Genocide expert sheds light on taking action

Oscar Abello

The Villanova community welcomed John Prendergast, senior adviser to International Crisis Group, for an update on the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan and to discuss ways to take action this past Tuesday.

Prendergast is a leading expert on the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan. From 1996 to 2001 he worked in the State Department under the Clinton administration, and he has written or co-authored numerous articles, columns and books about the genocide and other violence in Africa. The lecture is the first in this year’s Oscar Romero Lecture Series, sponsored by the Center for Peace and Justice Education and Villanova Campus Ministry.

“The international community has got to overhaul its strategy,” Prendergast said. “We’ve heard of speak softly and carry a big stick. Well, all we’ve done so far is speak loudly and carry a toothpick.”

“Until now we have pursued an incentive-based strategy to induce the government to change its ways. It’s part of the basic carrot-and-stick strategy. The government of Sudan will not be moved by an incentive based strategy. They take these carrots and they eat them, and they use them to encourage further acts of violence.”

He outlined three P’s to be pursued simultaneously if the international community intends to stop the genocide.

“Peacemaking,” he said. “We need a strategy in Darfur that addresses the fundamental root causes of violence, the very reasons why rebellion was raised in the first place, leading to the government strategy to suppress rebellion using paid Janjaweed militia.”

Prendergast cited the March 2006 peace agreement brokered by then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The agreement, he said, did more harm than good, and not one group on the ground has thrown its support behind the deal. Any such deal must begin, he said, at the root causes of the violence and must have the support of the international community. Support would begin with the second dimension of the plan.

“Protection,” he said. “All of us here might agree there is a responsibility of the international community to protect people who are subject to such violence, but on the other hand there is the side that defends the sovereign right of nations to make their own decisions.

“We have to begin planning immediately as citizens to pressure our government to work through NATO to provide security on the ground. Here’s the possibility: as bad as it is, it can get much worse. It’s not yet like Rwanda in 1994, but if those camps full of refugees encounter more violence, it just might.”

Finally, Prendergast outlined the final dimension to the plan, one critical for those residing here in the United States, the most important player in world politics and economics.

“Punishment,” he said. “It’s the key I think. The international community doesn’t have leverage right now to press the Sudanese government to stop the genocide. In my view, the fastest way we can get the government to change its ways, is to get the government to pay for continuing the genocide.

“We need the international community to follow the U.S. lead in prohibiting any company from doing business or investing in Sudanese commerce. So far only the U.S. has been successful in pursuing this strategy, started under the Clinton administration while I was working for the White House.”

The only way that the Sudanese government has ever been successfully pressed to change its ways has been through punitive costs associated with genocide, he said. The principal investor in this new oil economy, is China.

“In 2008, the Olympics will be held in China, the country that is the largest investor in Sudan’s oil industry,” he said.

“There is a movement to bring China’s leverage to bear against Sudan. China, as we know, does not currently feel shame in merely going after what it wants without regard for human rights, but the movement is betting that it can change that attitude.”

Prendergast emphasized the importance of political action on the part of all persons to make the issue matter for elected officials.

“If we cannot generate a political cost for the situation on the ground, we will only continue to get inaction by politicians,” he said.

If there must be a cost to the Sudanese government, he said, there must be a cost to our own elected officials for failing to use the tools at their disposal, such as the International Criminal Court, to which the United States has yet to become a signatory. Prendergast is a graduate of local Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor, Pa.