It is no longer a secret that more than 50,000 mostly black unfortunates have been killed in Darfur, Sudan, and that several hundred thousand more are refugees, lingering in forlorn camps within the nation or in neighboring Chad. Yet the killing goes on. Even as the world watches, as many as 10,000 people are continuing to die each month from combat and disease.
If the world wants to stop this continued genocide, Washington and the United Nations need to squeeze Sudan much harder. The nice-guy approach is clearly not working. The authoritarian Arab government of Sudan promised in July to rein in its marauding vigilantes, the janjaweed, but their attacks persist. A supposed cease-fire is violated daily.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the Security Council to vote strong sanctions against Sudan. Never before has it been so essential, he declared, for the U.N. to be resolute.
But China, Russia, Algeria and Pakistan (all members of the Security Council) prefer to bring no pressure, and the Arab League and the African Union don't want to be seen criticizing one of their member states.
Recently, the Security Council approved a weakened U.S. resolution that authorized an unspecified commission to spend months determining whether Sudan had really committed genocide. It also commended the deployment of African Union monitors and threatened unspecified sanctions if Sudan continued to kill its own people in the Darfur region. This is well and good, but it provides no incentive for the Sudanese government to change its behavior. As in the Rwandan genocide 10 years ago, the U.N. is found wanting.
Unless Washington obtains U.N. assent for robust action, it needs to act firmly on its own, bolstered by the moral authority that comes from combating genocide. Secretary of State Colin Powell has already declared the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan's westernmost province, "genocide."
Washington should immediately offer to provide logistical support for a significantly upgraded African Union force of monitors and soldiers.
Having tried to give Sudanese officials ample time to act responsibly, the velvet-glove diplomatic initiatives should now be joined with the mailed fist of hard sanctions. Washington must concentrate on those who back, fund and arm the Arab janjaweed.
A blockade of petroleum exports would make the government in Khartoum pay attention. U.N. Security Council approval of such a comprehensive embargo would be preferable, but the Chinese, who purchase much of Sudan's oil, might make that difficult.
Oil is Sudan's only significant source of foreign exchange. It earns about $1 billion a year, pumping 250,000 barrels a day. If the U.S. can patrol the Persian Gulf, it can easily prevent tankers from taking on crude oil supplies at Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Washington should also persuade Sudan's neighbors -- including Egypt and Libya -- and Europe to ban overflights and landings by Sudan Airways. It could veto International Monetary Fund and World Bank assistance. It could ban travel to the U.S. from Sudan and freeze all assets of President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir and his key associates in the U.S.
U.S. trade with Sudan could be halted.
If blockades and other sanctions fail to turn the Sudanese government toward peace, then the U.N. and the U.S. will have to threaten intervention. A few thousand Nigerian or French troops could certainly impose the cease-fire that the Sudanese government and its janjaweed proxies now refuse to honor. The French already have Legionnaires in neighboring Chad; with American assistance, the Nigerians could fly soldiers from their own Muslim north across Chad and into Darfur.
No one has really explained why Sudan launched its genocidal campaign 19 months ago, and why it has refused to curb its local militias there. But rumors of petroleum deposits are persistent, and the government does not want to share any such riches with Darfur's two rebel groups. The government is determined not to lose ground, as it did in the years-long fighting in the oil-rich south, to a rebel insurgency. But all of these understandable anxieties cannot excuse genocide.
Having dithered for more than a year before focusing on the human tragedy in Darfur, the forces of world order are now obligated to act, preferably under U.N. authority or, if not, Washington should do so alone.