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.

Holocaust surviving Congressman passes away

Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust Survivor ever to serve in Congress, passed away on Monday at the age of 80 from complications of cancer.

A champion of civil liberties, Lantos founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and supported human rights struggles against both right-wing and left-wing regimes in China, Russia, Myanmar, Darfur and wherever official pressure could, as he put it, “prevent another Holocaust.” He also was passionate about animal rights, working to stop seal hunts, dog killings in foreign countries, and horse slaughter, bear baiting and the operation of puppy mills at home.

He also used his post as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to highlight human rights violators. He argued that nations with bad records had no place on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, that Beijing should not be awarded the 2008 Olympics because of its human rights record, and that corporations had an obligation to protect individuals and press freedoms. When executives of Yahoo Inc. appeared before the committee last year to defend their role in the jailing of a journalist by Chinese officials, Lantos said, “While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are Pygmies.”

The first legislation Lantos sponsored upon being elected in 1980 was to give honorary American citizenship to Raoul Wallenberg, the diplomat who saved thousands of Jews, including the Congressman and his aunt.

Save Darfur restructuring

Save Darfur, the organization that has been hugely successfully in rallying support for the crisis in Darfur, has recently fired their executive director and is in the process of reorganizing their board of directors. Even though the Sudan Tribune goes through a laundry list of complaints about a few of the practices of the organization, John Prendergast who serves on the board, said:

…the changes that the board decided to make were part of an effort to reorganize and re-energize the movement along the lines of its earliest conception: to be a broad, permanent alliance of many different types of organizations working together to prevent atrocities and genocide.

“The growth was so fast in the coalition, as was interest in the issue of Darfur and in the budget, that it was hard to kind of manage the difference between an organization and a coalition,” Mr. Prendergast said. “People felt that the time had some to go back to the roots of the coalition of groups that is so rich and so diverse.”

Having worked for non-profits for years, I can say that it’s often healthy for these organizations to restructure themselves. I might also add that non-profits have a tendency to create themselves with a certain agenda in mind and then wind up having to change directions because whatever issue they’re attempting to address winds up evolving.

Reactions to Bush’s new sanctions

As reactions to President Bush’s announcement to increase sanctions against the Sudan government begin to mount, John Prendergast, Colin Thomas-Jensen and Julia Spiegel of the ENOUGH Project took some time yesterday to respond to the rather toothless nature of this new rhetoric. Not only did they point out what’s wrong with this new initiative they also outlined what we ought to be doing:

We at ENOUGH will continue to hammer home the point that Plan B – punishment – is the right direction, but what is required now is a Plan B with teeth – multilateral, escalating, and biting. This would include:

* Multilateralized Sanctions Against Sudanese Companies Supporting the Regime: The U.S. should work with the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against the Sudanese companies already targeted unilaterally by the U.S. Unless the current U.S. list of 161 is made multilateral, these sanctions will be meaningless. A UN Panel of Experts should also be established to further investigate which companies are conducting the business necessary to underwrite Sudan’s war machine.

* Pressure on International Banks to Stop Doing Business with Sudan: U.S. officials should engage with a number of international banking institutions to strongly encourage them to stop supporting oil transactions with Sudan, with the implication being that if such business continues, then all transactions conducted by those banks with U.S. commercial entities (and those of other countries willing to work with us) would eventually be banned.

* Reinforcement of Divestment Efforts: President Bush should sign an Executive Order putting into law all of the legally possible elements of existing Congressional bills in support of divestment. The executive should be supportive of efforts across the U.S. to pressure university endowments, municipal and state pension funds, and private mutual funds to sell equity holdings in a targeted list of companies whose business bolsters the operations of the Sudanese regime.

* Support for the ICC Indictment Process: The U.S. should provide information and declassified intelligence to the International Criminal Court to help accelerate the process of building indictments against senior officials in the regime for their role in orchestrating mass atrocities in Darfur. The U.S. has the most such intelligence and should come to agreement with the ICC about what information to share.

* Accelerated Credible Military Planning: The U.S. also should develop credible plans for decisive military action, not only to enforce a no-fly zone, but to protect civilians with ground forces without consent from Khartoum should all else fails. This military planning is both a practical necessity, and a means to build and utilize leverage against the regime.

One of the things that I’ve always loved about John Prendergast (and that I’m beginning to love about the ENOUGH Project) is his positive-activist approach to pushing government in the right direction. Which is why it’s not surprising to find a list of steps at the end of the article that everyone can take:

Concerned individuals should also write letters, send emails, set up meetings in home districts, and call 1-800-GENOCIDE to leave a message for President Bush, your Senators and member of Congress to tell them to:

* push for the U.S. to introduce – and diplomatically invest in – a UNSC resolution that imposes targeted sanctions on key leaders and on the companies already sanctioned by the U.S.;

* urge President Bush to provide information and declassified intelligence to the International Criminal Court; and

* call on President Bush to put credible plans in place for a no-fly zone and non-consensual force deployment to protect civilians if the situation deteriorates in Darfur and the Sudanese regime continues to block the UN-led hybrid force.

I would also recommend one additional step which you’re hopefully already taking – educate yourself. Knowing about these issues is no doubt what brings you to a site like this, but continue to read, discuss, debate, and learn. That’s the only “magic bullet” for preventing these kinds of atrocities in the future.

US to up santions against Sudan

The Bush Administration is set to announce it will be imposing stiffer sanctions against the Khartoum regime in response to the ongoing bloodshed in Darfur. As everyone no doubt knows at this point, the violence has been continuing unabated for the better part of six years without a particularly substantive response from the international community.

Fortunately, advocacy groups have been pushing Washington, the United Nations, and various corporate interests non-stop since 2003 in an attempt to leverage a more dramatic stance against the crimes that President Bush himself has previously referred to as genocide.

U.S. lawmakers and advocacy groups, meanwhile, have criticized the Bush administration for a tepid response to Darfur despite tough rhetoric from the president, and it was uncertain last night whether they would welcome the long-awaited implementation of what has come to be known as “Plan B” for the region. Religious and humanitarian groups, which have pressed states, universities and corporations to disinvest from Sudan, have criticized as insufficient the elements of Plan B.

Bush has been under intense pressure from these groups to do something about the violence in Darfur, which began in 2003 when government-sponsored Arab militias attacked African villages in an effort to quell a rebellion. Eventually, about 2,000 villages were burned, as many as 450,000 people were killed and more than 2.5 million were displaced in continuing violence. The United States labeled it a “genocide” in 2004.

Under the new sanction plan to be announced today, 30 companies owned or controlled by the Sudanese government will be added to the 130 already blocked from using the U.S. financial system. The senior administration official said that the U.S. government has devoted considerable resources in the past six months toward figuring out how to bring greater financial pressure on Sudan, and he noted that with today’s announcement most of the joint ventures responsible for oil production will be under sanctions.

It was reported that Bush was supposed to announce the new sanctions last month while he was speaking at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum but was asked to hold off by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who wanted more time to negotiate with Khartoum.

Our own history of genocide

While I was working with a client yesterday, I found myself in the middle of a discussion about the repetitive nature of genocide. How it continues to happen regardless of how much time and energy we spend educating people about the last atrocity.

In a sense, a large part of this pattern has to do with our own histories of genocide. It’s difficult to support international laws that would aggressively prosecute war criminals and genocidaires when our own government is guilty of the same. Even as Canada begins prosecuting the first war criminal under its new genocide laws, the Globe and Mail reports on a new documentary entitled Unrepentant: Kevin Annett and Canada’s Genocide, detailing the country’s policies of dealing with native peoples.

As many as half of the aboriginal children who attended the early years of residential schools died of tuberculosis, despite repeated warnings to the federal government that overcrowding, poor sanitation and a lack of medical care were creating a toxic breeding ground for the rapid spread of the disease, documents show.

A Globe and Mail examination of documents in the National Archives reveals that children continued to die from tuberculosis at alarming rates for at least four decades after a senior official at the Department of Indian Affairs initially warned in 1907 that schools were making no effort to separate healthy children from those sick with the highly contagious disease.

Peter Bryce, the department’s chief medical officer, visited 15 Western Canadian residential schools and found at least 24 per cent of students had died from tuberculosis over a 14-year period. The report suggested the numbers could be higher, noting that in one school alone, the death toll reached 69 per cent.

With less than four months to go before Ottawa officially settles out of court with most former students, a group calling itself the Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared Residential School Children is urging the government to acknowledge this period in the tragic residential-schools saga – and not just the better-known cases of physical and sexual abuse.

The same is true of the United States. Even as the Commonwealth of Virginia (my current home) prepared for the Jamestown Anniversary, Native American tribes decided to use it as an opportunity to protest the government’s policy of denying them tribal status.

Despite the well documented history of nearly 400 tribes in the Virginia area, not a single group has the luxury of sovereign status. The effect? It’s creating a “paper genocide” for members of Virginia’s tribes.

Which begs the question, where are the student protest groups lining DC to demand Native American rights? It’s difficult to claim that we’re outraged by our government’s lack of response to Darfur, while at the same time ignoring what’s been happening at home.

I suppose it’s the same reason that scandals sell newspapers. When genocide happens in a far off country it’s somehow viewed through the lens of a romanticized call-to-action, whereas the one that took place here, and continues to edge forward by small degrees, is rather dirty and unpleasant.

Yom HaShoah sacrifice

As the country watched the massacre at Virginia Tech unfold yesterday, the Jewish world was observing a holiday — the Holocaust Martyrs’ Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah). It’s an occasion to remember those who died during the Holocaust. Ironically, a survivor was one of the victims:

As Jews worldwide honored on Monday the memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust, a 75-year-old survivor sacrificed his life to save his students in Monday’s shooting at Virginia Tech College that left 32 dead and over two dozen wounded.

Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter, who had attempted to enter his classroom. The Israeli mechanics and engineering lecturer was shot to death, “but all the students lived – because of him,” Virginia Tech student Asael Arad – also an Israeli – told Army Radio.

Several of Librescu’s other students sent e-mails to his wife, Marlena, telling of how he blocked the gunman’s way and saved their lives, said the son, Joe.

“My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee,” Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. “Students started opening windows and jumping out.”

Genocide Accountability Act

Since the end of World War II, the United States Department of Justice has actively pursued the prosecution of Nazi war criminals living within our borders through the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). Because of existing laws, the Justice Department doesn’t have the authority to try fugitives for genocide crimes, and instead deports them to their home country for prosecution.

However, a new bill that’s about to move before the full Senate would undo the precedent that keeps non-citizens from being charged with genocide in the United States.

Under current law, genocide is only considered a crime if it is committed within the United States or by a U.S. national outside the United States. The Genocide Accountability Act would close the current loophole by amending the Genocide Convention Implementation Act to allow prosecution of non-U.S. citizens for genocide committed outside the United States.

The Justice Department has identified individuals who participated in the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides and who are living in the United States under false pretenses. Under current law, these individuals cannot be arrested or prosecuted for genocide, because they are not U.S. nationals and the acts in which they were involved did not take place in the United States. In contrast, the laws on torture, material support for terrorism, terrorism financing, hostage taking, and many other federal crimes are still considered crimes when committed outside the United States by non-U.S. nationals.

Salah Abdallah Gosh, the head of security in the Sudanese government, has reportedly played a key role in the government’s genocidal campaign in Darfur. In 2005, Gosh came to Washington to meet with senior Administration officials. Under current law, the FBI could not even interview Gosh about his involvement in the Darfur genocide, much less charge him with a crime.

This is the first bill to be introduced by the subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, which was officially established at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s first business meeting of the 110th Congress. The Human Rights subcommittee’s first hearing was held in February and focused on the genocide in Darfur and other parts of the world.

Even though the bill will likely aid in the prosecution of Sudanese and Rwandan ex-pats, there’s little doubt that cases like John Demjanjuk’s would have been better served if this loophole had been closed earlier. In fact, this will hopefully give the OSI the teeth it needs to pursue fugitive war criminals with greater effectiveness.

Darfur divestment

As Elizabeth pointed out in the comments below, the State of Virginia is pushing the idea of divesting from companies that do business with the genocidal Sudanese government. The Times-Dispatch carried the following (unsigned) opinion piece on Jan 29.

The measure is limited in scope, and no one could question the worthiness of the goal. But it raises the obvious question: Why stop there? Why not apply the same principle to other atrocious regimes in Africa — and the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America?

While divestment might prod governments to do the right thing in some cases, in others it might merely exacerbate human-rights abuses. Isolation has done little to relieve the suffering of the people of North Korea, for example.

While I understand what the author of this piece is driving at, I feel compelled to point out that they’re thinking is utterly backwards (if not completely isolationist).

First, you could easily start with any of the regions mentioned, but the reason you start with Sudan is because it’s the obvious choice. The threat of violence is current, immediate, and on-going.

Second, your assertion that divestment might merely exacerbate human-rights abuses is erroneous at best. While it could cause a backlash, as the Sudan Divestment Task Force points out the Sudanese government has shown an historic responsiveness to economic pressure, while political pressure and diplomacy alone have largely failed to stop genocide in Darfur.

Finally, if you fall back to a position of “why do this and not that,” you’re essentially conceding that you shouldn’t do anything for anyone. This is the same reasoning that spawns this kind of global hot spot, and has left those of us in the US exhausted from our government’s lack of action towards a genocide they’ve already publicly acknowledged.

Our history of genocide

Today, we stand in the middle of what history will record as the first genocide of the 21st Century. The African Union, who have been providing a tenuous string of peacekeeping forces to the border area of Darfur, are preparing to leave the country after the Sudanese government announced that they would not allow United Nations forces to replace their mission.

Even as President Bush addressed the nation about the memory of 9/11 and claimed that “we must put aside our differences, and work together to meet the test that history has given us,” he once again shows that his focus lies in ideological struggles and not humanitarian ones. Clearly, this administration like others before it, are blind to the implications that yet another genocide will have on the global community.

As Romeo Dallaire (Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda) wrote in a letter to the CBC:

This nation, without any hesitation nor doubt, is capable and even expected by the less fortunate of this globe to lead the developed countries beyond self-interest, strategic advantages, and isolationism, and raise their sights to the realm of the pre-eminence of humanism and freedom.

The nation he was referring to was his own – Canada – but his words are even more apropos for the United States. Not only do we have the strength and finances to intervene in times of crises, we have the humanitarian services to aid those who need it. The only thing we lack is a will of leadership.

Wilson — The Armenian Genocide (1.5 million)
Roosevelt — The Holocaust (11 million)
Nixon — The Burundi Genocide (150,000)
Ford/Carter — The Cambodian Genocide (1.7 million)
Reagan — The Kurdish Genocide (50,000)
Bush/Clinton — Bosnian Genocide (8000 +)
Clinton — Rwandan Genocide (937,000)

In a memo detailing Clinton’s lack of response to the genocide in Rwanda, President Bush wrote a (now famous) message in the margins that said: “NOT ON MY WATCH.” To which I feel compelled to reply, “Welcome to the club, Mr. President.”

Bush — Darfur (400,000 and climbing)