This weekend, the clock will run out on the 30-day United Nations deadline given to the Sudanese government to crack down on the killing in the Darfur region. By most accounts, nothing has changed. The so-called Janjaweed militias continue to operate unimpeded, villages continue to burn and villagers continue to flee into exile in Chad, where too many of them die in miserable refugee camps with no food or medicine.
The militias, with the tacit backing of the government in Khartoum, have been engaged in a campaign of slaughter during the past year. What began as a counter-insurgency became ethnic cleansing, with Arab Muslim herders attacking black Muslim farmers, leaving some 50,000 dead and more than 1 million driven from their homes. Pressure from human rights groups and the Bush administration finally put the issue on the world’s agenda last month, but the United Nations has proved unable to act firmly, paralyzed as it has been so often in the past by its blocs of dictatorships and failed states. In the latest instance, what started as a move toward sanctions ended in a toothless agreement that the Khartoum regime had little intention of honoring.
Sudan’s behavior in Darfur shows a seemingly infinite capacity for cynicism and brutality. The current conflict comes on the heels of a two-decade campaign by the government against the Christians and animists in southern Sudan, which left 2 million dead. In sad contrast to other regions of the world, where great power interests stir action, the conscience of humankind seems incapable of rousing itself in those neglected places where it is most needed.
The one hope at this point is the African Union, which has deployed a handful of troops in Darfur and Chad to monitor the abuses and pressure the sides. The monitors have shown honesty and independence so far, a rarity in that torn land. The African Union wants to expand the force and broaden its mandate. Our own government must stay involved and throw its full weight behind the plan.