Published in The Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2010
Barack Obama once called Darfur's genocide a 'stain on our souls.' Has he changed his mind?
By MIA FARROW
In Khartoum this past weekend, U.S. Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration expressed his confidence that the April 11 elections in that country—the first since 1986—will be as "free and fair as possible."
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir should be plastering "We Love Gration" posters all over the capital. No one in Sudan believes the elections will be anything approaching free or fair.
Intimidation, vote rigging, manipulation of the census, and bribing of tribal leaders are rampant. Most of the 2.7 million displaced Darfuris are living in refugee camps. They are unable or unwilling to be counted at all. All of this, plus the ongoing violence in Darfur, have caused key opposition candidates including Yassir Arman of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to withdraw from the election.
The Carter Center, the only international observer mission in Sudan, announced that the election process is "at risk on multiple fronts" and requested a modest delay of the election. Mr. Bashir threatened to oust the observers, saying on state TV last month: "if they interfere in our affairs, we will cut their fingers off, put them under our shoes and throw them out."
Taking an unusually edgy stance, the Save Darfur Coalition—an alliance of more than 190 faith-based, advocacy and human-rights organizations—is urging the U.S. and the international community not to legitimize Sudan's presidential election. "We believe the election is not going to be free and fair, and it's not even going to be credible," said Robert Lawrence, the Coalition's director of policy. "The last thing we want is for the results to legitimize the dictatorial rule of President al-Bashir."
Hope is rare in Darfur, but when Barack Obama became president the refugees had reason to be hopeful. As a junior senator in 2006, Mr. Obama made his feelings about the evils in Darfur quite clear. "Today we know what is right, and today we know what is wrong. The slaughter of innocents is wrong. Two million people driven from their homes is wrong. Women gang raped while gathering firewood is wrong. And silence, acquiescence and paralysis in the face of genocide is wrong."
A year later, then-candidate Barack Obama said: "When you see a genocide, whether it's in Rwanda or Bosnia or in Darfur, that's a stain on all of us. That's a stain on our souls."
Darfuris were listening, and they hoped anew when President Obama said the Sudanese regime "offended the standards of our common humanity." They believed he would appoint an envoy who would take their plight seriously and serve as an honest broker between warring rebel groups and the Sudanese regime.
And how is his appointed envoy dealing with the perpetrators of those atrocities that have stained our souls? "We've got to think about giving out cookies," Mr. Gration told the Washington Post last fall. "Kids, countries—they react to gold stars, smiley faces . . ."
Cookies for a regime that is as savvy as it is cruel? Smiley faces for a thug who seized power by coup in 1989 and has retained it only through iron-fisted brutality? Gold stars for an indicted war criminal responsible for the murder, rape and displacement of millions?
This spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement—has further terrified Darfur's refugees, who feel increasingly abandoned by the U.S. and marginalized within their country.
With the support of Mr. Gration and the U.S., the bogus Sudanese elections will move forward with what the International Crisis Group has labeled "catastrophic consequences."
"Since the April vote will impose illegitimate officials through rigged polls, Darfuris will be left with little or no hope of a peaceful change in the status quo," warns EJ Hogendoorn, the Crisis Group's Horn of Africa project director. "Instead many will look to rebel groups to fight and win back their lost rights and lands."
Following this Sunday's election, there is little doubt as to who will be the president of Sudan. So it is crucial that international observers, world governments, the African Union and the U.N. Security Council acknowledge the deeply corrupt voting process that will reinstate President Omar al-Bashir. They should declare publicly that Mr. Bashir, a man indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, will rule without a genuine democratic mandate.
His regime must not be granted the legitimacy he craves.
Ms. Farrow has visited Darfur and Eastern Chad 13 times since 2004.