Combating genocide, ethnic cleansing and other forms of hatred all too frequently is not a top priority even for those of us who ostensibly promise to apply the lessons of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust: Countries cannot be trusted to protect their populations nor are crimes against humanity perpetrated without a ‘rationale.’ From November 9th to November 11th, scholars, activists and concerned citizens gathered at the University Ottawa for the Continuing Crisis in Darfur Conference to better understand the horrors in Sudan, the media portrayal (or lack their of) of the killings, mass rapes and forced expulsions, and the options for realizing change in the short-term.
A panel composed of Prof. Error Mendes of the University of Ottawa, Hon. Irwin Cotler, MP (Liberal) and Mr. David Matas of B’nai Brith Canada addressed the international response to the crisis and did not shy from explicitly drawing analogies between the Final Solution and the Darfurian genocide.
“IDP camps no better than concentration camps”
Prof. Mendes was at pains to point out the relationship between ethnic cleansing and land clearings for the development of natural resources. The Khartoum government stalls and ignores both international sanctions and its own agreements while “genocide by attrition” is effected. Land and wells are defiled or re-settled with nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples while those fleeing from mass murders and rapes to IDP camps die of starvation and disease. Khartoum builds at break-neck speed with funds from the World Bank and IMF as its population is decimated. The reverberations of Lebensraum sent chills down a listener’s spine.
“International community dithers while Darfurians continue to die….a betrayal, repudiation and affront to historical lessons”
Hon. Irwin Cotler, MP, argued that perhaps the biggest obstacle to change is a “failure to acknowledge.” In the six-week election campaign of 2005, not one of the party leaders mentioned Darfur in their campaign nor were they asked about their views in a publicized interview. Cotler’s verdict: “Genocide not on the radar screen.”
The former Justice minister proposed a nine-point plan for ending the crisis – with or without Sudanese support and consent because “we cannot be hostages to the perpetrators of genocide.” Key items included the immediate deployment of the UN hybrid force, a bolstering of the African Union Mission, the withdrawal of unconditional financial support of the Khartoum government, divestment and the end of the current culture of impunity that permits treaties to be broken without repercussion.
“Genocide occurs in verbal camouflage”
David Matas approached the battle against genocide from the unique perspective of B’nai Brith Canada and recent attempts at holding the perpetrators of genocide accountable for their atrocities. Arguing against a 2005 UN report that characterized the crisis in Darfur as “war crimes”, but not genocide, Mr. Matas deplored the use of racial bigotry, couched in terms of self-defense, as a defense against accusations of genocide. Genocidal intent should be about how the perpetrators determine who should be killed – and if “rebel” is equated with ethnicity, that’s genocide.
Mr. Matas showed concern that the current mis-categorization of the massacres, mass rapes and forced expulsions as crimes against humanity but not genocide will prevent juridical justice from being brought to bear on those responsible. He proposed an answer for concerned Canadians. Instead of depending on the international court at La Hague, we must apply universal jurisdiction. Trials against perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide can be undertaken by any country that ratified the UN agreement. We ought to prosecute the complicit as soon as they cross our borders.
During the question period, a representative from STAND Canada asked the obvious, “What can we do?” The unanimous answer was “ask pointed questions, like ‘what have you done to promote the Canadian Pension Funds divestion of the Khartoum government?’, of our MPs to shame and embarrass them for shirking their responsibilities.” Where there is political will, there will be a way.