Posted on Tue, Sep. 20, 2005
Bush administration, with help from Cuba, guts U.N. measure
New York Times
President Bush doesn't often find common cause with Cuba, Zimbabwe, Iran, Syria and Venezuela. But this month the Bush administration joined with those countries and others to eviscerate a forthright U.N. statement that nations have an obligation to respond to genocide.
It was our own Axis of Medieval, and it reflected the feckless response of Bush to genocide in Darfur. It's not that he favors children being tossed onto bonfires or teenage girls being gang-raped and mutilated, but he can't bother himself to try very hard to stop these horrors, either.
It's been a year since Bush -- ahead of other world leaders, and to his credit -- acknowledged genocide was unfolding in Darfur. But since then he has used that finding of genocide not to spur action but to substitute for it.
Bush's position in the U.N. negotiations got little attention. But in effect, the United States successfully blocked language in the declaration saying countries have an "obligation" to respond to genocide. In the end the declaration was diluted to say, "We are prepared to take collective action on a case by case basis" to prevent genocide.
Bush's base active in Darfur
That was still an immensely important statement. But it's embarrassing that in the 21st century we can't even accept a vague obligation to fight genocide as we did in the Genocide Convention of 1948. If the Genocide Convention were proposed today, Bush apparently would fight to kill it.I can't understand why Bush is soft on genocide. His political base, the religious right, has been one of the groups leading the campaign against genocide in Darfur. As the National Association of Evangelicals noted in a reproachful statement about Darfur a few days ago, the Bush administration "has made minimal progress protecting millions of victims of the world's worst humanitarian crisis."
Incredibly, the Bush administration has even emerged as Sudan's little helper, threatening an anti-genocide campaigner in an effort to keep him quiet. Brian Steidle, a former Marine captain, served in Darfur as a military adviser and grew heartsick at seeing corpses of children who'd been bludgeoned to death.
In March, I wrote a column about Steidle and separately published photos he had taken of men, women and children hacked to death. Other photos were too wrenching to publish: One showed a pupil at the Suleia Girls School; she appeared to have been burned alive, probably after being raped. Her charred arms were still in handcuffs.
Steidle is an American hero for blowing the whistle on the genocide. But, according to Steidle, the State Department has ordered him on three occasions to stop showing the photos for fear of complicating our relations with Sudan. Steidle has also been told he has been blacklisted from all U.S. government jobs.
Why cover up atrocities?
The State Department should be publicizing photos of atrocities to galvanize the international community against the genocide -- not conspiring with Sudan to cover them up.
I'm a broken record on Darfur because I can't get out of my head the people I've met there. On my first visit, 18 months ago, I met families hiding in the desert from the militias and soldiers. The only place to get water was at the occasional well -- where soldiers would wait to shoot the men who showed up, and rape the women. So anguished families sent their youngest children, 6 or 7 years old, to the wells with donkeys to fetch water -- because they were least likely to be killed or raped. The parents hated themselves for doing this, but they had no choice. They had been abandoned by the world.
Passivity costs, too
That's the cost of our passivity. Perhaps it's unfair to focus so much on Bush, for there are no neat solutions and he has done more than most leaders. He at least dispatched Condoleezza Rice to Darfur this summer, more interest in genocide than the TV anchors have shown.
Still, others' failures don't excuse Bush's own unwillingness to speak out, impose a no-fly zone, appoint a presidential envoy or build an international coalition to pressure Sudan.
So, Mr. Bush, let me ask you just one question: Since you portray yourself as a bold leader, since you pride yourself on your willingness to use blunt terms like "evil" -- why is it that you're so wimpish on genocide?
Nicholas Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times, 229 W. 43rd St., Room 943, New York, NY 10036.