We have each been to Darfur's killing fields and spoken to victims of some of the most appalling atrocities you can imagine. It was a chilling experience, but we returned to America deeply motivated to take action to help save the people of Darfur.
Today, the University of California Board of Regents can play a critical role to staunch Darfur's bleeding when it votes whether to divest the university system from the companies that cut lucrative business deals with accused war criminals in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. In doing so, the UC system would join other universities and state legislatures that have taken similar bold action to help end this humanitarian catastrophe.
For a country like Sudan, where nearly 2.5 million people have perished as a result of war during the last two decades, it is hard to imagine that one more death could have such enormous consequences. But last week's death of rebel leader-turned-peacemaker John Garang in a helicopter crash will send shock waves through Sudan for decades.
Garang had just been installed as vice president of a new national unity government, which was the cornerstone of a peace deal between the Islamist ruling party in Khartoum and Garang's rebel group, based in southern Sudan. The international community had high hopes that Garang would turn his considerable diplomatic skills to the longtime conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.
The Bush White House has made 10 grievous mistakes that have only made matters worse.
I just returned from rebel-held areas of Darfur on a trip with Scott Pelley of CBS's 60 Minutes, and I found that the crisis is spiraling out of control: Violence is increasing, malnutrition is soaring, and access to life-saving aid is shrinking. The Bush administration has made some noise about Darfur over the last two years, but it has made a series of deadly mistakes that have served only to make matters worse.
As we sat in a refugee camp in Chad listening to Fatima describe how most of her family was killed by Sudanese government-sponsored Janjaweed militias, we found it incomprehensible that the world could not muster the political will necessary to protect her surviving family members or to hold the killers accountable.
Since returning from our visit to Chad and Darfur in late January, we have pored over the rationales the U.S. government has used for its tepid response, and have found no fewer than 10 lame excuses.
You might have read newspaper articles about the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur, or seen images on television of refugees languishing in camps, and thought: "What does any of this have to do with me, and besides what could I actually do to help?" After all, these atrocities are taking place 7,000 miles away, and responding to mass violence against civilians is the responsibility of big bureaucratic agencies such as the United Nations, right?
The answer to these questions says a lot about the power that U.S. citizens have to effect change in other parts of the world. If you look closely at the international community's response to the Sudanese government's decision to unleash the murderous janjaweed militias on its own citizens in Darfur, and against civilians in neighboring Chad, you will find that ordinary U.S. citizens are taking some of the most relevant action to stop the violence.
THE DEATH of Sudan's rebel leader-turned-vice-president John Garang has pushed the crisis in Darfur even further off the international radar screen. While the peace agreement that Garang crafted between his southern-based rebels and the Khartoum government has paved the way for a new government of national unity, Darfur is now suffering stage two of the ruling party's brutal counterinsurgency strategy. Stage one was well documented: the wholesale annihilation of the way of life and livelihoods of the civilian supporters of the rebellion. The Bush administration called this genocide.
Stage two, however, occurs largely off camera. The engineers of Darfur's agony are gradually exterminating the survivors of stage one -- the 2.5 million frightened civilians living in hastily erected camps. The rape of women is systematic and relentless, access to humanitarian aid is denied, and vulnerable Darfurians are losing their will to survive.
Paul Rusesabagina visited President Bush at the White House last month. Paul is the hotelier-turned-hero who saved more than 1,200 lives during Rwanda's 1994 genocide, and whose actions inspired the movie Hotel Rwanda. Paul was eager to see the president because he wanted to tell him that Rwanda's horror of a decade ago is happening again — this time, in Sudan's western region of Darfur.
A brutal campaign of state-sponsored violence in Darfur has led to the deaths of up to 300,000 people, and the lives of about 2 million displaced people hang in the balance.
Talking to homeless Sudanese in hiding near their burned villages has a way of clarifying issues. In rebel-held territory of Darfur recently, I heard story after story of people whose fathers and brothers had been killed, whose mothers, sisters and daughters had been gang-raped, and whose livelihoods, built over generations, had been torched by their own government and the militia it supports. And I realized more clearly than ever how much foreign policy comes down to basic choices about priorities.
The failure by the international community to respond to Sudan's killing fields in Darfur may not yet be as dramatic or deadly as its failure in Rwanda, but the excuses ring much more hollow. In 1994, the world had only 90 days in which to act before the killing in Rwanda was over.