of anti-government rebels.
• There must be a concerted effort to keep attention on the genocide taking place in Sudan, such as the planned rally in Washington on Sunday by a plethora of organizations.
The world's response to the genocide in Sudan will certainly demonstrate its commitment to the rallying cry of the post-Holocaust period: "Never again." The need for action is immediate and Holocaust Remembrance Day is a good time to start.
Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies Director at Delaware State University.