Obama, not likely to stop genocide

The Museum started a sort of book club — which is really more of a topic-based discussion group — and during our first meeting (last night) I made a comment that I don’t think went over well. The subject of this first meeting was Samantha Power’s A Problem From Hell, and in a broader sense the United State’s lack of involvement in cases of genocide.

During this discussion, I commented that I suspect that very little is actually going to be done by the Obama administration to curtail the ongoing genocide in Darfur. The reason for me saying this is actually enumerated in Power’s conclusion:

Obama is certainly coming into the job with a tremendous amount of knowledge about the current situation. Even if he weren’t receiving an intelligence analysis, it would be hard to overlook the various national activist groups that have organized around stopping this particular genocide. Nonetheless, for reasons I’ll discuss a few points down, I suspect this administration will wind up hiding “in the fog of plausible deniability.”

As Power points out, perpetrators are often keeping their eyes on Western reactions in order to gauge if they should take the next step. Having seen little reaction from Washington over the last five years, it’s unlikely that Sudan is going to suddenly reverse course because of a new administration. If the United States decides to do anything less than overt (which I think is highly doubtful) Khartoum is going to continue unfettered.

This is, without question, the real problem. Regardless of whether Obama’s administration has the “moral will” to act, his policy makers are going to have an incredibly tough time convincing Congress to commit to ending this, or any other, genocide. Even if they could, the real crux of a solution in Darfur lies with China.

Basically, no force, sanction, or relief is going to be successful without the backing or cooperation of China and, unfortunately, the United States has little leverage to apply in order to make this happen. Not only has China rebuked any attempt through the United Nations, but their continued oil interests in the region makes force and sanctions utterly untenable from a diplomatic and economic standpoint (to say nothing of the physical).

This last point is probably not even worth mentioning. No sitting President has been held politically accountable for inaction and considering the economic and domestic problems, it certainly won’t be starting with this administration.

Truly, this is one of those times when I’ll happily be wrong. I hope that Obama does intervene in Darfur; and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t voted for him with the hope that he would reverse our position on stopping genocide. But at the same time, I approach this from the long lens of a genocide researcher, and it’s from that vantage point that I suspect no real impact will come from a new administration.

Solutions for Darfur activist burnout

Activism n. : a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.

Darfur activism has been getting a tremendous amount of press over the last few weeks, and not all of it has been positive. For some, the Olympics and Mia Farrow’s alternative games have been the impetus for reflection on how the “movement” is doing.[1]

The real problem is no different than with other activist movements. If the people who are involved on the grassroots level — the most important level for such groups — don’t get a regular sense of accomplishment, their involvement begins to slide off, and the group will eventually become stagnant.

Volunteerism thrives on engaging activities that bring some kind of reward. Regardless of how enthusiastically you care about a cause, burnout is inevitable if the final result is always failure. As Just correctly pointed out in his The New Republic article:

Genocide really is different from other foreign policy crises, in that it will not wait. Either you stop genocide immediately or you fail to stop it.

This creates a “perfect storm” for activist burnout. Fortunately, there are a few things that may help keep your group active, encouraged, and invigorated.

Keep it as social as possible
Even though we’re fighting for a cause, it’s always a thrill to get together with like-minded people. This is why Dining For Darfur is such a great idea, as it combines the social aspect of bringing people together, with an engaging activity.[2]

Work on multiple genocide issues
While you’re working on stopping the genocide in Darfur by organizing letter writing campaigns and public forums, talk to your local coffee shops about carrying free-trade coffee from one of the cooperatives that are helping Rwandan genocide survivors regain their independence, or volunteer to work with a refugee service, helping Sudanese (or Cambodian, Bosnian, etc.) immigrants.

Attempt to partner with other groups
Find other groups that have a similar mission who may need occasional volunteers for events in return for helping organize or host one of your events. This is particularly easy with Holocaust organizations who often do modern genocide programs (including Darfur).[3]

Use Web 2.0 applications
Your group is hopefully already doing this, but if you’re not, then you should start. The reason this is a good idea is because you can push advocacy and education while giving millions of people the chance to respond to what you’re doing. In a world of YouTube, Facebook, and blogs, not having an online presence is damaging even to the smallest of groups.

The key is to keep the group evolving. Despite what might be happening with your issue, if you can push a variety of events and campaigns that appeal to different personalities, you’re far more likely to maintain a certain level of commitment.

While these suggestions are mainly focusing on Darfur activists, you could easily apply them to other groups — environmental, political, social, etc — as any type of organization that promotes change through volunteerism is likely to face the same lags in participation. If you’re working with another cause or would like to find others who might be involved in your issue, you should check out Britt’s, Have Fun Do Good or the Changebloggers Facebook page.


[1] The Truth Will Not Set You Free by Richard Just

[2] If I could find enough people, I’d love to pull together a team of Darfur activists for our co-ed flag football league.

[3] See the Association of Holocaust Organizations membership page for a full list of Holocaust institutions.

al-Bashir’s warrant fallout?

As the International Criminal Court continues to move towards a possible warrant for Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, analysts are worried that this may actually increase tensions in the region. The New York Times stated:

The indictment of a sitting head of state in a war-torn country would not be unprecedented: Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Charles Taylor of Liberia were both charged by international war crimes courts while in office.

But the complexity and fragility of Sudan’s multiple conflicts have led many diplomats, analysts and aid workers to worry that the Sudanese government could lash out at the prosecutor’s move by expelling Western diplomats and relief workers who provide aid to millions of people displaced by the fighting, provoking a vast crisis and shutting the door to vital diplomatic efforts to bring lasting peace.

The dueling objectives have exposed a growing tension: between justice and peace, that is, between the prosecution of war criminals and the compromises of diplomacy.

This might be an acceptable argument, if the outcome in Darfur might be swayed by a show of diplomacy. As situations stand now, the negotiations for peace have been all but ineffective with the Sudanese government, and the only compromises being made are to exerting real pressure on the current administration.

“I think it is absolutely imperative to go straight to the top,” said John Prendergast, a former Clinton administration official who co-founded Enough, a group that seeks to end genocide. He argued that concerted pressure by the international community had changed Sudan’s behavior at times.

Economic sanctions have traditionally motivated Khartoum, even when western diplomats have loathed recommending them. While it’s difficult to tell if issuing a warrant against al-Bashir would inflame or dampen the current crisis in Darfur, it’s equally difficult to make an argument against the relevance of such a move when viewed through the lens of creating a precedent to actively promote genocide intervention.

Human Rights First G8 petition

HRF-G8-btn-125x125In two weeks, world leaders from G8 countries — U.S., Canada, Japan, the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and Russia — meet for their annual Summit in Japan to debate action on issues of global concern.

If the violence in Darfur — that has left more than 300,000 people dead and caused more than 2 million to flee their homes — is not a matter of global concern, then what is?

The G8 Summit comes at a perilous time for both Darfur and the whole of Sudan. Intensified violence in Darfur has resulted in more death and displacement, and recent fighting in the Abyei region of Sudan suggests the unraveling of the fragile North/South peace agreement.

The government of Sudan and the world will be watching the G-8 Summit closely. Last week, over 40 non-governmental organizations, representing all G8 states and Sudan, sent an Open Letter to all G8 Leaders and Foreign Ministers, calling on them to demand:

    An immediate stop to violence in Darfur

    A halt to arms transfers, directly or indirectly, to Darfur in violation of the U.N. arms embargo

    Rapid deployment of the peacekeeping force in Darfur, UNAMID

    A reinvigorated peace process

    Justice and accountability for atrocities committed

Click here to join activists around the world in pressuring G-8 leaders to take a strong stand — include a promise to act — against violence in Darfur and Sudan.

Security Council meets on Darfur

Today, the United Nations is holding a special session on peace and security in Sudan. The meeting will be chaired by Richard Williamson, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, and Mia Farrow, John Prendergast, and Niemat Ahmadi (Darfuri Liaison Officer to Save Darfur) are scheduled to address the council.

Jerry Fowler and John Prendergast released a report yesterday entitled: Keeping Our Word: Fulfilling the Mandate to Protect Civilians in Darfur. In it, they outline the steps UNAMID would need to take in order to protect civilian lives.

The Devil Came On Horseback

dcoh.jpgNext Sunday, April 6, the Virginia Holocaust Museum will present a free screening of the award winning documentary The Devil Came on Horseback at 2 p.m. The film chronicles the tragic genocide currently taking place in Darfur through the eyes of former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle.

The screening will be followed by a question and answer session with Jane Wells, one of the film’s producers. For more information, visit the VHM website.

On Samantha Power

As an anti-genocide activist and an insider in the greater structure of Holocaust organizations in the United States and abroad, I’m not surprised by the number of hits my site has been getting over the last week concerning Samantha Power. I’ll state up front that I don’t know her, nor have I ever met her, yet I’m familiar with her work, and have admired the stance and positions she’s taken over the years as a human rights activist.

Undoubtedly, the bulk of visitors who are stopping by are looking for the latest scoop on her resignation from Barack Obama’s campaign; or looking for some insight as to why she referred to Hillary Clinton as “a monster.” I’m not going to really address either of those points, as not only do I not have any perspective for fresh insight, but honestly couldn’t care less.

The truth of the matter is the number of people in this country who are actively and aggressively working to end genocide can practically be counted on one hand. If you were inclined to make such a list, Samantha Power would certainly be on it, if not at the top. While I’ve had the pleasure of meeting/listening to/working with others who do what Samantha does — Jerry Fowler, Jen Marlowe, Paul Rusesabagina, Awer Bul, and the host of survivors I see on a daily basis — I can’t think of anyone who’s done a better job of illustrating our country’s lack of motivation in responding to genocide.

Marc Cooper’s recent article on The Huffington Post said it best:

Therein resides the richest and saddest irony of all. Samantha Power has actually lived the sort of life that Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff has, for public consumption, invented for its candidate. Though not quite 40 years old, Power has spent no time on any Wal-Mart boards but has rather dedicated her entire adult life rather tirelessly to championing humanitarian causes. She has spoken up when others were silent. She took great personal risks during the Balkan wars to witness and record and denounce the carnage (She reported that Bill Clinton intervened against the Serbs only when he felt he was losing personal credibility as a result of his inaction. “I’m getting creamed,” Power quoted the then-President saying as he fretted over global consternation over his own hesitation to act).

We gave Power the Pulitzer for exposing the, well, monstrous indifference of the Clinton administration as it stared unblinkingly and immobile into the face of massive horror. But we give her a kick in the backside and throw her out the door when she has the temerity to publicly restate all that in one impolite word. Monstrous, indeed.

For those of us who work in this thinly populated profession, having champions like Samantha Power is an enormous benefit. In a single article or news conference, she can not only raise the kind of awareness that it often takes non-profits months to generate, but can even turn the public’s attention to a subject that so often gets ignored or overlooked.

To build on Marc Cooper’s last words, it’s monstrous to think of how long this kind of story stays in the news cycle, particularly when compared against the amount of time we see devoted to Darfur.

Bush’s obfuscation

During a recent interview with the BBC’s Matt Frei, President Bush talks about his upcoming trip to Africa and his stance on the genocide in Darfur. Even though one might be inclined to applaud Bush for his African AIDS policy (which I do think is admirable, particularly for this administration), his response on the Darfur issue is ridiculous with regards to both content and his unceasing negative characteristic of the left, who are the most ardent supporters of a peaceful end to the violence in Darfur.

Frei: You were very tough in your speech about Darfur. And, yet again, you called what’s happening there genocide?

Mr Bush: Yeah.

Frei: Is enough being done by your administration to stop that?

Mr Bush: I think we are. Yeah. You know, I had to make a seminal decision. And that is whether or not I would commit US troops into Darfur. And I was pretty well backed off of it by – you know, a lot of folks – here in America that care deeply about the issue. And so, once you make that decision, then you have to rely upon an international organisation like the United Nations to provide the oomph – necessary manpower… You know, I read – did call it (SOUND GLITCH) genocide, and I think we’re the only nation that has done so. Secondly, I did remind people that we’re sanctioning leaders. That we have targeted [Sudanese] companies and individuals, including a rebel leader, who have yet to be constructive in the peace process. We [are] beginning to get a sense of these things as they’re affecting behaviour. We’re trying to ask others, by the way, to do the same thing. Some of who are reluctant; some who aren’t. And then, finally, I pledged that we’ll help move troops in. And yeah, and as I also said you might remind your listeners, that I’m frustrated by the pace.

Frei: I’ll get on to that in a minute. But, I mean, genocide is just a loaded – it’s such an important word. And you have committed troops – American troops around the world in other cases throughout… Afghanistan. Why not in this case?

Mr Bush: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, we’re committing equipment, you know? Training, help, movement. I think a lot of the folks who are concerned about America into another Muslim country. Some of the relief groups here just didn’t think the strategy would be as effective as it was. I mean, actually, believe it or not, listen to people’s opinions. And chose to make this decision. It’s a decision that I’m now living with. And it’s a decision that requires us to continue to rally the conscience of the world and get people to focus on the issue. You know, you’re right. I mean, we sent marines into Liberia, for example, to help stabilise the country there. And Liberia’s on my itinerary where I’ll meet with the first woman, you know, elected president in Africa – history. And – but, I just made the decision I made.

Frei: Yesterday, Steven Spielberg – the Hollywood director – pulled out of the Beijing Olympics over Darfur. He said the Chinese aren’t doing enough to stop the killing in Darfur. Do you applaud his move?

Mr Bush: That’s up to him. I’m going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event. On the other hand, I have a little different platform than Steven Spielberg so, I get to talk to President Hu Jintao. And I do remind him that he can do more to relieve the suffering in Darfur. There’s a lot of issues that I suspect people are gonna, you know, opine, about during the Olympics. I mean, you got the Dali Lama crowd. You’ve got global warming folks. You’ve got, you know, Darfur and… I am not gonna you know, go and use the Olympics as an opportunity to express my opinions to the Chinese people in a public way ’cause I do it all the time with the president. I mean. So, people are gonna be able to choose – pick and choose how they view the Olympics.

Personally, I find it difficult to take the President’s position on Darfur seriously. Even though he’s admitted that genocide has taken place in Darfur, his continued lack of pressure on Sudan, and his fairly obvious disinterest in committing military personnel gives his entire position a hollow, political feeling. Not unlike Clinton’s stance and repeated obfuscation on the Rwandan genocide.

Spielberg exits Olympic games

As many of us expected, Steven Spielberg announced that he will be withdrawing from any involvement with the Beijing Olympics because of China’s continued support of Sudan and their genocidal policies. The acclaimed director of Schindler’s List was supposed to be an advisor for the opening and closing ceremonies for the games, but he commented that his conscience wouldn’t allow him to continue to work with the Chinese.

“At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies but doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur.

“Sudan’s government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these ongoing crimes but the international community, and particularly China, should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering.

“I have decided to formally announce the end of my involvement as one of the overseas artistic advisors to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games.”

Even though the Chinese have appointed a special envoy to oversee the Games, and have put increased pressure on Sudan to accept an international peace keeping force, they continue to do business with Khartoum and show little (if any) concern for the flow of violence in the Darfur region.