Monday, August 20, 2007

Darfur: An Atrocity That Needs No Exaggeration

The Benetech team read with great interest the recent Op-Ed in The New York Times, entitled An Atrocity That Needs No Exaggeration. The Op-Ed notes the recent ruling in Britain against the Save Darfur Coalition for overstating the number of dead in Darfur. Britain's Advertising Standards Authority found that Save Darfur's estimate of 400,000 killed in the conflict is based on flawed research.

We know well the difficulties of estimating the numbers of people killed in large-scale human rights crimes. Our Human Rights Data Analysis Group is one of the leading teams that helps countries around the world answer the question "Who Did What to Whom?" Our job is to use science to arrive at the best possible answers to this question and generate facts that will withstand attack from those who seek to downplay the scale of real atrocities or defend human rights abusers in courts and tribunals.

We need to recognize the principled nature of some of these arguments. If you are the defense attorney for someone being tried for war crimes, your job is to poke holes in the prosecution's case. In other cases, however, these attacks come from apologists and defenders of individuals who are indeed guilty of humanity's most heinous crimes. This recent setback underscores the pressing need for the human rights movement not overstate the scale of atrocities. Whether the number killed in Darfur is 400,000, or 200,000 or 100,000, these are crimes that must be stopped and perpetrators held accountable. Exaggeration of the death toll plays into the hands of the bad guys. It's our collective job to get as close to the truth as possible and use that process of data analysis to advocate for international human rights standards and end impunity.

The International Criminal Court will probably succeed in bringing some of those currently indicted for crimes in Darfur into the courtroom. We want to see the guilty convicted of their crimes. To increase the chances that justice will prevail, our Human Rights team is exploring how to help Sudanese human rights groups improve their ability to collect evidence of atrocities in Darfur. We recently received funding from Humanity United for this work, and we hope to make a contribution to this crucially important effort for justice.

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