August 02, 2004,
The sandy expanses of Darfur in western Sudan are distant in many respects from the rugged mountains of Bosnia. But the depredations of ethnic cleansing in both regions a decade apart are remarkably similar. Armed militias, secretly supported by government leaders, attack defenseless villagers with the goal of driving them from their homes and lands. In both Bosnia and Sudan, the militias engage in mass rape, not only to punish their victims but also to terrorize them into fleeing their native territories. Animals are slaughtered, crops are destroyed, and houses are burned to the ground to insure that the refugees do not return.
The savagery of the armed perpetrator against the unarmed victim knows few bounds. If in Bosnia it was Arkan and his notorious "Tigers" who attacked local Muslims, or "Turks" as they were derogatorily called, the Janjaweed Arab militias in Sudan commit horrendous crimes against black Africans whom they identify as "slaves." Denials of involvement by government leaders in both places had and have a hollow ring.
In Darfur, some 10,000 people have been killed and over a million displaced, not including other fearsome losses from civil war over the past 21 years in Sudan as a whole. In Bosnia, during the three-and-a-half conflict, 250,000 people were killed and nearly two million displaced. Against the backdrop of complex and interlocking civil wars in both places, nationalist leaders seek aggrandizement in territory, resources, and political power. These are to borrow Warren Christopher's famous phrase problems "from Hell." But that does not relieve the U.S. or the U.N. of the responsibility to do something about them.
The Bush administration has done well to state unequivocally its abhorrence of the violence in Sudan. Both Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan delivered that message in person to Khartoum last week and backed it up with joint U.S.-U.N. threats to invoke Security Council action and potential sanctions. With the White House deeply involved in the war on terror in Iraq, and in trying to keep a handle on serious security crises in North Korea and Iran, it is no small matter to maintain focus on ethnic cleansing and the desperate humanitarian situation in Sudan. But the experience of the Clinton administration's dismal failures in Bosnia demonstrates how critical it is to address the problems of ethnic cleansing before they get worse and force military intervention and occupation.
Some journalists and human-rights organizations want to label the violence in Sudan as genocide, as a way to jump-start sanctions against and intervention in Sudan. But Secretary Powell is correct to reject that interpretation of events. This is not Rwanda, he stated, where genocide did take place. The aggression in Sudan, like that in Bosnia, does not constitute intentional mass-murder, but rather the violent expulsion of peoples from their lands. Ethnic cleansing is bad enough, and this "crime against humanity" requires the immediate and forceful action of the international community.
Bosnia offers another warning, however, and that is how quickly ethnic cleansing can turn into genocide. After years of ethnic cleansing, punctuated by idle threats and diplomatic entreaties from the West, the Bosnian Serbs perpetrated a vicious act of genocide in Srebrenica. Despite the 600 Dutch peacekeepers under the U.N. flag stationed in this "safe area," the Serbs murdered more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys and buried them in mass graves. It is time now to act in Sudan before another Srebrenica happens. We need to provide humanitarian relief to the hungry, sick, and displaced of Sudan, but we also need to stop ethnic cleansing and prevent genocide. Much can be done short of military intervention. Secretary Powell and Kofi Annan have started the process. Now is the time to finish it.
Norman M. Naimark is a senior fellow with the Hoover Institution.