The issue this election forgot
Tue 07 Oct 2008
Byline: Irwin Cotler
Over five years after the killing began, the world continues to bear witness to a genocide by attrition in Darfur, where over 400,000 have died, three million have been displaced and 4.5 million are on a life-support system. The tragedy is not only continuing; it is continuing with impunity. As international leaders dither, Darfurians continue to die. Yet this standing atrocity is still only receiving passing mention in the international community, thereby lending credence to the notion of the banality of evil.
Young people, in concert with Save Darfur NGOs, have sounded the alarm. However, political leaders, including here in Canada, have been indifferent and inactive — ignoring the lesson of history that genocide occurs not only because of the machinery of death but also because of crimes of indifference, conspiracies of silence.
In the leaders’ debates prior to the last federal election, none of the leaders of the four major parties even mentioned the word "Darfur." Nor did any member of the media put a question about Darfur to any of them.
The Conservative government’s Throne Speech in the last parliament made no mention of this atrocity either. That is especially disturbing, given Canada’s role as the principal architect of the "responsibility to protect" doctrine, which mandates international collective action to protect the Darfurian population from genocide.
In this federal election campaign, important questions about Darfur need to be addressed by the leaders of Canada’s major parties: How do we respond to the Sudanese government beginning its sixth year of genocidal warfare by launching ferocious ground and air assaults on its African civilian populations? How do we protect the Darfurian people as the Sudanese government attempts to destroy the relief efforts set up to offer food and shelter to those in need? How do we reassure aid workers whose own lives are threatened by a government-orchestrated campaign of terror? How do we respond to the bloodshed in the Kalma displaced persons camp last month, where the Sudanese government killed 31 people, including 17 women and children?
If Canada is to be an international leader in combatting the killing fields in Sudan, these questions must be answered. And there is much that we can do.
As I have previously recommended, what is desperately needed now is a "Darfur Summit" convening the leadership of the African Union, the European Union, the UN, the Arab League, NATO and the Sudanese government, to implement a "Save Darfur/ Sudan" action plan. This would include the urgent mobilization and effective deployment of the UN-African Union protection force, which could include the 10,000 South Sudan volunteer peacekeepers who are ready to act, the enhancement of humanitarian assistance and protection of aid workers, the rescue of the Darfur Peace Process and the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement, both of which are in a coma, the leveraging of China to end its arms sales to Darfur and the implementation of a no-fly zone to stop the indiscriminate bombing of civilian villages.
The international community also needs a leader to champion the role of international criminal law in bringing the genocidaires to account –and Canada can be that leader.
The killing fields must be stopped. Those responsible for murder must be held to account. The culture of impunity — in which Ahmed Harun, the man who planned and perpetrated atrocities in Darfur, is appointed Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, and President Omar Al-Bashir, the object of an application for an arrest warrant on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, rejects the legitimacy of the international criminal process –must come to an end.
Our country holds a unique and influential role in the international community. We are in a position to respond to one of the most compelling issues of our time. This election campaign should be the medium for Canadian voices to be heard on the subject of Darfur. – Irwin Cotler is a former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada and is a professor of law on leave from McGill University. He was the chair of the Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition in the last parliament.