Omer Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan's military dictator, who seized power in 1989, has overseen the war-related deaths of two and a half million of his fellow Sudanese.
Although Sudan became a party to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in October 2003, ethnic cleansing in the Darfur section of the country steadily increased. Bashir's Arab government in Khartoum fired on the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army and unleashed militias to commit massacres against black-skinned civilians. A military and government-supported group, Janjaweed ("devils on horseback"), fought the insurgents and citizens of Darfur. When the alarmed international community tried to stop the slaughter, President Bashir threatened to wage a jihad if U.N. peacekeepers entered Darfur.
In June, when U.N. forces were set to replace exhausted and depleted African Union peacekeeping missions, the dictator claimed the U.N. was trying to colonize Africa and again refused entry. At a September 2006 meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Bashir declared the reports of massacres to be fictions perpetrated by greedy humanitarian groups and Zionist Jews.
Kofi Annan resisted action against similar atrocities in Rwanda a decade ago (when he ran the U.N.'s peacekeeping operations), and as secretary-general of the U.N. Annan was slow to speak out against genocide in Darfur. That began to change in 2004, and in a speech this past September, Annan stated forthrightly that the tragedy in Darfur makes "a mockery of our claim, as an international community, to shield people from the worst abuses." During November, in a last effort before leaving office at the end of 2006, Annan brokered agreements with African, Arab, and European leaders to create a joint peacekeeping force for Darfur. The secretary general outlined the plan in a Dec. 18 letter to Bashir (below and on the following 3 pages). Bashir's reply to Annan (see pages 5, 6, and 7) agrees to conditional and gradual "cessation of hostilities." It is conceivable, though far from assured, that this represents the beginning of the end to what George Packer of the New Yorker recently called "the world's gravest humanitarian disaster."
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