TOPICS : An up-close view of brutality in Darfur

The brutality of the Khartoum regime’s military actions in the Darfur region of western Sudan continually forces a question that seems to have no morally intelligible answer: Is there no act of civilian destruction so cruel, so savage, that the international community will finally respond vigorously and unambiguously?

On May 4, at about 4 p.m., a school was bombed in the village of Shegeg Karo in North Darfur; one classroom was destroyed, killing six students and injuring others. The village marketplace was also bombed, killing several people and destroying most of the shops in this vestige of a shattered economy.The plane that dropped the bombs was an Antonov. It’s not a bomber by design, but a retrofitted Russian cargo plane from which crude, shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs are simply rolled out the back cargo bay. There is no bombing guidance system, so Antonovs are useless as true military weapons. But they are exquisitely suited for their real purpose in Darfur: civilian terror.

Khartoum refuses to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the attacks, even as it refused to allow UN personnel to evacuate badly wounded children. But only Khartoum flies military aircraft in Darfur, so there can be very little doubt that the attacks were authorised by the military command of the National Islamic Front. As Human Rights Watch has conclusively demonstrated, Khartoum’s chain of command - both military and civilian - is powerfully hierarchical. This was not the action of a rogue commander, but almost certainly an act of deliberate civilian destruction countenanced by senior officials.

Highly reliable sources report that the Antonov hovered over Shegeg Karo for a while before finally dropping its bomb load. There could have been no mistaking the civilian nature of the target. This bombing attack, on a conspicuously civilian target, violates not only international law but a ban on all military flights in Darfur, nominally imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1591 in March 2005. How would Americans respond if terrorists acting on behalf of another country deliberately killed, with complete military impunity, six young children in one of our nation’s schools? Outrage would bring the country to a halt. It would change the very nature of the presidential campaign. News coverage would be unending. Washington’s response against the offending nation would be swift and destructive.

And yet in Darfur, an act all too analogous barely registers here. Darfur’s victims are people whose lives have long since endured a ghastly moral discounting. These are not “our children,” these are not “our problems,” this is not “our responsibility.” The whole world should respond vigorously to a nation that barbarously bombs kindergartners. Instead, we lamely bow in deference to Sudan’s “national sovereignty.” Do we have the courage to accept the implications of our refusal to hold accountable those responsible for such deaths? The answer is painfully, disgracefully obvious. — The Christian Science Monitor