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Irwin Cotler, MP

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Canada greets genocide with silence

Posted on October 7, 2008

Over five years after the killing began, the world continues to bear witness to a genocide by attrition in Darfur, where more than 400,000 have died, three million have been displaced, and 4.5 million are dependent on foreign aid to survive. 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.

This is especially true during this Canadian election campaign, as Darfur has been forgotten even while its killing fields persist.

In fact, in Darfur today, the tragedy is not only continuing; it is continuing with impunity. As the international leadership dithers, people in Darfur continue to die.

It has been young people, in concert with the Save Darfur NGOs, that have sounded the alarm. It has been political leaders, however, who 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, because of conspiracies of silence.

In the leaders’ debate for the last federal election, none of the leaders of any 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 the leaders.

Most Canadians would join me in lamenting the tragedy unfolding, yet the government’s throne speech made no mention of this ongoing atrocity. This 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 Darfuri population from genocide.

In this federal election campaign, important questions need to be put to the leaders that have not yet been heard. 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 Darfuri people as the Sudanese government attempts to destroy the relief effort set up to offer food and shelter to those in need?

How do we reassure the aid workers whose own lives are threatened by a government-orchestrated campaign of terror?

How many questions have been put — or have even been answered — about the bloodshed in the Kalma camp in August, when the Sudanese government killed 31 people, including 17 women and children, and is reportedly poised for another assault?

As the people lose faith in the displacement camps, and as experts warn that these camps may become a new battlefront to the detriment of innocent victims, political leadership — both international and domestic — needs to become part of the solution rather than remain part of the problem.

If Canada is to be an international leader in combating the killing fields in Sudan, questions must be put — and answered — on Darfur, the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century. There is much that can be done, and much that needs to be done.

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 both 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 — and Canada can be that leader — to champion the role of international criminal law in bringing the genocidaires to account. While this summer saw the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court apply for an arrest warrant charging President Omar Al-Bashir with genocide, it also saw Khartoum reject and mock the legitimacy of this process itself.

Indeed, this culture of impunity is nothing new to Sudan. When former minister of internal affairs Ahmed Harun was presented with an arrest warrant, the Sudanese government proceeded — in scandalous defiance of the rule of law — to appoint Mr. Harun to be the minister of humanitarian affairs, thus placing him in charge of complaints concerning the very atrocities that he himself planned and perpetrated.

The killing fields must be stopped. Those responsible for murder and impunity must be held to account.

Canada — holding a unique and influential role in the international community — is in a position to respond to one of the most compelling issues of our time. This election campaign should be the medium for the Canadian voices to be heard.

- Irwin Cotler, the Liberal incumbent for Mont-Royal, 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.

IDNUMBER 200810070047
PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2008.10.07
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A13
COLUMN: Irwin Cotler
BYLINE: Irwin Cotler
SOURCE: Citizen Special
WORD COUNT: 829

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