- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 16, 2006

As most of us look forward to another comfortable Christmas with family and loved ones, the death toll in Sudan’s Darfur region continues to rise. It is estimated at 250,000 or more so far, increasing by as much as 10,000 per month. This is genocide by any measure.

While the issue has received good coverage through both the transitional media and disintermediated outlets such as blogs and YouTube, which may have prompted the governments of the international community to take diplomatic action (18 resolutions to date), the situation continues to worsen. What can the United States, its NATO allies and world citizens do to help? And how can international institutions and the disintermediated actions of individuals work together?

At the recent NATO summit in Riga the heads of states and governments, among other things declared — in the Riga Summit Declaration — on Nov. 29 in Latvia:

“We are deeply concerned by the continued fighting in Darfur as well as the worsening humanitarian situation and call on all parties to abide by the cease-fire. … We welcome the conclusions of the 16 November 2006 meeting in Addis Ababa for an African Union (AU)/U.N. hybrid peacekeeping mission and urge the government of Sudan to implement them. … The alliance [NATO] is committed to continue coordination with all actors involved, in particular the AU, the U.N. and the EU.”

So what can be done to influence the Sudan to accept and implement such support? Given that the United States and its NATO allies will be reticent to intervene in a sovereign nation’s affairs, there seems little prospect of unilateral NATO military intervention on humanitarian grounds. An overstretched U.S. military does not help, however the successes of humanitarian military interventions — for example, Bosnia and Kosovo — are often ignored. Even if the remaining legal issues were resolved through U.N. Security Council resolutions, there is unlikely to be sufficient national interest to take uninvited military action. Furthermore, the U.N. and NGO (nongovernmental organization) aid agencies fear any such external military force would risk the catastrophic collapse of humanitarian aid in the region, which would lead to more suffering.

Immediate options do include: enforcing the no-fly zone, imposing targeted sanctions on Sudan and pressing China to exert its influence on Khartoum. China is the biggest consumer of Sudanese oil, but these ideas are not new and the international community has been slow to act, thus far. So what can Joe Public do to help?

In addition to contributing to the aid agencies and other relevant charities and writing to their congressmen, more U.S. citizens are getting directly involved.

For example, Generation Y friends and Washington DC residents originally from Chicago, Jim Milak, Jason Mojica and Ryan Faith will spend their Christmas vacation in neighboring Chad to make a film. The film (www.christmasindarfur.org) will focus on the experience of Western aid workers and U.N. officials to both raise awareness of the plight of the people of Darfur, who have been caught up in the fighting between rebel factions and tell the story of those dedicating their lives to bringing some hope and relief to the region.

The preparations for this intrepid team highlight the everyday disparities between main street U.S.A. and war-torn Africa. Their shopping list is not long, but it includes the following: Body armor, medical kits, satellite communication equipment, solar cells and portable generators, water purifying equipment. These are needed to mitigate the lack of personal security, absence of clean water and scarcity of basic infrastructure and emergency services that we all take for granted.

The youth of today — Generation Y — are increasingly defined by their good deeds such as how they spend their discretionary time and money. Gen. Y college students are volunteering at Spring Break to help rebuild New Orleans and at Thanksgiving serving in soup kitchens. But their example seems to have had little effect on the rest of society. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the level of charitable volunteering in the United States has not changed much over the last few years:

About 28.8 percent of Americans over age 16 volunteered through or for an organization in 2005. This proportion has remained relatively constant since 2003 after a slight increase from 27.4 percent to 28.8 percent in 2003.

The main reason for not volunteering (50 percent of men) is “lack of time.” However, Americans generously gave nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars to charities and nonprofit organizations. The 2007 USAID budget of some $9 billion also represents a substantial effort. The budget justification stated: It responds to the President’s priorities, including support for the Global War on Terrorism, and helping Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan toward democracy and recovery.

Although charitable contributions continue to grow in real terms, one worry trend is that donations for human services charities and overseas causes are in decline.

Contributions to human service organizations, which accounted for 7.7 percent of total estimated contributions, declined for a third year in a row, dropping by an inflation-adjusted 1.1 percent in 2004 (Source: Giving U.S.A. 2005).

Finally, a boycott of Chinese manufactured goods has been suggested to pressure the Chinese. This action would get the message through that is unlikely to be diplomatically communicable — it is no longer acceptable for China to turn a blind eye to Khartoum’s genocide and enjoy its oil.

It remains to be seen if the Sudanese government will be convinced to allow access to the region by U.N. peacekeeper, whether real action will be taken by the U.N. in the absence of this cooperation and whether we will trade inexpensive Christmas gifts to give hope to the dispossessed people of Darfur.


A visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a supporter of the “Christmas In Darfur” film project. The views expressed are his own.



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