Monday, October 31, 2005

U.S. must speak up to save Darfur

10/31/2005 09:05 AM
Lowell Sun

Many are familiar with the famous words uttered by Matain Niemoller, a German Protestant pastor, in which he lamented the apathy of those seemingly unaffected by Nazi genocidal activity during World War II.

He said: “In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me -- and by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

As members of families once persecuted because of their religious, racial and ethnic identity, but more importantly as members of this global community, we call on President Bush to speak up for the people of Darfur.

A horrific and bloody conflict is being waged on the African continent in the Darfur region of Sudan between the Janjaweed, a government-supported militia comprised of Arab tribes, and the non-Arab people of the region. The Janjaweed have resorted to slaughtering, raping, starving and forcing from their lands the people of this region of Sudan. It has been estimated that more than 350,000 people have been killed due to the Janjaweed's actions, and more than 2 million people have been forced to flee their lands and hole up in camps along the border of Chad.

The stories coming from these camps are horrible.

Unsanitary conditions, a lack of food, shelter, water and adequate health care abound. The Janjaweed have strategically positioned themselves to prevent humanitarian aid from entering the camps. They have stationed troops around the water supplies used by the refugees and have killed anyone -- children included -- who attempt to get water from the source. The Janjaweed have shown complete disregard for humanity. Raping, murdering, and burning men, women and children alive are among the atrocities they commit.

It is estimated that before the end of the year, the death toll will reach 600,000, while nearly 70 percent of these deaths will be of children under the age of five.

The Bush administration has yet to speak up for the innocent people of Darfur. More than a year ago, President Bush recognized that a genocide was beginning in Darfur, but a year later, and tens of thousands of deaths later, the Bush administration has done nothing to address this growing crisis. There are many paths the Bush administration can pursue to pressure the Sudanese government to address this humanitarian crisis. The administration should begin by providing financial assistance to the African Union forces and by encouraging other countries to join in that effort. We should pursue economic sanctions against the government and increase funding for humanitarian aid in refugee camps. The most important thing that the Bush administration can do is break its silence and speak up for a group of people who have no one else to speak for them.

While the Bush administration has a duty to act, and the greatest ability to act, we as elected officials in Massachusetts also must speak up for the people of Darfur. From 1915-1923, while Armenian men, women and children were slaughtered by the Turks, few American leaders stood up for the innocent people of Armenia. Similarly, in the 1940s, as Adolf Hitler began his systematic extermination of European Jews, few American leaders stood up for the innocent people of Europe. It is important that this trend does not continue today in Darfur.

Much like the genocides that affected our relatives, the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, the Darfur genocide is a deliberate plan of a regime whose sole purpose is to permanently alter the demography of Darfur. With every week of silence in the Bush administration, more people in Darfur are raped, killed, beaten or starved to death. Our leaders can stop this genocide by speaking up and by acting, so no one in this country will ever risk having to utter the words of Martin Nielmoller, “then they came for me -- and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

State Rep. Barry R. Finegold represents the 17th Essex district of Massachusetts. State Rep. Peter J. Koutoujian represents the 10th Middlesex district of Massachusetts.

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