September 10, 2006 Op-Ed Columnist Why Genocide Matters By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF When I spoke at Cornell University recently, a woman asked why I always harp on Darfur.
Its a fair question. The number of people killed in Darfur so far is modest in global terms: estimates range from 200,000 to more than 500,000.
In contrast, four million people have died since 1998 as a result of the fighting in Congo, the most lethal conflict since World War II. And malaria annually kills one million to three million people meaning that three years deaths in Darfur are within the margin of error of the annual global toll from malaria.
So, yes, you can make an argument that Darfur is simply one of many tragedies and that it would be more cost-effective to save lives by tackling diarrhea, measles and malaria.
But I dont buy that argument at all. We have a moral compass within us, and its needle is moved not only by human suffering but also by human evil. Thats what makes genocide special not just the number of deaths but the government policy behind them. And that in turn is why stopping genocide should be an even higher priority than saving lives from AIDS or malaria.
Even the Holocaust amounted to only 10 percent of World War II casualties and cost far fewer lives than the AIDS epidemic. But the Holocaust evokes special revulsion because it wasnt just tragic but also monstrous, and thats why we read Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel. Teenage girls still die all the time, and little boys still starve and lose their parents but when this arises from genocide, the horror resonates with all humans.
Or it should. But for whatever reason, Sudans decision to kill people on the basis of tribe and skin color has aroused mostly yawns around the globe. Now Sudan is raising the stakes by starting a new military offensive in Darfur and by eliminating witnesses.
The government charged Paul Salopek, an ace Chicago Tribune correspondent, with espionage in an effort to keep foreign reporters away (on Saturday it released him after a month in prison). And even African Union peacekeepers may be forced out of Darfur by the end of this month.
Twelve aid workers have been killed since May more than in the previous three years. These killings are forcing aid groups to pull back, and the U.N. warns that if the humanitarian operation collapses, the result will be hundreds of thousands of deaths. If all foreign witnesses are pushed out, the calamity is barely imaginable.
We urgently need U.N. peacekeepers, even over Sudans objections. (If Sudan sees them coming, it will hurriedly consent.) The U.S. should also impose a no-fly zone from Chad and work with France to keep Chad and the Central African Republic from collapsing into this maelstrom.
President Bush showed an important flash of leadership on Darfur early this year, but lately he has fallen quiet again. He should appoint a special envoy for Darfur and use his bully pulpit to put genocide on the international agenda for starters, by employing his speech to the U.N. General Assembly this month to remind the world of the children being tossed onto bonfires in Sudan. He could also announce that the U.S. will choose candidates to support for U.N. secretary general based in part on their positions on the genocide.
You can see how your member of Congress does on Darfur at www.darfurscores.org. Information about Darfur rallies next Sunday in New York and other cities worldwide is at www.savedarfur.org.
If we dont act, the slaughter may end up claiming more than one million lives, but this is about more than body count. This time the teenagers are not named Anne and Elie, but Fatima and Ahmed, but the horror is the same.
To stir up interest among young people in issues like Darfur and global poverty, I held a contest in the spring to choose a university student to take with me on a reporting trip to Africa. From 4,000 entries, I chose Casey Parks, a young woman from Mississippi who had never been outside the U.S.
Were leaving tomorrow for Equatorial Guinea. Its a backwater that has fascinated me since I first traveled through Africa in 1982 and my Lonely Planet guidebook said about it: Weve never heard of any travelers going there, so we have no details.
Casey and I then travel through remote parts of Cameroon and the Central African Republic. You can follow our journey beginning Wednesday with our daily blog entries at www.nytimes.com/kristof.
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