18 June 2004

Sudan: The World Is Obligated to Prevent Genocide in Darfur


Washington, DC — Jerry Fowler is Staff Director of the Committee on Conscience, a division of the U.S. Holocaust Museum created to ensure that genocide never happens again. He visited refugee camps in Chad last month and determined that there is a real threat of genocide in Darfur. AllAfrica's Maria Nghidinwa spoke with Fowler about the ongoing conflict in Sudan.

With more first-hand accounts of violence in Darfur, from villages inside Sudan and refugees in Chad, there is a growing controversy over whether the events taking place in Darfur should be called genocide. Do you think this is an appropriate way to describe the violence?

I think, first of all, that that's the wrong question. I think that there is clearly a threat of genocide, and the Genocide Convention talks about preventing genocide. And I don't think that we have to waste any more time figuring out whether it is or it isn't before we act. The time to act is now.

To put that question to people is fine, but like Kofi Annan said yesterday, "Well, I can't say it's genocide." That doesn't get him off the hook, because the charge is to prevent genocide. And so that's just what sometimes bothers me is the suggestion that if Kofi Annan says it's not genocide, that then he's off the hook, and the Security Council's off the hook, and all the nations are off the hook.

How has the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Museum begun investigating and reporting on the events in Sudan?

We've been doing a lot of activities. I went to Chad to speak to refugees and since I've come back, I've done a lot of press. I published an article in the Washington Post. I've been on a lot of radio shows. I just did a show at the National Public Radio station in Illinois earlier today in Urbana, IL. We've done events at the [Holocaust] museum and we're working on an event for next Thursday. It's not set yet, so I can't really tell you anything about it. But if it comes off it's going to be a very high-profile event, so we're trying to, in every way that we can, raise awareness of what's happening, generate concern and prompt action.

What response have you gotten from the U.S. public so far?

I was just on this radio show and - this is out in the middle of America, Illinois - and the public's responding. They're hearing this and they're moved by what they're hearing, moved to do something. Earlier in the week, I talked to a group in Tennessee, and it was the same thing. You're starting to see it be picked up, not just from what I'm doing, but in general, in newspapers around the country. So there is a public reaction that's building.

I'm getting some reaction from the United States government too. They're fully engaged. My observation is that they're not getting assistance from other countries, especially on the Security Council, and I think there's still a long way to go on that regard.

From your perspective, are other African countries showing interest in helping with the situation, or are they rather quiet about it?

The African Union is doing a good job in fielding monitors for the ceasefire that was agreed to, but the problem is the ceasefire is not really being...I suppose once they monitor it, they'll say it's not really being adhered to, but we already know that.

I would encourage African governments to put more pressure on Khartoum. I think it was a mistake to elect Khartoum to the Human Rights Commission while it's committing massive human rights abuses, not only against its own population, but against the portion of its population that is identified as black African. I think that should raise the ire of every government in sub-Saharan Africa.


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