Published in The Wall Street Journal, September 6, 2008
By MIA FARROW and ERIC REEVES
At 6 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 25, Kalma camp, home to 90,000 displaced Darfuris, was surrounded by Sudanese government forces. By 7 a.m., 60 heavily armed military vehicles had entered the camp, shooting and setting straw huts ablaze. Terrified civilians -- who had previously fled their burning villages when they were attacked by this same government and its proxy killers the Janjaweed -- hastily armed themselves with sticks, spears and knives. Of course, these were no match for machine guns and automatic weapons. By 9 a.m., the worst of the brutal assault was over. The vehicles rolled out leaving scores dead and over 100 wounded. Most were women and children.
The early morning attack ensured that no aid workers were present as witnesses. Doctors Without Borders did manage to negotiate the transportation of 49 of the most severely wounded to a hospital in the nearby town of Nyala. But beyond this, aid workers have been blocked from entering the camp. Military vehicles have now increased in number and massed around Kalma. They have permitted no humanitarian assistance to reach the wounded. People already hard hit by recent floods and deteriorating sanitary conditions have received no food, water or medicine since Monday. The dead cannot even be buried with the white shrouds requested by the families of the victims.
How can such brazen cruelty be inflicted upon our fellow human beings? How is it that a military assault on displaced civilians in a refugee camp creates barely a ripple in the news cycle? How does such outrageous human destruction prompt so little outrage? How is it that those who have been tasked with protecting the world's most vulnerable population have failed -- and failed, and then failed yet again -- in their central responsibility? What does this say about the United Nations and the powerful member states? How have we come to such a moment?
Such questions can be answered by looking at our response to Darfur's agony over the past six years. Any honest assessment would be as shocking and dispiriting as the assault on Kalma itself. The international response to massive crimes by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his cabal has been simply this: We accommodate and acquiesce, with the contrived hope that these tyrants might grow weary of their task, or that paper agreements can somehow have meaning without a sustained and powerful international commitment backing them.
The Kalma massacre is a part of Khartoum's larger genocidal campaign. Since 2003, 80%-90% of Darfur's African villages have been destroyed, and more than 2.5 million survivors have fled to squalid camps across Darfur, eastern Chad and the Central African Republic. Hundreds of thousands have died. Khartoum's next goal is to shut down camps in Darfur, and force people out into the desert where they cannot survive. The homes and fields that once sustained so many of Darfur's people are ashes now, or they have new occupants -- Arab tribes from Darfur and as far away as Chad, Niger and Mali.
The message of the Kalma massacre is chillingly clear for Darfuris. But this assault on civilians in full view of the international community raises the question of what the massacre says about the rest of us. The only message we have sent to the Sudanese government is that they can now attack the camps and the world will watch and do nothing.
Ms. Farrow has just returned from her 10th trip to the Darfur region. Mr. Reeves is author of "A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide" (The Key Publishing House, 2007).