It is still happening. Nearly a year after all the usual alarms were sounded heralding the inferno engulfing Darfur, the fire is still raging. Last week, the day after we left Darfur, the killer Janjaweed militias, supported by the Sudanese government, launched an attack on a nearby village, reportedly killing more than 100 people.
Attacks like this are just the tip of the Darfurian volcano. Despite all the noise made by the United Nations Security Council and the Bush administration, and despite the recently signed deal between the Khartoum regime and south-based rebels, the trend lines for Darfur are getting uglier. The international response remains confused, inadequate, timid and criminally negligent.
TEN YEARS AGO, Rwanda was a month into its genocide. It is right that there should now be so much attention to what should or could have been done during that 90-day slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans. But it is wrong that so little attention is paid to the lessons we should have learned. The first lesson: Pay attention when hundreds of thousands are at risk.
Three times more people have died over the last 20 years of war in Sudan than were murdered in Rwanda. Most of those deaths have occurred in the south, where populations of African descent follow Christianity and traditional religions. And 400,000 more African Muslim Sudanese from the west of the country may well die by December in a famine created by the Khartoum government's military tactics and obstruction of aid.
Hard though it is to believe, the horrific humanitarian situation in Darfur is getting worse. There are more clashes now than a year ago, the number of rapes has steadily climbed and humanitarian workers are being attacked. The Darfur Peace Agreement, signed in May, is on the verge of collapse, and more than two million people continue to languish in refugee camps.
Meanwhile the United Nations and its member states fiddle, gently trying to persuade the government of Sudan to accept a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, but getting nowhere. That's not surprising, as, over the last 15 years, constructive engagement with Khartoum has rarely produced results.
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.