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U.N. should act in Darfur
Scripps Howard News Service


June 21, 2005

Imagine the United Nations is a fire department and that across the street a whole block of homes is ablaze. Close to half the firefighters don't care, seeing as how they are arsonists. Instead of hoses spraying, we get debate. By the time debate is done, so is the block.

The depiction is no exaggeration. It is, in fact, an understatement about how this international body - established as a means of securing peace - has as much as kowtowed to the monster of genocide. Not only has it allowed the most vicious of its members to get away with the murder, torture and rape of hundreds of thousands of people, it has actually put the likes of Sudan on its human rights commission.

That's right, Sudan sits on the U.N. human rights commission. The same Sudan whose government has helped slaughter some 200,000 black African Muslims in the western province of Darfur while burning down their villages and uprooting some 2 million people who now face starvation or horrible, ugly deaths if they make the mistake of searching out food.

Some of these black Muslims in Darfur were rebels. When Sudan's slaughter of some 2 million Christians and animists in the southern part of the country was winding down two years ago, these rebels attacked an airport. The government hit back with a vengeance and did not stop with seeking out the rebels. It gave support to racist, nomadic Arab tribes that attacked the black, Muslim farmers on the ground, while Sudanese aircraft attacked from the sky.

Reports from the scene are gruesome: stories of children being tortured to death by having parts of their bodies cut off, women being repeatedly raped, bodies being tossed in wells to poison the water, displaced men being murdered when they leave camps to find food for themselves and their families.

The Bush administration helped bring the killing in the south to an end through intensive pressure. When the killing in the west started, Secretary of State Collin Powell went to Sudan and used the word "genocide" to describe what was going on. The United States has given far more money for food for the displaced Sudanese than any other country and has taken still other steps to alleviate the suffering and stop the killing. But when the question is asked whether the United States could and should do more, the answer is clear: of course.

Top officials, including the president himself, should speak out more, as some critics say. As critics also say, we can give additional support to the African Union, which has sent 2,000 troops to watch as peace talks proceed, trying to make sure that the negotiations aren't just a trick to facilitate more death and despair.

But there are limits to what even the world's greatest superpower can accomplish, especially given our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The need is for the United Nations to do what it was intended to do when it was created. That means more than issuing reports, as helpful as they may be, or asking the International Criminal Court to conduct trials of war criminals, as it has now done in this case. Sudan won't cooperate in permitting those trials, and that will be that.

No, when hundreds of thousands are being killed in such places as Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan, the United Nations must do more than frown. It must cease letting the most underhanded and tyrannical of its members deflect the quick, forceful action that could save lives.

That brings us to the excellent report on the United Nations. It was issued by a congressionally appointed task force chaired by two political opposites: Newt Gingrich, the feisty, former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, and George Mitchell, the smooth, effective former Democratic Senate majority leader.

The report suggests hard-hitting but practical solutions to a whole array of United Nations problems, from how to avoid the sorts of scandals in which it is now immersed to ways of overcoming bureaucratic sluggishness. Importantly, it calls for a U.N. capability of speedily assembling the military means of quelling mass murder under the leadership of the United States and of making sure that no human-rights abuser - no Sudan - ever gets aboard a slimmed-down, less political human rights commission.

The implementation of the task force's recommendations - if it happens - won't be immediate, however. There is the need in the interim for the currently irresolute United Nations to take its most important duties seriously and to find the resolve to come to the rescue of the people in Darfur. There can be no decent excuse not to.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)

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