Mother Nature’s fury, as we have experienced in our own nation in the aftermath of hurricanes and tornadoes, devastates communities. But Mother Nature’s worst pales when compared to the disasters created by man’s furyand folly. A hurricane of hatred has created in Darfur a human-made catastrophe and, lest this tragedy continue to spiral out of control, people of good will must rise to the challenge and act. More than 400,000 people have perished in the three years since the proxy militias known as janjaweed began a ruthless operation of death and destruction against the non-Arab population of Darfur, a region of western Sudan. With the support and acquiescence of the Sudanese government, these militias have terrorized innocent civilians, who are targeted simply because of their ethnicity in a systematic campaign of rape, indiscriminate killing and wanton burning of villages. Why?
After years of neglect by the central government in distant Khartoum, growing dissatisfaction among the non-Arab ethnic groups in Darfur led some to rebel. Earlier the government had faced rebellion in the south. Alarmed at the prospect of yet another challenge to their rule, Sudan’s leaders in Khartoum struck with unmitigated ferocity and unleashed their local loyalists in a vicious frenzy fed by ethnic hatreds.
The delivery of humanitarian assistance to the 2.5 million people who have fled their homes and the million more at risk of starvation became a daunting challenge to the international community. Last November, Pope Benedict XVI called on world leaders to take the action necessary to protect the basic human rights of the people of Darfur.
The U.S. Catholic bishops welcomed the U.S. administration’s earlier efforts to strengthen the mission of the poorly funded, ill-equipped and undermanned peacekeepers from the African Union, who have sought to bring some measure of protection to the helpless civilians of Darfur.
The bishops recently joined with the leaders of other faith communities and people of good will in an urgent appeal to the president and our elected representatives to intensify their efforts to bring a definitive end to the intolerable moral and humanitarian crisis in Darfur. On April 30, the Save Darfur rally in our nation’s capital helped to remind our leaders that the American people could not remain silent in the face of murder, rape and gratuitous destruction.
After meeting with a group of the organizers on the Friday before the rally, President George W. Bush called the Sudanese president and dispatched Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick to attempt to break the deadlock in the peace talks. After three years of carnage and eight months of inconclusive talks, one week of intensive negotiations with substantial international engagement, led by the United States, finally restored hope to the people of Darfur.
But the signing of a peace agreement by the government and the rebels represents only a first step. The bishops’ conference urges continued high-level U.S. engagement in order to ensure that this peace agreement is implemented. According to the initial news reports, its provisions promise to deliver peace through security and resource-sharing measures that can create a climate of safety that will allow the people of Darfur to return home and begin rebuilding their lives. The key to restoring genuine security and stability is sustained high-level pressure and commitment on the part of the international community, particularly the United States.
This peace accord will open the way for the United States to hold the Sudanese government to its promise of allowing the African Union peacekeeping force to be transformed into a more robust and mobile U.N. mission with a strong mandate. It is essential to strengthen significantly the presence and responsiveness of peacekeeping forces in Darfur, both to guarantee implementation of the peace agreement and to win the confidence of the people.
The United States has made a commitment to provide humanitarian assistance, but effective delivery of this assistance has been impaired by the lack of security. Persistent high-level U.S. leadership is required to get a U.N. force in place as soon as possible to ensure the reliable delivery of aid.
The hopeful signs emerging recently show what can be accomplished when U.S. leadership and formidable national energies are directed toward ending a catastrophe of human making.