Misinterpreting the genocide in Darfur
Marc Gustafson's op-ed on Aug. 19, "The 'genocide' in Darfur isn't what it seems," is misleading.
His most distorted claim is that activist pressure somehow cost lives in Darfur by diverting US government funding away from humanitarian assistance for displaced Darfuris and toward civilian protection. But even his own numbers show that US appropriations for humanitarian assistance in Darfur increased by more than 20 percent in the time period he references.
Indeed, the US government's annual financial assistance for humanitarian aid in Darfur has been one of the only things that has consistently gone right in the world's reaction to this ongoing crisis, providing funding at or near the targets set by relief organizations.
Save Darfur's efforts to spotlight what was clearly an unmet need for peacekeeping and civilian protection in Darfur did not diminish the allocation for humanitarian aid, both because that's not the way the system works and because that was never the intent.
Quite the opposite, the intent was to push for the creation of a stronger and fully funded peacekeeping force to complement the humanitarian lifeline already in place. And that's exactly what happened – the United States provided additional funds for the struggling undersized African Union peacekeeping force, pushed for the creation of the hybrid United Nations-AU force, and then provided additional funding to help field that larger force. All of these funds were additional to the US's strong financial commitment to funding humanitarian aid in Darfur, not in conflict with that commitment.
Though spending on civilian protection did increase in part because of our advocacy, as Mr. Gustafson notes, it has been necessary.
The UN Security Council authorized the AU-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in July 2007, because an under-resourced, outgunned AU protection force was on the verge of collapse. The AU force had neither the experience, the infrastructure, nor the stable funding support necessary to run a mission in Darfur. That such a mission was undertaken at all is a testament to just how violent a place Darfur remains, and just how critical civilian protection is to stability in Darfur.
Darfur's recent history is littered with failed cease-fires, and the April 2004 N'Djamena cease-fire agreement is sadly just another example. Were it in fact as successful as Gustafson claims, one wonders why new cease-fires were deemed necessary in subsequent years.
Civilians are not safe; in particular, rape remains endemic. And that lack of security is also a major problem for the humanitarian operations on which 2.7 million displaced Darfuris and another 1.3 million "conflict affected" civilians depend in order to survive.
The government of Sudan, which bears overwhelming (though not sole) responsibility, is certainly unwilling (and at this point probably unable) to provide the necessary security. That leaves it up to the international community, which means that the US needs to play a leading role.
Needless to say, neither Save Darfur nor the US government established the size of UNAMID or drew up its budget; the UN did. It is worth saying, though, that Save Darfur's advocacy efforts have helped convince the US to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in additional bilateral peacekeeping funds over and above the standard US share of the UN peacekeeping budget to help develop and deploy the force.
Gustafson also wades into the unnecessary debate over casualty rates in Darfur. Mortality studies sponsored by the UN, the US government, and independent experts over the years have produced different findings.
Certainty is impossible, in large part because the government of Sudan has barred the type of region-wide epidemiological survey that could provide authoritative information.
Save Darfur uses the most recent UN estimate that as many as 300,000 men, women, and children have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur. But the causes of death are both direct violence and conditions (such as lack of food, water, and shelter) deliberately inflicted upon civilians largely by the government and its proxies.
It is interesting to note that new satellite data available on Google Earth and through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., reveal that there were actually twice as many villages destroyed as previously reported, a great many of them well after the April 2004 cease-fire.
Finally, Gustafson claims that activists exaggerated the situation in Darfur by calling it a genocide in order to expand the movement.
Save Darfur as an organization views what has happened in Darfur as a genocide, and we're hardly alone in that view. Indeed, the fact that the US government itself determined the situation in Darfur to be a genocide and then failed to back up that determination with sufficient actions to end the crisis helped give rise to the Save Darfur movement.
While others have not reached the same conclusion regarding the "genocide" label, there is a broad consensus that the government of Sudan is responsible for crimes against humanity in Darfur. As the UN Commission of Inquiry emphasized, those crimes – a widespread and systematic attack on a civilian population – are no less heinous than genocide.
On Aug. 26 The Christian Science Monitor carried a piece written by Alan Dershowitz, "Sweden's shame over Israeli 'organ theft' nonstory." We would like to clarify the following points:
In regard to the main question, Sweden's position is categorical: Anti-Semitic agitation is not only unacceptable, it is also criminal. It is explicitly forbidden by Swedish law to spread anti-Semitic statements. The crime falls under public prosecution. If there is a question regarding a violation of freedom of the press, however, it is only the chancellor of justice who can bring action. In the parliament there is total support in the stand against all types of anti-Semitic tendencies when such come up for debate.
When the Israeli foreign minister and spokespersons for the Israeli Foreign Ministry demanded that Sweden's government react and condemn the article that accused Israeli soldiers of harvesting Palestinian organs, the matter took on a new dimension. Such proposals from other countries are always denied. Neither the government, individual ministers, nor representatives of Sweden are allowed to create an impression that the government has any control over what is published in the media.
The responsible publisher bears entirely and completely the responsibility for what has been published in the debate. This responsibility can never be taken over by the government. The division of responsibility between the government and the media is a central element in Swedish society and strongly anchored in our Constitution.
This division of responsibility is also the basis for the government not apologizing for, censoring, or condemning individual newspaper articles. As late as 2007, the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution declared that the government must maintain a safe distance from the constitutional laws and freedom of the press. The committee requested the government to keep well within the framework of the Freedom of the Press Act.
It has been reported that the government closed down a website during the debate about the Muhammad caricatures. That information was incorrect. The owner of the website received information about the threats and made his own decision to remove the pictures. The involvement of the minister for foreign affairs was strongly questioned – by the Committee on the Constitution among others – and this contributed to her resignation.
There have also been rumors that Sweden apologized for publishing the Muhammad caricatures in certain newspapers. The only case in which such an apology was extended – a letter from the embassy in Riyadh to the government of Yemen – was criticized by the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution. During the incident involving the so-called Roundabout Dogs a year later, no apologies were extended due to, among other things, the statement by the Committee on the Constitution in 2007.
As for the article in Aftonbladet, that is now being examined by the Swedish chancellor of Justice to see if it has violated the Freedom of the Press Act.
Furthermore, the actions of the government will be reviewed by the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution.