In 1994, to the everlasting shame of the Clinton administration and the then-Democratic congress (which would be replaced later that year), the United States stood by and watched as three-quarters of a million people were killed during a three-month period in Rwanda. After the fact, the whole world was willing to call this an act of genocide, but while the killing was actually taking place, we did nothing to stop it.
A similar tragedy is taking place today, a decade later, in the Darfur region of Sudan. It is being brilliantly documented by New York Times correspondent Nicholas Kristof, whose columns focus on individuals who have suffered horribly, being displaced, raped, and mutilated, watching their families killed. The most optimistic statistics are that 30,000 people have been killed and a million displaced thus far, and that by year-end, an additional 300,000 will have been killed. More pessimistic statistics suggest up to a million dead by year-end.
President Bush, understandably wary of another foreign humanitarian situation since taking heat from the Democrats over Iraq, has thus far declined to call Darfur an instance of genocide. (President Bush has, to his credit, been instrumental in brokering a peace accord that ended another destructive civil war in Sudan).
Which brings us to our Senators, some of whom are Mormon, and seventy-nine of whom could use a good, swift kick in the pants over this.
The Senate and House have already passed a bill “condemning the Government of the Republic of the Sudan for its participation and complicity in the attacks against innocent civilians in the impoverished Darfur region of western Sudan.” This bill has had no real effect that I’m aware of.
Recently, Senator Brownback introduced proposed legislation to declare Darfur as an area of genocide. (For the bill text, including a brief synopsis of the problems in Darfur, see here). This would have important consequences for the United States and the United Nations, because there are existing treaties which require signatories not to tolerate acts of genocide. In other words, this legislation has “teeth” (thus far, President Bush has declined to call the Darfur situation genocide for just this reason, despite reported pressure to do so from Colin Powell). This bill currently has 21 co-sponsors. I’m a little embarrassed to notice that none of the five Mormon senators (Hatch, Bennett, Crapo, Reid, Smith) (Nate: am I leaving out anyone?) are among them.
I’m going to write my senator about this (Mrs. Clinton, that is; Mr. Schumer is a co-sponsor at the moment — and does ignoring genocide run in the Clinton family? Just asking). I’m also going to drop notes to each of the five Mormon senators, but I’ll probably be ignored because I’m not a constituent.
If you would like to see action from Mormon senators, and/or your own state’s senators, on this issue, I encourage you to write them a web message. The central site with Senate contact information can be found at this link. You just go to that site, select your state, and the Senator’s names will show up, along with the link for sending them a web message. (The web forms will typically ask for some contact information, such as name and address, as well as your message; it’s the equivalent of a letter to the Senator, but much easier). If you’re sending to LDS Senators, they are in Utah (Hatch and Bennett), Idaho (Crapo), Nevada (Reid) and Oregon (Smith, and no, he’s not the same Gordon Smith as we have here on the blog).
Finally, according to Kristof, several faith-based relief organizations are providing aid in the area. I can’t find any indication of LDS involvement on the church web site. I don’t know who is the best person to discuss the church humanitarian side of it with, but I’m going to chat with my stake president next time I see him; he may be able to give me some ideas of who to talk to, to encourage church aid in this area. (Or maybe I’ll try making some church contributions earmarked for Darfur — that might work, right? Any other ideas?)