President Trump, you may have heard, is soon embarking on the first international trip of his presidency – to Saudi Arabia, Israel, The Vatican, Italy and Brussels. What you may not have heard is that while in Saudi Arabia, there is a possibility that Trump will not only meet with King Salman, who is currently allegedly committing war crimes in Yemen, but also with Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan who is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court for his leading role in the Darfur Genocide.
Remember Darfur? Remember when seemingly every synagogue in the United States had a “Save Darfur” banner outside? When they all had tzedaka collections dedicated to relief funds? Remember when, to sum it up, Darfur was the cause du jour of the U.S. Jewish community, and perhaps to a lesser extent (or perhaps my perspective is limited here), the country at large? In 2004 the Save Darfur Coalition was founded by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Jewish World Service at an event featuring the late Elie Wiesel. The organization still exists, but its media presence, and consequently, the presence of Darfur in the American consciousness, has dwindled.
In 2003 the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement began fighting against the Sudanese government in response to oppression against the country’s non-Arab population. In response, the al-Bashir government along with the Janjaweed militias, embarked on a genocidal campaign against the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups. The violence has taken the form of mass rape, torture, the poisoning of water sources, the use of chemical weapons like mustard gas, the destruction of villages, and, of course, mass murder. According to World Without Genocide, over 480,000 people have been killed and over 2.8 million displaced.
In 2009, and again in 2010, the ICC issued warrants for al-Bashir’s arrest for “five counts of crimes against humanity,” “two counts of war crimes,” and “three counts of genocide.” The ICC, though a noble institution, lacks any real means of enforcement without the willing participation of its member states, and despite visits to Jordan and South African, both member states of the ICC, al-Bashir has avoided arrest and extradition – as a result, al-Bashir remains in power.
Which brings us to the situation at hand. Sudan and Saudi Arabia have a history of close cooperation, including in the present war in Yemen, so it is unsurprising that they would extend an invitation to al-Bashir – vicious dictators tend to stick together. But the invitation does, I think, demonstrate Saudi attitudes towards Trump. As a New York Times article points out, “The United States is not a member of the International Criminal Court but has long sought to ostracize defendants who defy the court’s arrest warrants, including Mr. Bashir, who has led Sudan for nearly three decades.” Even if Trump upholds U.S. policy, the implicit judgment by the Saudis is that there is a chance that their provocation will induce no reaction whatsoever.
While there is as yet no indication as to whether al-Bashir intends to accept the Saudi invitation, the proper response, the only acceptable response, from the White House is clear – well, it was, but the ship has sailed. The only proper response would have been to immediately issue a statement condemning the invitation and to threaten to cancel the visit unless the invitation were rescinded. But “immediately” passed days ago. There remains of course the very real possibility that Trump is entirely unaware of who or what al-Bashir is, but if and when he finds out, he must condemn and threaten to cancel. A failure to do so would confer legitimacy (to the extent that the presence of Trump’s government can still confer any kind of legitimacy) upon the perpetrator of the 21st century’s first genocide. To meet with al-Bashir, to appear in the same building even, would be to implicitly condone the genocide, because in the face of genocide anything short of outright condemnation and refusal is tantamount to a condonation. There is simply no excuse, even the prospect of al-Bashir’s mere presence is unacceptable.
The United States, in terms of practical action, has all but forgotten and forsaken the people of Darfur. The least we can do is keep up appearances.