Turning a blind eye - hypocrisy over Sudan
The image is so poignant it is heartbreaking. A group of Sudanese refugees walk the halls of the Israeli Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, studying pictures of the European genocide before and after World War II. For these refugees from the Darfur region of western Sudan, who crossed into Israel through the Egyptian desert, no memorial is needed, at least not yet. Like the Jews they have also suffered a genocide, but unlike them it is happening today.
Since 1983, a civil war has raged in Sudan between the Islamic north and the Christian and animist south, essentially a jihad by the Khartoum regime against non-Muslims. Government militias destroy villages, kill the men and enslave women and children. Rape is routinely practised as an apparatus of war. Now, in the Darfur region in western Sudan, another conflict has erupted as well: a rebellion against the Government, claiming still more victims.
And who is there to help? The UN? An outraged media? The wave of NGOs that descend on every armed conflict? Hardly, but then the irony was surely not lost on the Sudanese visitors to Yad Vashem. For while the world seems immune to the genocidal horrors of the Sudan, it keeps a laser-beam focus on alleged human rights abuses of Israel.
The Sudanese refugees must be perplexed. Apparently the world’s humanitarians and the media are so fixated on their Israeli hosts that they cannot find the time to alleviate the plight of thousands being murdered under their very noses.
In 2001 the UN World Conference Against Racism took place in Durban, on the same continent as the longstanding Sudanese conflict, and yet over ten days managed to spend the bulk of its time excoriating Israel. Not a word about Sudan made the final report, although to be fair the Conference did condemn the western slave trade, which ended 150 years ago.
Perhaps then the Darfur refugees could look to the new UN Human Rights Council for some relief. Sorry, but they are too busy as well. The first special session of the Council resolved to make a review of Israel’s human rights abuses a permanent feature of every session, thanks in part to those nations who supported the vote, including such human rights luminaries as Algeria, Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, Syria, Iran, Sudan and Libya. About the horrors of Darfur? Nothing.
Surely the refugees could expect the world’s media to charge to their defence? No doubt they could point journalists to the merits of a story about systematic murder, rape, and a generation of women and children wrested into slavery and banished from their homes. There have certainly been many stories in the Israeli media since their improbable trek across North Africa. Unfortunately their tale is unlikely to be told in Britain. There the British National Union of Journalists has decided to boycott Israel, which again must confuse the Sudanese refugees who would have noted that Israel has the only unregulated press in the entire region and a robust culture of free speech.
Why are we not acutely embarrassed by this blatant hypocrisy?
In 2002 Harvard President Lawrence Summers spoke out against the selective censure of Israel at the expense of far greater human rights abuses. Colin Powell knew a human rights tragedy when he saw one. He called Darfur “the worst human rights nightmare on the planet,” and yet it rarely rates a significant mention in our media.
Where are the massive public campaigns to protest this genocide by Amnesty International Australia, or Human Rights Watch, which rushed to a false and mendacious judgment that Jewish soldiers massacred civilians in Jenin?
Following Powell’s declaration there were significant and credible eyewitness accounts of the genocide, yet in the next six months Amnesty International released 39 reports on alleged Israeli human rights abuses, mentioning the horrors of Sudan in only seven reports.
The next time an allegation is made that Israel is the world’s arch abuser of human rights, it would be worth demanding that the accuser rank the genocide in Africa, or the reappearance of enslavement in that continent, or the slum children of Mauritania, or the militias of the Congo and Guinea, or the plight of the Tibetans and the Kurds.
Are they as concerned about forced abortions and political prisoners in China, or the starving victims of totalitarianism in North Korea, or closer to home, the brutal dictatorship in Burma and the child soldiers of Sri Lanka?
Likely they will know little if anything of these and the numerous other human rights nightmares that blight our planet, though they will happily quote chapter and verse the alleged crimes of Israel. One can only imagine what the refugees from Darfur, looking for asylum in Israel, would think of their unspeakable and arrogant prejudice at the expense of the worst human rights abuses taking place in their African homeland.
When the group of Sudanese refugees gathered at Yad Vashem, its Chairman told them, "the memory of the past, and the Jewish values that underpin our existence, command us to humanitarian solidarity with the persecuted." Pity for these refugees the shameless hypocrisy that allows war criminals to murder and rape their families because human rights activists invest their precious time prosecuting the only democracy in the Middle East.
This opinion piece was originally published in the 8 May 2007 print edition of the Adelaide Advertiser.