click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Meltdown in Darfur

Meltdown in Darfur

What happened to 'Never Again'?


"The genocide by attrition in Darfur is being accelerated." It is painful -- almost incredulous -- to have to repeat these words, which I first spoke at the Save Darfur rally on September 17, 2006, the first anniversary of the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine (the "R2P doctrine").

Yet tragically, incrementally, the genocide in Darfur has moved into high gear, a standing repudiation of the R2P doctrine, both mocking the lessons of history while betraying the people of Darfur.

For the enduring lesson of history is that the genocide of European Jewry occurred not only because of the ideology of hatred, but also because of crimes of indifference and inaction. Indeed, we have witnessed in our own days an appalling indifference and inaction which took us down the road to the unspeakable -- the genocide in Rwanda.

We know what is happening in Darfur and we have yet to act.

Unspeakable, because this genocide was preventable. No one can say that we did not know. We knew and we did not act. We know what is happening in Darfur and we have yet to act. The moral injunction of "never again" has become "yet again" - again and again, a particularly poignant and painful reminder as the UN has just commemorated the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust.

Moreover, Darfur is in "freefall" or "meltdown," as Chief UN Aid Coordinator Jan Egeland recently put it, going beyond his ominous predictions in conversations with me in September on the occasion of the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York.

We know that:

More than 450,000 Darfuris have died in this genocide by attrition. The media have been repeating for 20 months now the mantra that 200,000 have died - but the recent evidence of 450,000 dead is comprehensive and compelling. More importantly, this is not a matter of abstract statistics; behind every statistic is a human being with a name, a family, an identity.

There are four million people, as Jan Egeland put it, now on a desperate life support system. Again, the media mantra for some 20 months now has been that two million people have been displaced, ignoring the additional numbers of both displaced persons and those in desperate need of assistance.

These four million Darfuris in desperate need of food and protection are now being joined by one million Chad, and another one million in the Central African Republic. The humanitarian life support system is itself on life support.

There is a dramatic increase in mass atrocity, including systematic rape, indiscriminate bombardment and burning of villages, forced expulsions, and increasing assaults and killings of humanitarian workers.

The Darfur Peace Agreement of May 2006 between Sudan and the main Sudan rebel group is being violated daily and is itself in a "coma," as attested by Jan Pronk, the UN representative in Sudan, while the just brokered Darfur cease-fire has already been violated.

In a word, we know that the genocide by attrition -- or "go slow" genocide as it has sometimes been called -- a description that itself reflects the banality of this radical evil - has moved into high gear.

It is our responsibility, as I first said three years ago as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada at the Stockholm Conference on the Prevention of Genocide - to shatter the silence, to break down the walls of indifference, to sound the alarm, to stand with the people of Darfur. Tragically, I feel like I am hitting the rewind button of that speech three years ago, and have repeated many times since.

But as a result of the "Save Darfur" Coalitions, it is no longer public silence or indifference that is the problem -- it is governmental inaction.

And while words are important, while UN Security Council resolutions are necessary, while the normative adoption by the UN of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine is crucial, words, resolutions and doctrines are not enough. What is so necessary now -- and of the utmost urgency -- is immediate international action to stop the genocide.

What is desperately needed is a Darfur Summit involving the leadership of the African Union (AU), the European Union, the UN, and NATO, that will be convened for the express purpose of putting a Save Darfur action plan into effect -- and will not adjourn until such action plan is adopted.

What follows is a recommended 10-point action plan whereby the international community can exercise the necessary moral, political and diplomatic leadership to save Darfur.

1. The robust UN Peace Keeping Force authorized by the UN Security Council must be deployed as quickly as possible to take over from the underfunded and undermanned AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS). Only this UN Force de Frappe will have the necessary numbers, mandate and resources to stop the genocide.

2. Sudanese president Omar el-Bashir has called the UN peacekeeping force a "colonialist" initiative and "Zionist plot", denies even that any atrocities are occurring, and threatens to withhold his consent for its deployment. But the AU has said it wants the UN force, the UN has authorized the deployment, the evidence of mass atrocities is overwhelming and most importantly, the people of Darfur are demanding that it be deployed immediately.

The resolve of the international community must be clear: to put the UN force on the ground with the consent of the Sudanese government if possible, but without its consent if necessary. Stopping genocide cannot be held hostage to the perpetrators of genocide.

3. The mandate of the AU Mission has now been extended to March 2007. Yet, the plans, announced four months ago, for sending an additional 1,200 troops to join its 7,200 member force - only 40 have arrived - and for broadening its mandate, have yet to be realized. The AU mission has courageously stood as the only line of defense for millions of Darfuris. But it has neither the numbers nor the mandate to stop the killing, and is itself increasingly under attack. Accordingly, until such time as the U.N. peacekeeping force is deployed and operational, the international community must immediately reinforce - and fund - an expanded AU mission, so that it can provide a measure of security to both the Darfuri people and the humanitarian workers seeking to assist them.

4. The UN Security Council demand in 2005 that the Sudanese government cease offensive military flights must now be enforced by the immediate establishment of a "No Fly" zone, supported in particular by France and Germany. The indiscriminate bombing and burning of villages must end.

5. The UN Security Council, the EU, and their individual members must also enforce and enhance the sanctions adopted by the UN Sanctions Committee against the named Sudanese violators.

6. Those Sudanese officials responsible for the perpetration of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide must be brought to justice before the International Criminal Court.

7. The Darfur Peace Agreement - which only a robust UN force can enforce - must not be allowed to unravel.

8. Human security is more desperate and humanitarian assistance more urgent than ever. Attacks on NGOs were 100% higher in 2006 than in 2005; attacks against members of the AU peacekeeping force are up by 1000%. There is no humanitarian access at all for the over 60% of people who desperately need it, with the ominous threat of death by starvation and disease. Simply put an enhanced AU mission and robust UN peacekeeping force on the ground is imperative.

9. Individual UN Security Council members must pressure Sudan directly to accept the UN peacekeeping force and end its military offensive. China has particular leverage as the paymaster of Sudan and its largest trading partner. Also, members of the AU and the Arab League have strong relationships with Sudan and can be politically effective in this regard.

10. As the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch recently recommended, the UN Security Council, with European support, must move quickly to establish a new UN peacekeeping mission with a strong civilian protection mandate in Chad and the Central African Republic, aimed at deterring the movement of insurgent armed groups across the borders. The NATO-ready rapid deployment force of some 30,000 might be an expeditious way of both augmenting the AU mission and underpinning the UN peacekeeping force.

As the student posters continue to cry out at the Save Darfur rallies: "If not us who, if not now, when"?

This article originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.

The writer is the member of parliament for Mount Royal and former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada. He is the founder of the Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition.

February 10, 2007

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Manasseh, February 16, 2007 2:10 PM

Well spoken Mr Irwin Cotler

When an article like this comes from Israel, it speaks louder since we all know the suffering Israel endured with the Nazi injustice
The question is whats next and after Darfur?
Turn a deaf ear and a blind eye on the suffering in Darfur today and then where else and where else and where else next, I know I asked 3 times but

(6) Deena, February 16, 2007 12:13 PM

Why don't we care enough?

What is it about human nature that lets us sit by while these things happen? How can we work on changing that in ourselves? People suffer so horribly while we just continue on with our lives.

(5) Gail Duberchin, February 13, 2007 7:03 AM

Al Queda in Darfur

If we are in Iraq to stop terrorism, how can we not help the innocent in Darfur? Billions upon billions of dollars are being burned in Baghdad. But surely the terrorists are watching and see their opportunity to grow more of their own kind. Where is the moral compass? Where are the values--value of humankind? We need to get real or we are surely lost. We are surely lost.

(4) Stuart Davis, February 12, 2007 9:34 PM

Mr. Cotler is tragically mistaken

Mr. Cotler's column is misguided and tragic. He calls on the UN and the EU to stop the killing. Why would one think that either entity would do anything other than talk? Should the people of Darfur have hope based on these organizations's response to Yugoslavia or Rwanda? Unfortunately, Mr. Cotler's ten points will do nothing but make himself feel better. They won't do anything for the people getting slaughtered in Darfur.

The statement "But as a result of the "Save Darfur" Coalitions, it is no longer public silence or indifference that is the problem -- it is governmental inaction." is particularly naïve or just maybe just plain cruel. The governments that would do something, the US, Great Britain and Australia, are handcuffed because the public would not support any worthwhile effort to stop the genocide. Just look at the support these governments are receiving from their citizens on Iraq. Mass graves and Iraqi government records indicate that well over 500,000 Iraqi citizens were murdered by Saddam and his cohorts, yet the public support for that war of liberation decreases daily. The public does not understand that wars are rarely neat and never go according to plan. The public's appetite for justice is very broad but not too deep.

I think it is particularly sad that, according to the polls I have heard about, an overwhelming majority of American Jews did not support the liberation of Iraq. Why would they support action to protect the people of Darfur, which would entail a war similar to Iraq?

The way I read it, the overriding "theme" of the Torah is the liberation of the B'nai Israel from the Pharaoh, a tyrant who thought nothing of killing his citizens, just like Saddam and the Janjaweed. The Torah also speaks of blotting out the Amalikites, a group that attacked the B'nai Israel upon their departure from Egypt for sport. Saddam and the Janjaweed are today's Amalikites.

Mr. Cotler's views not withstanding, until we learn these lessons of the Torah with respect to tyrants and murders, the reprise will have to be changed from "never again" to "again and again".

(3) Nicholas Folkes, February 12, 2007 3:49 AM

Another fine example of Islam's hate of others

The U.N. is a toothless tiger and not interested in carrying justice forward. We have seen time and time again where the U.N. could have been effective but sat by and let innocent victims perish. Sudan is another example of Islam's hate for others, this time the Christians of the South. Wherever we look on the globe Islam is murdering Jews, Christians, Buddhists and others in the name of their God. When will this genocide stop? Is humankind able to find a solution to Islam and its murderous ways? I have lost all faith in the U.N. as most of the time it is verbally attacking Israel and always turns a blind eye to Islamic terror.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment