Jan Egeland, the emergency relief coordinator from the United Nations, said that he sees a growing humanitarian problem in Darfur, a region in western Sudan, where gangs of raiders have slaughtered people, burned villages to the ground and forced the survivors into crowded refugee camps without enough food or shelter. Egeland said this week that the number of people in need of assistance has increased from 1 million in 2004 to four million today. It appears that (unfortunately) a peace accord reached in May has failed to end the fighting and more importantly failed to end the suffering and death of people in the camps.
According to Egeland, part of the problem is that the aid workers are confined to towns by the lawless situation, and cannot even reach the camps.
Now I do not support a military intervention in Darfur. I believe that it would rapidly become a landlocked version of Somalia (remember we went in there to feed hungry people too), and given the long simmering civil insurrection in neighboring regions of Sudan, it is hard to imagine that such a mission wouldn't simply degenerate into another Iraq.
What I do support, as I blogged on earlier this year is that we provide a limited supply of arms to those most in danger of being attacked:
But the other thing we must do is this: provide each family who may be subject to ethnic cleansing with at least an old rifle and a few rounds. True some of these weapons could and most certainly would end up being used by combatants (I wasn't born yesterday, I know that many of them would), but that is why I suggested an old rifle with limited ammunition. Not a particularly useful military weapon, but adequate for individual or home defense.
And that leads to the real reason why this would be the best option to end genocide. Genocide is a very labor intensive job, with people having to go find, capture and either murder, or transport victims for murder someplace else. If there was a chance that each household was armed, then it would simply not be worth it for a small rag-tag army (or even a repressive government fighting a civil war) to risk losing fighters in ones, twos and threes in order to drag the people in homes out and murder them. In fact, I believe that this idea (lightly arming victims or potential victims) would probably stop pretty much all genocides for the same reason. Both that reason, and also the reason that it would make genocide much less attractive for a rebel army or for a government even if they could do it without suffering any casualties, if they knew for a fact that their victims (who are their 'enemies') would start getting free weapons as soon as they started in with the butchering.
I know that this is a radical solution, but until the murdering militias have a tougher fight on their hands than what amounts to shooting fish in a barrel, they have no incentive at all to stop attacking. And I'm not saying that we should arm these people to the extent that they would be able to mount a very effective counter-offensive, just make it difficult and somewhat costly for the militia to attack them.
Given that the militias have ignored all threats, pleas, promises, condemnations and anything else verbal that has been thrown at them and simply continue to loot, plunder and murder, I believe it is time that we send more than just food and words. Not American troops though.