Monday, April 30, 2007

Don Cheadle on Darfur: "And Now What?"

Darfur is Rwanda in slow motion. Darfur has time that Rwanda did not. America can make the difference. WE can make America make the difference.

That’s the message Don Cheadle and John Prendergast recently imparted at a lecture I attended, adding urgency and up-to-the-minute information to the passion expressed in their book, NOT ON OUR WATCH: THE MISSION TO END GENOCIDE IN DARFUR AND BEYOND

Don Cheadle, fresh from his role in HOTEL RWANDA, had heard about Darfur from Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA). A short time later, he met John Prendergast at a screening of the film, hosted by the New York Holocaust Museum. In 2005, NIGHTLINE captured Mr. Cheadle's journey to the camps in Chad, and the burned 1,500 villages in Darfur. The experience left him humbled, but he also felt it would be the height of hypocrisy to declare the platitudes of "Never Again" during the promotion of HOTEL RWANDA, but not do everything in his power to stop the killing in Darfur.

"If you're a parent, like I am, to see the children that are suffering as a result of what's happening in that region and also, finding yourself in a place where you can't believe you knew so little about, where so much is happening... It just struck a chord in me and touched a nerve that it's hard for me to do anything but ask myself afterward, "And now what? You've seen it, you know it, you've confirmed it, and now what?"

That lingering question led NOT ON OUR WATCH: THE MISSION TO END GENOCIDE IN DARFUR AND BEYOND, a book authored by the actor and Prendergast, a senior advisor to the International Crisis Group, an organizer of Enough! The Project to Abolish Genocide and Mass Atrocities and a former director of African affairs for the National Security Council (1996-99) and a special adviser to the State Department (1999-01). Prendergast has been working to end crises in Africa for 23 years.

Prendergast described Darfur as "Rwanda in slow motion". "In Rwanda, within 100 days, 800,000 lives were extinguished. Those people can't be brought back... Here in Darfur, it's going on NOW. It's a race between the killers in Khartoum and those who would intervene and stop the killing." Prendergast noted, sadly that during the entire 100 days of the Rwandan genocide, the US government didn't receive one letter from an American citizen, urging action. This time, he points out, is different. The crisis is moving slowly enough, and, "for whatever reason", Darfur has captured the imagination of the average citizen in such a way that it IS becoming a political issue. These two factors give Prendergast and others in the human rights community hope.

As Prendergast explains it, after years of brutal political repression from Khartoum, non-Arabs living in the Darfur region of Sudan began a small guerrilla war to fight for political representation. They successfully attacked about 30 Police and Army outposts in the region. Rather than engage with the guerrilla militias, Khartoum "contracted out" to the Janjaweed, a militia Prendergast describes as a Sudanese "Ku Klux Klan" -- a racially motivated, armed "lynch mob", essentially. The Janjaweed practices a slash and burn warfare against villagers, figuring if they kill or displace anyone who can give material support to the rebels, the rebellion will dry up. In the ensuing years, 1,500 villages were razed, 400,000 people were killed and millions were displaced, mostly to NGO-supported refugee camps in neighboring Chad.

"Phase Two" of the Janjaweed assault consists of attacking African Union Peacekeepers and NGOs (charities like Mercy Corp., Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, etc.), forcing them to pull out of the region, leaving the refugees abandoned and vulnerable. It is in the face of this mounting crisis, this attempted genocide against those who survived the first pogrom that requires stronger international intervention.

So far, the White House has offered a very mixed bag: Bush has rightfully called the crisis in Darfur a "genocide", but then has failed to take the next step, required by the Genocide Convention, signed after WWII, to take swift action to prevent the genocide and punish those responsible. Prendergast explains that while the US has provided funds and material support in the form of humanitarian aid to the refugees, it has refused to impose any real consequences on the Sudanese government.

The reasons are simple. First, Khartoum feels that by hiding behind the extra-governmental actors, the Janjaweed, it has plausible deniability. Second, after spending decades helping Osama Bin Laden, Sudan suddenly switched sides shortly after 9/11, becoming an "ally" on the war on terror. According to Prendergast, Sudan has vast intelligence on the financial structuring of Al Quaeda, and they are withholding that information from the US -- dangling it in front of our noses, as it were -- to provide themselves with an insurance policy against international interference. "Every time the US is about to get tough, Khartoum 'happens' to find another file." Finally, China is the major investor in Sudan and the biggest customer for Sudan's oil. To sanction Sudan would be to confront the Chinese, something few in Bush's inner circle wish to do. Prendergast insists that China is, in essence, "financially supporting genocide".

To answer criticism that the UN is obstructing the US on this issue, Prendergast pointed out that China has never once exercised it's veto power on the Security Council over a human rights issue. While everyone acknowledges that China is no champion of human rights, to put it mildly, they also don't want to be isolated as the only country publicly DEFENDING genocide. It is Prendergast's considered opinion, that with the US and Britain in lockstep, we could back China into a corner, essentially shaming China into going along with sanctions.

How do we move President Bush? This is the most interesting part of the lecture -- and, interestingly, due to it's timeliness, the part not covered in the book:

Don Cheadle exclaimed, "There is a decision being made very quickly. There's a way to make your voice heard while there's something that is pending." Prendergast elaborated: "The President has on his desk, or is about to get on his desk, very soon, something he's asked for. He said, ‘We are not doing enough to end this genocide.’ He's using this word, ‘genocide’, the first time a President has ever called a genocide by it's rightful name while it was ongoing. President Clinton didn't do it in '94 in Rwanda, famously using all kinds of verbal gymnastics, trying to circumvent what was believed to be a legal obligation, then, to act. President Bush, remarkably and courageously, used this term. Everyone thought it implied that he would act [due to the requirements of the Genocide Convention], then [Bush] didn't..."

Now, after mounting political pressure, especially from Christian and Jewish conservatives -- members of his base, Bush has asked for recommendations from National Security Advisor Steve Hadley. Those recommendations either have been or are soon to be delivered. The recommendations could range from instituting an arms embargo, freezing assets or travel bans that would restrict the movement of senior Sudanese officials. Other recommendations could include sending in more African Union Peacekeepers (ironically, including troops from a now peaceful Rwanda) or more UN Peacekeepers. Not even advocates like Prendergast believe it is in anyone's best interest to commit American troops.

This brings us full circle, to Mr. Cheadle's stark, honest question: AND WHAT NOW?

Relying on his own experience in the halls of government, Prendergast shared his plan of action, "Make some noise. Demand from your elected officials that they make this issue a priority and that they press the President of the Unites States to do so, to take the lead in undertaking the kinds of actions necessary within the international system and we can end this genocide very very quickly.

There's no K-Street lobbying firm advocating for genocide and crimes against humanity. It's in our hands. We don't have an opposition -- it's just inertia and indifference and ignorance that are our enemies on this issue.

From the experience I've had, [calling/writing/emailing/demonstrating] DOES make a difference. When a member of Congress or a Senator or the White House gets a slew of letters or emails or phonecalls, demanding action, they will respond. That's the way our system works."

For more great information on how to effectively work to end genocide, buy "Not On Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond" by Don Cheadle and John Prendergast. The book includes a thorough history of the Darfur genocide, Northern Uganda, Congo and (as those involved in Ethiopian adoptions are aware) Somalia. The book includes SIX INSPIRING WAYS TO ACT, three ways to stop genocide, a profile of "upstanders" -- normal citizens who are making a difference through creativity, and a HOST of incredibly valuable tips about how to effectively advocate (which would be useful for ANY kind of activism). The book also contains many emotional stories of the crisis and lots of first-person reporting by Don Cheadle as he canvases the globe in hopes that he can make his pledge "Never again" a reality.


Call The White House comment line this week, to demand stiff sanctions against the Sudanese government.

Here's the number -- (202) 456-1414

Talking Points (courtesy of

I'm calling because I am concerned about the violence in Darfur, Sudan.

I urge President Bush to implement "Plan B" without further delay.

Nearly two months have passed since the President's January 1st deadline for the Sudan to cooperate - it's time to act.

While calls are best, you can ALSO email the White House and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urging them to take stronger action. The message will read:

Every day, the 2.5 million people chased from their homes in Darfur face the threat of starvation, disease, and rape, while the few lucky enough to remain in their homes risk displacement, torture, and murder. Therefore, I call on you to do the following:

1. Push for the immediate deployment of the already-authorized UN peacekeeping force.
2. Strengthen the understaffed African Union force already in Darfur until the UN force can be deployed.
3. Implement a fair and lasting Peace Agreement.
4. Increase humanitarian aid and ensure access for delivery.
Other resources:

SAVE DARFUR/Global Days for Darfur

Enough! The Project to Abolish Genocide and Mass Atrocities - if you are part of any kind of mutual fund or pension fund, contact the mutual fund or pension fund manager and request that the fund DIVESTS ITSELF OF ANY SUDANESE INVESTMENTS. This kind of economic boycott helped bring an end to Apartheid.

Making China accountable

Buy HOTEL RWANDA - Download Google Earth, find and click on Darfur to see an amazing presentation that gives you the reality of the situation through a massive on-line exhibit.


Jenny and Matt said...

Sorry I've been absent lately, Swerl.
Thanks for all the info on this. It is amazing that so many people are still unaware of what's happening in Darfur. It's also amazing that so many people ARE aware and have been trying to draw attention there and to lobby for change but with little result so far from the US Gov't.

Swerl said...

I agree. I saw something on the news that some Sudanese officials may be facing war crimes charges. I'll post a follow-up when I learn more.

Bronzetrinity said...

I like your page Swerl! There is a list of great action ideas on the left side of the page. I also like the amazon book list. Thats another example of how we can advertise things that will help the African Diaspora for free on our blogs. If people buy Black children Black books and dolls that will help them to grow up with more self confidence in who they are. Help your brothers and sisters out by advertising for them.

I think that its actually disgusting that the Sudan war has been going on long enough for an actual book to be written on the subject instead of it being written after the fact. So many people know about it and nothing is happening. So many people have spoken out about it and it is still going on. Let this be a warning to other countries. If you are poor and don’t have allies then you might not get help. The China Boycott has to be done to pressure them to sign the UN resolution to enter Darfur. Everyone else has signed and thats the only country holding things back.

I think Don Cheadle is a positive role model doing what he can and using his celebrity to help the cause. Thats a good example of getting things done by any means necessary. Yeah the US can enter Iraq without the concent of the UN but they won’t enter Sudan where they people are actually asking for help and they would actually greet the Americans as liberators. Do you see that hypocricy?

“From the experience I’ve had, [calling/writing/emailing/demonstrating] DOES make a difference. When a member of Congress or a Senator or the White House gets a slew of letters or emails or phonecalls, demanding action, they will respond. That’s the way our system works.” Its so easy to email, we can atleast do that and make submissions to editorials and online newspapers or websites.

Thanks for the list of recommendations and resources Swerl!
I have also posted my comment on the Afrospear page :)

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