The death toll from the Sudanese government's three-year campaign of ethnic cleansing against black Africans in Darfur is now approaching 400,000. The Sudanese military and their Janjaweed allies have driven more than 2 million refugees from their homes. Last year, an investigation by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights found as many as 2,000 villages and towns had been depopulated by a brutal scorched-earth policy.
Beyond the abstract numbers are the horrific violations of human dignity taking place in Darfur. The High Commissioner and numerous human rights organizations have documented a widespread, deliberate campaign of terror and sexual violence: women and young girls taken into slavery or gang-raped in public; men castrated and left to bleed to death.
Weighed down by the commercial interests of Russia and China and the political allegiances of Islamic and African states, the U.N. Security Council has proceeded at a glacial pace in addressing what the U.N.'s own investigators have called the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Last spring, after two years of bloodshed, it announced meager sanctions that might be applied to individuals responsible for the carnage in Darfur and threatened war criminals with prosecution at the International Criminal Court.
In recent weeks, the situation in Darfur has gotten worse. Janjaweed militias supported by Sudanese helicopter gunships have increased their attacks on defenseless civilians. Darfur is not just a war zone; it's also a crime scene in which atrocities are continuing every day.
The United States has been a lone yet wholly inadequate voice about this genocide. Until American leaders perceive some semblance of a constituency to stop the killing, words will continue to substitute for actions. And, sometimes, even the words are lacking.
President Bush has been profoundly silent and shockingly passive about Darfur. For all the high-minded rhetoric about the power of peaceful, democratic transformation, the Bush administration has descended to immoral depths with one of the world's most violent, undemocratic regimes to obtain its dubious cooperation in the war on terror.
This month, the United States holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council. Ambassador John Bolton is in a unique position to dispel the council's inertia and initiate actions that will save lives on the ground in Darfur.
Bolton has already accomplished something of consequence. The Security Council has approved a statement that would initiate contingency planning for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur. The proposed U.N. force would replace a poorly equipped, undermanned and largely ineffectual African Union force of 7,000 monitors whose mandate runs out at the end of March.
At the moment, however, a U.N. peacekeeping force is only hypothetical. And despite Bolton's modest achievement, there's little reason to believe the Bush administration's policy of benign neglect has changed. In a Feb. 7 interview with journalist Jim Lehrer, Vice President Dick Cheney offered this deplorable assessment of the U.S. response to Darfur: "I am satisfied we're doing everything we can do."
Whenever I write about the situation in Darfur, readers ask me: "What can I do?" Invariably, I refer them to aid organizations such as the Save Darfur Coalition or tell them to contact their representative and senators.
This month, my answer is different. Contact the White House. Tell Bush that while the United States presides at the Security Council, contingency planning for a U.N. peacekeeping force must become operational planning. Twenty thousand peacekeepers, equipped and supported by the United States and the European Union, are needed on the ground quickly. The first step toward ending the violence is the enforcement a no-fly zone in Darfur by NATO.
Only American leadership can compel the United Nations to stop the slaughter in Darfur. Only by shaking off moral torpor can Bush prevent a genocide that is already well under way from being completed on his watch.