by Matt Chayes
Binghamton Pipe Dream
April 29, 2005
The statistics are at once mindnumbing and heartbreaking. 250,000 dead. 2 million homeless. 800,000 beyond the reach of humanitarian aid. All in the past few years.
But who’s responsible? There’s a political dispute over whether what’s happening in the Darfur region of Sudan should be considered genocide or just the sad unfortunate consequences of a civil war.
The region’s bitter starvation, wanton killing and its affects were discussed at a forum Tuesday evening sponsored by Binghamton University’s chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy, a newly founded club dedicated to international affairs.
David Cingranelli, a political science professor who specializes in human rights, said the details of Darfur muddy a simple classification of what’s going on as genocide because the charge requires a certain proof of intent.
“We’re actually talking about mass killing that has been going on for 15 years,” Cingranelli said.
Complicating matters is that there is no systematic death apparatus like Nazi Germany present in Darfur. Instead, Cingranelli said, people are being driven from their homes by tribal conflict.
“Most of them end up starving to death,” Cingranelli said.
“Basically, these people are fighting for their lives,” said Virginia Brown, a BU political science instructor. “Each side is really committed to destroying the other side.”
Even the United States’ public outcry against the government is tinged with politics, Brown said, because coming out publicly against an Arab enemy fits the post-9/11 foreign policy zeitgeist.
During the speeches, organizers Masooma F. Hydary and Hamza Mahmood distributed a petition urging the American secretary of state to intervene in Sudan.
“The villages in the Darfur region have been attacked, burned and looted,” the letter said.
The response of Sudanese officials has been typical of states accused of condoning human rights violations, Cingranelli explained: question the statistics, undermine motives of accusers, brand the casualties inadvertent, blame tribal conflict and cite its peace efforts.
“That’s happening in every genocide, no matter who’s committing it,” Cingranelli said.
Brown, a political science instructor who teaches international law classes, said that the United States wants to classify what’s going on in Sudan as genocide because then international precedent won’t be set. (Most genocide trials will be held in the violating country.)
But by de-signing a global treaty that establishes an international criminal court, along with the U.S.-run prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, America has worsened the legal climate to prosecute war crimes.
“I submit to you it’s just as real in areas we have looked at in Guantanamo, in Abu Ghraib,” Brown said.
So what’s the solution?
The faculty members tended to disagree on whether military action would help — Cingranelli favored it and Brown was skeptical — but they both agreed that spreading awareness was an important start.
Brown said that awareness is the best hope to solve the humanitarian crisis, but she’s doubtful that would happen.
“No one’s willing to give a penny to anyone,” she said.
One audience member said she was disappointed, if not outraged, that the United States isn’t doing enough to solve the Darfur crisis.
“I feel like history is repeating itself,” the audience member said, referring to America’s inaction in Rwanda in the early 1990s — another mass killing in Africa. “I feel like they’re not putting enough effort to stop the genocide.”
Jane M. Connor, an associate professor of psychology, asked whether the panelists thought that restorative justice — a philosophical approach that aims to repair harm by restoring community with less of an emphasis on punishment — would work to bring the people responsible for the atrocities to justice.
“As a psychologist, I know that punishment isn’t really how people learn,” Connor said.
The panelists said that restorative justice worked in apartheid South Africa but the legal issues, combined with the need to deter future inhuman conduct, complicates the usefulness of that approach.
Imad Zaheer, a sophomore psychology major, said the forum enlightened him about the atrocities.
“People don’t know what to do,” Zaheer said.
After hearing the lecture, Zaheer said he’s going to become active by joining the club that sponsored the forum to raise awareness.