The Spotlight On Darfur Is Gone, But Not The Abuses
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
When the conflict in Darfur back in 2004 was labeled this century's first genocide, it became a test for how well the world could come together to stop mass atrocities. More than a decade later, that conflict continues to rage, and activists say the international community is failing. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Omer Ismail was a key figure in the Save Darfur movement that swept college campuses, churches and synagogues over a decade ago at a time when he says many world leaders were still feeling guilty about Rwanda and the Balkans.
OMER ISMAIL: Darfur came to be known around the world at the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. And because it was labeled a genocide by the U.S. government, that became the trigger for this huge activism.
KELEMEN: Ismail grew up in Darfur in western Sudan, but fled the country after a military coup in 1989, and he's been an outspoken critic of Sudan's government since then. He says when it comes to Darfur, President Omar al-Bashir manages to do just enough to keep the pressure off while the conflict - now in its 12th year - rages on.
ISMAIL: The government of Sudan is still denying. The government of Sudan is still using its tactics of military solution to this crisis. After all these years, they never learned that this crime doesn't pay, and they have to find a settlement to this problem.
KELEMEN: And this is despite the fact that there's a U.N. mission that costs $1.2 billion a year.
ISMAIL: Yes, it is ineffective. It is important, but ineffective.
KELEMEN: The U.N. Security Council recently voted to extend the mandate for that U.N. mission for another year. Even that step took a lot of behind-the-scenes work from U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, who spoke in the council about the decision.
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SAMANTHA POWER: We've seen more violent displacement of people in Darfur this last year than in 10 years. Ten years ago, however, Darfur enjoyed a perch at the top of the international peace and security agenda. Today, the suffering of the people of Darfur has become less visible. Our attention has been diverted.
KELEMEN: Having peacekeepers in Darfur was seen as a victory for activists at the time, but that was short-lived, says Cameron Hudson, a former U.S. State Department official who now runs the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
CAMERON HUDSON: Bashir has been one step ahead of the international community from day one.
KELEMEN: The Sudanese leader managed to limit the ability of peacekeepers to do much, he says, and the U.S. and the U.N. need to draw some lessons from this.
HUDSON: Not much worked, not in any kind of real way. You know, hard-nosed, on the ground protection, not much has worked, and it's come at a very high cost to everyone involved.
KELEMEN: Hudson fears that other countries are learning from Sudan that peacekeeping operations can be weakened by, in his words, a death by a thousand cuts.
HUDSON: We see it happening right now in South Sudan where the mission there is unable to operate and unable to fulfill its protection mandate. And they're employing all of the same sorts of procedural tactics that the government of Sudan has really patented in many ways.
KELEMEN: To prevent atrocities, diplomats and activists alike often talk about the various tools the U.N. Security Council has to protect civilians caught up in conflicts. Omer Ismail, the Darfuri American, says it's time to take inventory.
ISMAIL: The tool box needs re-tooling, I guess. We have to think of different ways of dealing with mass atrocities, war crimes and crime prevention.
KELEMEN: He's now a policy adviser to the Enough Project, an advocacy group here that wants to see the world do more to tighten the financial noose around Sudan's government and around others accused of atrocities. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.