AT DAWN ON Tuesday, a few hours before Americans began voting, Sudanese police and soldiers arrived at a camp for displaced people in South Darfur. They set fire to huts, beat people with truncheons and shot an unknown number; then, as The Post's Emily Wax reported, they loaded 250 families into trucks and drove them away. They did all this, moreover, at a camp just eight miles from a contingent of Nigerian cease-fire monitors, whose job is supposedly to deter such war crimes. Meanwhile the United States is leading an international response to Darfur's crisis. Its principal goal is to deploy more African Union monitors of the sort that failed Tuesday.
For a while over the summer, the world's response to Darfur seemed to be gathering momentum. A series of high-level visits to the region, including stops by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, put pressure on Sudan's government to stop murdering civilians; the U.N. Security Council passed two resolutions condemning the abuses; Congress and then the Bush administration determined that the systematic killing of ethnic Africans met the definition of genocide. Sudan's government responded by allowing relief workers to bring food and medicine to displaced people and by agreeing to the presence of African Union troops. All this progress was unforgivably slow, and tens of thousands of people died waiting for it. But it was still progress.
Now the momentum has fizzled. Preparations for an African Union force continue, but the violence in Darfur has flared to the point that it's not clear what 3,500 outsiders can accomplish in an area the size of France. Tuesday's attack on civilians was just one of many, and anti-government rebel groups are growing more violent and numerous.
Darfur is yet another example of the US' and international community's 10 second attention span enabling atrocities to occur around the world. I pointed this out when talking about humaniterean intervention in Iraq earlier, but I want to expand and reiterate this issue here because I think it's important.
Realistically speaking, expressions of moral indignation toward human rights abuses can only last so long before they become "old news." Making our human rights policy solely dependent on diplomatic pressure lets dictators try and "wait out the storm" and hope that by stalling for time, they can avoid any substantial US or international intervention to stop the abuse. At best, a policy based on diplomacy will only encourage oppressive regimes to violate human rights more quietly, and as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and China among others demonstrate, it is rather easy to violate human rights systematically, persistantly, and egregiously without arousing a sustainable international outcry.
The fear is that Darfur will become the new Congo, which is already shaping up to be a repetition of Cambodia. Those who think that the international community will always be shocked into action by ongoing human rights abuses need to come to terms with the fact that over 3,000,000 people have died in an ongoing genocide in the Congo, an event that has passed virtually without notice in the international community. It is true that massive human rights atrocities usually do attract the notice of the western world, eventually. Unfortunately, the attention usually only remains focused after the atrocities have ended, when we wonder how we could let such indiscriminate slaughter and solemnly vow "never again." After a suitable period of soul searching, we revert back to our regular apathy, and barely ten years after we sat and watched the Rwandan genocide unfold, we again appear to be willing to sit back and watch the Darfur and Congo genocides occur with minimal international intervention.