Genocide in Slow Motion

Over at the New York Review of Books, Nicholas Kristof offers his thoughts on two recents books about Darfur, Julie Flint and Alex de Waal’s Darfur: A Short History of a Long War and Gerard Prunier’s Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide. He cites the willingness of the media (his newspaper, the New York Times, included) to ignore the Nazis’ extermination of Europe’s Jewish population during the Second World War as being the rule rather than the exception. Most genocides (Armenia in 1915, Rwanda in 1994, Cambodia in the ’70s, Bosnia in the ’90s) take place largely unnoticed. In the case of Darfur, the genocide is attracting even less notice because it is taking place “in slow motion.”

Kristof argues that the events now unfolding in Darfur, which have their roots in post-colonial problems and in political and ethnic differences, can be solved if the “cost” of conducting genocide is raised.

At one level, UN agencies have been very effective in providing humanitarian aid; at another, they have been wholly ineffective in challenging the genocide itself. That is partly because Sudan is protected on the Security Council by Russia and especially by China, a major importer of Sudanese oil. China seems determined to underwrite some of the costs of the Darfur genocide just as it did the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s. But the UN’s main problem is that it is too insistent on being diplomatic. (…) Sudan’s leaders are not Taliban-style extremists. They are ruthless opportunists, and they adopted a strategy of genocide because it seemed to be the simplest method available. If the US and the UN raise the cost of genocide, they will adopt an alternative response, such as negotiating a peace settlement. Indeed, whenever the international community has mustered some outrage about Darfur, then the level of killings and rapes subsides.

The situation in Darfur has become too dangerous for even aid agencies to stay. If this goes on, the UN estimates that as many as 100,000 people will die per month. Meanwhile, politicians and pundits are discussing whether the term “genocide” really applies.


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