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Center for Balkan

Tel: 978-461-0909
Fax: 978-461-2552
[email protected]

By Bruce Hitchner and Glenn Ruga

Providence Journal
Opinion: Contributors
Tuesday, October 19, 2004

AS THE SITUATION in the Darfur region of Sudan deteriorates, as thousands of civilians are murdered by the Khartoum-sponsored Janjaweed militias, and as more Western officials equivocate about how to respond to the crisis, we are reminded of the tragic similarities with Bosnia in 1992.

In April of that year, Bosnian Serb paramilitaries backed by Belgrade embarked on a vicious campaign of "ethnic cleansing." By early 1993, most of the worst atrocities (with a few notable exceptions, such as Srebrenica) had already occurred. The Serb nationalists ethnically cleansed 71 percent of Bosnian territory, nearly 200,000 civilians were dead, and half of Bosnia's 4 million people were homeless. A desperate stalemate ensued for the next 2 1/2 years as lightly armed Bosnian soldiers held out against militias armed and trained by the Yugoslav National Army.

Much like the current negotiations with Khartoum, in the early '90s U.S. and European Union diplomats sought to accommodate the Bosnian Serb authorities, in hopes of ending the genocide. First there was the 1992 Lisbon Agreement, then, later that year, the Vance-Owen plan, followed by the Owen-Stoltenberg plan, in 1993, and, finally, the Contact Group, in 1994. All failed to achieve their objective of creating a sustainable peace.

It was not until after the 1995 execution of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica by Serb forces, the possible humiliation of a U.S.-assisted E.U. withdrawal from Bosnia, and Congress's intervention to lift the arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims that President Clinton authorized a sustained bombing campaign against Serb military positions.

Within weeks, the Bosnian Serbs agreed to all of the allied demands. Today, the world watches in horror as genocide takes place in Darfur. Last month the international community warned that the regime in Khartoum had 30 days to rein in the Janjaweed or face economic sanctions. This month Khartoum was given another 30 days to comply. Now the U.N. Security Council is voting on whether to establish a commission to determine if genocide is in fact occurring.
But, as a recent Public International Law and Policy Group report determined, "A review of the nature of the attacks, rapes, killings and property destruction that have been widely reported indicates that there is sufficient evidence to satisfy the legal requirements for determining that genocide is occurring in Darfur, Sudan."

There is no lack of plans and contingencies for dealing with the situation in Darfur. Tougher sanctions and an arms embargo placed on Khartoum and U.S. and E.U. logistical support for a robust African Union peacekeeping force vastly increase humanitarian support for victims of Janjaweed assaults. Yet, as with Bosnia in 1992, what is lacking is the will to act.

Nothing will change until that will exists, and sadly, as in 1992, the impetus must come from the United States.

But how to engage a U.S. administration preoccupied with the insurgency in Iraq, instability in Afghanistan, and the struggle against terrorism? Here, again, the experience of Bosnia provides the answer: The engagement of opinion makers, the media, and Congress -- all appalled by the events in Bosnia -- succeeded in getting the Clinton administration to intervene there.

If there is to be any end to the genocide in Darfur, that goal must become part of the domestic political agenda of the United States. Elected officials in Washington must feel sustained pressure from their constituents. And this can be achieved only if the horrors of Darfur come home to the American public, in the same way that the siege of Sarajevo, the atrocities in Kosovo, and now the war in Iraq have come home to us: through intensive media coverage.

Night after night, reports on the violence in Iraq are broadcast on American television. By contrast, there is virtually no coverage of events in Darfur apart from the occasional visit of officials to the refugee camps and the occasional mind-numbing reports of diplomatic initiatives.

Until the news media commit themselves to systematic and unrelenting coverage of Sudan, Congress, the American people, and the world will turn a blind eye on yet another genocide in Africa. And the tragic lesson of Bosnia -- the necessity of facing up to genocide -- will have been lost.

Those who argue that the United States cannot intervene-- unilaterally or as part of a coalition -- everywhere in the world that oppressive regimes claim innocent lives are correct. But those who oppose swift U.S. action in a leadership role to stop ethnic cleansing are only advancing the cause of genocide, and those who perpetrate it.

Bruce Hitchner is a professor of classics and chairman of the Dayton Peace Accords Project at Tufts University; Glenn Ruga is director of the Center for Balkan Development, in Maynard, Mass.