When U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004 labeled Darfur, Sudan, as this century’s first genocide, it was seen as a key test for how well the world could come together to stop mass atrocities.
But by most any measure, the international community is failing. A United Nations mission has proved costly and ineffective. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal, has been able to travel with relative freedom in Africa, including a recent trip to South Africa. And many in Darfur are still living in fear and misery.
Omer Ismail was a key figure in the Save Darfur movement that swept college campuses, churches and synagogues more than a decade ago, a time when he says many world leaders were still feeling guilty about Rwanda and the Balkans.
“Darfur came to be known around the world at the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide,” Ismail said. “And because it was labeled a genocide by the U.S. government, that became the trigger of this huge activism.”
Ismail grew up in Darfur, which is in western Sudan, but fled the country after Bashir’s military coup in 1989. He has been an outspoken critic of Sudan’s government since then. He says when it comes to Darfur, Bashir manages to do just enough to keep the pressure off, while the conflict, now in its 12th year, rages on.
“The government of Sudan is still denying … still using its tactics of military solution to this crisis. After all these years, they never learned that this crime doesn’t pay and they have to find a settlement to this war,” he said.