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Defining Darfur: Is it genocide?

Writing in yesterday’s Globe, the always engaging Jennifer Wells discussed the other politically charged movement of the moment that may disrupt Beijing ’08: Darfur. Wells interviewed Ellen Freudenheim, a consultant for a non-profit called Dream for Darfur that is dedicated to holding corporations sponsoring the Olympics accountable in light of China’s decidedly sinister involvement in Sudan.

Ms. Freudenheim declines to reveal either specific strategy or precise agenda—exactly which corporations will be targeted and when—but says the protests will follow the planned release next week of Dream for Darfur’s second report card grading corporations on their response to the coalition’s call for action on the Darfur genocide.

It was Ms. Freudenheim who conceived of the report card project, launched last summer as part of the Darfur initiative that, says the organization’s literature, ‘focuses on encouraging China to intercede with the regime in Khartoum to bring security to Darfur, using the Olympics as leverage.’

All of which most thinking people outside the perimeter of Tiananmen Square would think a good thing. But there’s a catch. Note the casual way in which Wells refers to Darfur, on first mention, as a “genocide.” Here’s the problem: there are a lot of incredibly well-informed, influential people who think that the use of that term is both unhelpful and wrong. How about this from the BBC:

One of a group of veteran statesmen visiting Sudan, Lakhdar Brahimi, has accused the West of pandering to unrepresentative Darfur rebel groups.

The former UN envoy spoke as Nigeria’s army chief was in Sudan to repatriate the bodies of Nigerian soldiers killed when Darfuri rebels overran their post.

The group of elders have urged the international community to speed up the deployment of 26,000 peacekeepers.

But they say the violence does not meet the legal definition of genocide....

“There is a legal definition of genocide and Darfur does not meet that legal standard. The atrocities were horrible but I do not think it qualifies to be called genocide,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

That group of so-called elders also included Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s wife Graça Machel—not exactly warmongers.

The fact is, I don’t know whether it’s appropriate to call Darfur a genocide or not. Last week, I watched a series of articulate interlocutors at Princeton ask Samantha Power (who won a Pulitzer for her book on the subject) that same question, and she danced around like Gene Kelly on speed.

The point is that words like “genocide” are so loaded that if there’s a scintilla of doubt, it’s better to err on the side of caution and call it a crisis (which Wells does, though later in the piece).

I’ll have more to say on this soon, but for the moment let’s just say that a crisis by any other name would smell as foul.

Olympic sponsors face fresh hurdle [Globe and Mail]• West ‘pandering to Darfur rebels’ [BBC]• Mission to Sudan [The Elders]

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