Darfur is shorthand for the latest example of a recurring international problem, one that gained headlines a decade ago in Rwanda. What should the world do when a large number of people are the victims of violence originating from within their own country?
Darfur itself is a region of Western Sudan comprised of Arab and African Muslims. Conflict erupted in early 2003 when rebels of the Sudan Liberation Movement attacked government troops in an effort to gain greater autonomy and resources for their region. Sudan government aircraft and government-supported troops (known as jangaweed) retaliated against not only armed rebels but also against civilians deemed to be supporting them. Villages have been emptied, women raped, non-Arab men killed.
The origins of the current crisis may be in some dispute, but the costs are not. More than 50,000 men, women and children have lost their lives; more than 1.5 million have been made homeless. This is arguably genocide, a word used by the U.S. government but by few others to describe what is going on in Darfur.
Meanwhile, world leaders are debating what if anything should be done. UN Security Council Resolution 1564, passed on 18 September 2004, reserves the bulk of its criticism for the government of Sudan. But the UN is not yet prepared to go beyond words. The resolution threatens that the Security Council will consider imposing sanctions against Sudanese leaders or against the country’s important oil sector, but introduces no penalties at this time.