Avoiding past mistakes in Africa

We need to act now, or in 10 years, we will have to express heartfelt regrets about another genocide.

Eleven years ago April 7 began the mass murder of targeted civilians in Rwanda. Over the course of 100 days more than 800,000 people would be exterminated in what today has been called the world’s fastest genocide.

As the killings intensified, the world looked on – or looked away. In fact, the United Nations peacekeeping mission (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda), which was in the country at the time, was ordered by the U.N. Security Council to withdraw all but a handful of its troops. Documents released show that in a telegram to the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York on April 15, 1994, the U.S. Department of State insisted that, “the international community must give highest priority to full, orderly withdrawal of all UNAMIR personnel as soon as possible,” and further stated “we (the U.S.) will oppose any effort at this time to preserve an presence in Rwanda.” The troops were redeployed to Rwanda in August 1994.

There have since been expressions of regret from people who were in the positions to change the situation, but did not do so. Last year at the 10-year memorial conference at the United Nations, the U.N. Secretary-General Koffi Annan, head of peacekeeping forces in 1994, said that at the time he believed that he was doing his best, but later realized that there was more he could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support.

The Clinton administration is not short of regrets either. Early this year in The Washington Post, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the genocide, admits, “My deepest regret during my years in government was that the United States did not do more.” Former President Bill Clinton in his memoir, “My Life,” admitted his decisions on Rwanda were one of his greatest regrets, but does not go much into detail regarding the circumstances he faced and why his administration did not confront the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Fast forward to today and we have a situation so similar that the parallels are chilling. In Darfur, the western region of Sudan, pro-government Arab militias, known collectively as “Janjaweed,” are killing and torturing people from “African” tribes residing in the region. According to a U.N. report released in January this year, an estimated 200,000 people are dead and approximately 1.6 million people have fled their homes.

The African Union has only 2,000 troops in Darfur protecting the civilians and this is inadequate for an area the size of France. On Sept. 9, former Secretary of State Colin Powell termed the situation “genocide,” a charge rejected by officials in the European Union and the African Union. The U.N. Security Council has also refrained from describing the condition as genocide, but has voted to refer war crimes suspects in Darfur to the International Criminal Court.

The United States, which has consistently opposed the court, along with China, Algeria and Brazil decided to abstain on the resolution. In fact, the United Nations had to give special consideration to the United States by stating that peacekeepers and civilians of countries that have not ratified the court and are working in Sudan could only be tried at home if accused of a crime. Sudan has criticized the vote and voting process and is opposed to having any citizens of its country tried in a foreign court.

The complexity of the crisis in Darfur has not hindered students nationwide from rallying for support and raising awareness on the issue. Today, MTV and a coalition of college students called STAND (Students Taking Action Now; Darfur) are asking their peers to participate in the STANDfast program, in which they will give up something (nicotine, cigarettes, caffeine, etc.) and donate the money they would have spent to a charity helping the victims in Darfur.

Raising Awareness for Africa, a student organization at the University, will be handing out green ribbons throughout the rest of the semester. To this end they are planning events for the summer to raise more awareness of the situation in Darfur and funds for the refugees who have fled their homes. For more information on how to get involved or to share your suggestions and events send an e-mail to [email protected]

Nelima Kerre is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]