2011 was a year of unprecedented action on behalf of freedom and human rights. When citizens flooded streets throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the U.S. and other countries dropped their long-standing presidential allies and demanded new leadership. When massive human rights abuses loomed in Libya and Ivory Coast, the international community acted decisively. That backdrop makes it all the more puzzling why the two countries where human rights abuses are worst in the world—Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo—have received such comparatively tepid international responses.
In the past quarter-century, Sudan and Congo have collectively sustained roughly 7.75 million war-related deaths and unrivaled additional human suffering from the use of rape as a war weapon, the recruitment of child soldiers, mass displacement and chronic poverty.
By contrast, fewer than 1,000 people died in Egypt in 2011 in a year where the violent suppression of protests nonetheless sparked a revolution—and a global outrage—that brought down a longstanding autocrat. In Libya, no more than a few thousand people had died from the violence when President Obama and other NATO leaders and the Arab League admirably chose to support the resistance and protect beleaguered populations. Even after a year of war, perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 died in all—tragic figures, to be sure, but the sort of thing that routinely happens in a month or two in Congo or Sudan. In Yemen and Syria, where many eyes are focused these days, the 2011 tolls were perhaps 1,000 and 5,000 respectively. Yet we quite properly and actively debate how to urgently bring the killing to an end as soon as possible.
Time for 'basic decency'
At a time when the U.S. involvement in Iraq's war has ended and the Afghanistan mission is beginning to decline in scale, 2012 offers the world a chance to amend its past failings and show the people of Sudan and Congo the kind of basic decency that motivated intervention in Libya.
Policymakers pin their hopes on the separation of South Sudan from the main part of the country in 2011 and recent elections in Congo as signs of progress. But this is pure hopefulness, not policy. The two Sudans are in active dispute over several regions along their new border, where the Abyei area was ethnically cleansed by the Khartoum regime. And now, internally, the Sudan government aims to do the same to the non-Arab populations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions. In Congo, the December election was quite possibly stolen by President Joseph Kabila's cronies, and fighting continues in the east over the illegal extraction of one of the richest non-petroleum natural resource bases in the world.
Photo: A child soldier in Congo (AP)