Dr. Wisdom Tettey stressed that genocide needs a solid definition to avoid inaction.
the Gauntlet

Discussing Darfur

Speakers gathered at the Glenbow for dialogue about the thousands killed in Sudan

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When the massive genocide termed the Holocaust occured, it was followed by the promise of "never again." That promise was never kept.

The Glenbow Museum held an open forum accompanying the Darfur/Darfur exhibit to discuss the current genocide and international action--or lack thereof--Tue., Mar. 25. The four main speakers chose to focus on issues surrounding genocide including media, economies, general apathy and the struggle to define genocide.

CBC's The National reporter Carol Off started with the discussion of the public's consumption of wartime images.

"What was more interesting than the images from the exhibit of Darfur were the images of the people on the street looking at [them]," said Off. "We can regard these images and we see people suffer, die. We see rape victims, we see children starving and we just consume these."

Off explained that news media outlets find their source of income from selling products that contain these images. The majority of outlets refrain from printing the most violent of the images for fear of losing or offending readership. She argued that the images are tragic enough to warrant a response and yet fail to do so.

"What more do you need to know about Darfur to know that this is an appalling situation, that this is a genocide and that this needs to be stopped," said Off. "We are part of a market for these images."

Many of the speakers stressed that the lack of action may be caused by the western public's ability to view the victims as less than human. University of Calgary associate professor Dr. Wisdom Tettey pointed to the vague definition of genocide as the reason for needless complications in the call for interference.

"The question is, why is there reluctance to name these things for what they are?" asked Tettey. "[During] the Darfur crisis, we talked about is it genocide, or is it not. At the time we were having these debates, people were dying. We are more concerned about our willingness, or lack thereof, to intervene, than the reality of what is going on."

Off outlined a new policy proposal in the UN which she named The Responsibility to Protect, which she hoped might solve this problem.

"The Responsibility to Protect states that if a country is unwilling or unable to protect its citizens--as the government of Sudan is--then it is the responsibility of other countries like ours to step in and to protect them, even if it requires violence in order for us to do that," said Off.

She admitted that this type of policy may be impossible, but would could increase international involvement in situations of genocide.

Le Devoir columnist Gil Courtemanche brought economics and the strive for monetary power into play during his speech.

"Countries are not equal, not only in size but in economic and political power," he said. "The international code of conduct, which in theory applies to everyone, never applies equally. Human rights must be respected by the poor and the feeble, not by the rich and the powerful."

He pointed out that laws in Canada and the United States charge people who do not help someone in need with a criminal offense, yet businesses within both countries are guilty of standing by while operating in other nations suffering from genocide.

"Part of the many conflicts that are destroying the region [in Darfur]--called tribal wars by western media--have to do with the search for pasture," he said. "These wars are essentially fueled by the need for land that can produce food."

Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership president Janet Keeping was worried about the implications that our lack of action has regarding our moral capacity.

"I fear [the events in Darfur are] teaching us the futility of caring," said Keeping. "I fear that it is this combination of seeing and knowing, together with the not stopping, that is disempowering us."

Tettey warned the audience about the consequences of the lack of Western accountability.

"If the international community fails to act decisively, the brave language of the genocide convention and the UN charter--not to mention the avowed principals of our various governments--will once more ring false in our world," he said.

The exhibit ran Mar. 14-21.