From Sudan to North Korea and Syria: A Plea to President Obama to Activate His Atrocities Prevention Board
Co-authored by Professor Samuel Totten
“In remembrance lie the roots of redemption; in forgetfulness the roots of destruction.” That Judaic theme has inspired museums, international memorial days, and not a few politicians to invoke “Never Again” when the specter of genocide rears its horrific head.
Yet while millions may draw inspiration and hope from survivor’s stories and inspirational films, the people who hold the power to act do not have a great track record in the generation since the Nazi Holocaust. From the Cambodian genocide to Rwanda and Darfur, a more accurate reprise might be “ever again.”
Now comes word that the Obama administration will host representatives of Sudan’s al Bashir regime, whose dismal human rights record has led al Bashir’s indictment for crimes against humanity and genocide for atrocities perpetrated in Darfur.
The concerns today go beyond the well-documented crimes in Darfur.
Since June 2011, the people of the Nuba Mountains in Sudan have been under assault by Government of Sudan (GoS) ground troops and aerial bombings. As a result of the daily bombings, hundreds of thousands fled from their villages and farms into the hinterlands and into caves seeking sanctuary. Without ready access to their produce and stores of food, many have suffered the whole gamut of hunger — malnutrition to severe malnutrition to starvation.
Furious that they were not allowed to secede from Sudan and join the new Republic of South Sudan and at what they considered the rigged election for governor of South Kordofan, where the Nuba Mountains are located, many in the region began calling into question the authority of al Bashir. During huge rallies in early 2011, the people not only denounced their being forced to live under the dictatorial thumb of al Bashir, and called on him to give himself up to the ICC. They also decried the fact that Ahmed Haroun, who is also wanted on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in Darfur, was named the new governor of the Nuba Mountains.
The response from Khartoum was to unleash ground troops, along with Antonov bombers and MIGs, against the Nuba Mountains. Instead of solely attempting to apprehend the potential rebels, Bashir’s forces began attacking unarmed civilians. Countless women, children, infants and the elderly have been killed and maimed in the worst ways imaginable.
The bombings, killings, maiming and starvation continue unabated as the world looks on and does nothing.
The government in Khartoum views the Washington meeting as a sign that their international isolation is waning. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry should firmly disabuse them of any such notion.
In addition to demanding that the murderous onslaught against the civilians in the Nuba Mountains cease, President Obama should activate his Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), which he launched one year ago. The president touted APB as a serious innovation in the fight against crimes against humanity and genocide, inferring that his was the most forward-looking of any presidential administration in the fight against genocide.
If only that were so.
To date, at least when it comes to Sudan, it appears that the APB is more cosmetic than concrete.
Human rights disasters never wait for the good guys to act. New crimes against humanity, and in certain cases, possibly genocide, are rife across the globe: daily, the Sudanese government carries out aerial bombings against innocents in the Nuba Mountains; murder and mass rape are commonplace occurrences in the Democratic Republic of Congo; mass graves have been discovered in Syria and death mayhem and destruction threaten to stretch beyond its borders; and the North Korean regime continues its inhumane treatment of 200,000 prisoners in its Stalinist-style gulag.
The voiceless and defenseless desperately need a powerful advocate. It is not too late for the Obama administration’s Atrocities Prevention Board to take the lead in thwarting mass atrocities. Everyday it fails to act is nothing less than an invitation to Khartoum, Pyongyang, Damascus and their ilk to step up their assaults on human lives and dignity. If we fail to act, future generations may yet remember the countless forsaken victims we forgot to save.
Co-author Samuel Totten, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, is the author of Genocide by Attrition: Nuba Mountains, Sudan (Transaction Publishers, 2012). He was last in the war torn Nuba Mountains this past winter.
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