Friday, July 30, 2004

Sudanese in Darfur abandoned to their fate [essay]

The United Nations Security Council has officially abandoned the people of Darfur to their fate.

As I've mentioned before (see: Stop the genocide in Eastern Sudan): militias, widely believed to be armed and sponsored by the Sudanese government, are committing massacres and other forms of ethnic cleaning in the country's eastern region of Darfur. These situation been declared to be 'genocide' by the US Congress, 'massive human rights violations' by the European Union and 'the worst humanitarian situation in the world' by UN officials.

The Security Council yesterday passed a resolution ostensibly designed to further increase the pressure on the Sudanese regime to reign in the militias. In reality, the resolution capitulated to the demands of about half the Security Council members (Pakistan, China, Russia, Algeria, Angola, the Philippines and Brazil, according to the BBC) to remove the explicit threat of sanctions from the text.

The watered down resolution gave the Sudanese regime 30 days to control the militias. And if they didn't, the Security Council would... revisit the issue. I'm sure Khartoum is shaking in its boots. "Stop arming the genociders or... we'll hold another meeting!" Can you say 'Bosnia'?

This demand, if you can call it that, occurs a full month after Khartoum promised to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin Powell... the exact same thing.

One month of stalling after promising to Annan and Powell. Another month of stalling is permitted by the resolution. This is already after the months of massacres that happened before it even made it on to the international agenda. Then after the month of "warning," it's going to take more time to impose sanctions, assuming the objecting nations even have the guts to do that minimal step. If military intervention, either by the UN or African Union, is ever decided, everyone in Darfur will already be expelled or dead.

Pakistan, China, Russia, Algeria, Angola, the Philippines and Brazil: their blood is on your hands.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Stop the genocide in eastern Sudan

I've been meaning for two weeks to write another essay on the genocide in Darfur, eastern Sudan, but there's been so much material, I haven't had time to sort it. But this editorial from the Botswanan newspaper The Reporter captures my opinion very concisely.

I note how the editorial points out the futility of wasting time arguing whether what's happening in Darfur is really genocide or "only" ethnic cleansing.

What needs to be done?

The starting point is quite clearly immediate international sanctions against the Sudanese regime, who are almost universally believed to funding, arming and organizing the massacring militias. These sanctions must include an arms embargo.

Sanctions must also include a deadline, in the near future, for the regime to reign in the militias. Not for them to promise to do so, which they did weeks ago, but to actually do so. Since the regime pretends they want the massacres to stop and that they are allegedly not coordinating the militias, the international community must call their bluff by offering to "help" them deal with the problem that they claim not to be the authors of.

If they reject this offer, then the deadline must also include a warning that an international intervention, authorized by the UN and by the African Union (AU), will be conducted. If the regime continues to thumb its nose and continue supporting the massacres, then the intervention must occur. The Arab League could, for once, stop whining about Israel for a few seconds and join in the pressure against Sudan.

Any intervention must be done by African Union and/or Arab League troops with technical assistance and funding from the European Union and the US. It is important that the intervention be done by an AU or Arab force. A western-led force will immediately lead to charges of imperialism and will necessarily stoke the fires of Arab nationalism and domestic Sudanese resistance, no matter how legitimate the cause or illegitimate the targeted. Simply put, a western-led intervention in Darfur can't be successful because of the pot it would stir up. An AU intervention would be much harder to tar with the 'neo-colonialist' brush.

The AU is a new organization whose founders hope will be more relevant that the lethargic Organization of African Unity (OAU) it replaced. It has a dynamic leader in Alpha Oumar Konare, the former Malian president. But it has a big handicap. Although the AU has a new structure, it has the same member states that rendered the OAU irrelevant. Whether Konare's exurbence will prevail over the collective inertia of Africa's governments remains to be seen.

The lives of millions of Sudanese depends on it.


From: The Reporter of Gaborone, Botswana

Darfur - Africa See No Evil, Speak No Evil
Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)
July 21, 2004
Posted to the web July 22, 2004

INTERNATIONAL reaction to the tragedy playing out in the Darfur region of Sudan (in which government-supported Arab militias have killed more than 30 000 black Muslims, and left more than a million others without shelter or enough food and water) has attracted outrage from everywhere else, except - of course - in Africa.

Africa's muted response is best summed up by the communiqué that was issued after the heads of state summit in Addis Ababa two weeks back: "Though the crisis in Darfur is grave, with unacceptable levels of deaths, human suffering, and destruction of homes and infrastructure, the situation cannot be defined as genocide."

Trust Africa's leaders to always choose the backseat, and leave the driving to others, even in matters that are of immediate concern to Africans.

While the continent is in denial (how else do you explain the statement that seeks to qualify the human misery that is going on?), British liberal democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, says the situation in Sudan is exactly what African leaders say it is not: a genocide in the style of what happened in Rwanda exactly a decade back. Once again, a whole continent is sleeping soundly while a raging fire razes its hut to the ground. In the meantime, it is left to the likes of Kofi Annan, Colin Powell and Tony Blair to speak up against the Sudanese crisis. It looks increasingly likely that action, if any, will be initiated from outside Africa's borders.

The indecisiveness and inaction - in the face of a calamity of this magnitude - prove one thing: Africa is in want of leaders with the courage to rise up to the challenges of the day. Today's generation of leaders has not graduated from the victim mentality that gripped the post-colonial leadership. Close to 50 years after the departure of former colonial powers, African leaders still blame colonialism for all the continent's ills, most of which stem from avarice by the ruling class and its cronies; and total disregard for good governance. So many years after independence, African leaders still expect the world, as of right, to clean their mess. The Darfur crisis is a case in point.


Want to help: go to MSF's website (Doctors Without Borders)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Cultural diversity important -- Don't squash mosquitoes

In a move sure to upset some, the UN issued a report last week that argues that respecting cultural diversity could prevent conflict and enhance development.

The Human Development Report 2004 launched by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said: Cultural liberty is about allowing people the freedom to choose their identities - and to lead the lives they value - without being excluded from other choices important to them (such as those for education, health or job opportunities)

The report added: The report also sought to debunk the myth that ethnically diverse countries had less ability to develop, and gave the examples of Malaysia and Mauritius, two multiethnic states that had achieved considerable economic growth in recent decades. It also said there was no evidence that some cultures were more amenable to economic development or democracy than others.

This is nothing more than common sense. Though the anti-PC crowd may hate the word 'diversity,' let alone the concept, it's a necessity that they'll have to live with. Diversity is essentially in the evolution of species. Genetic homogeneity is the death knell to any species; that's why incest is illegal. But just as genetic homogeneity is detrimental for the physical evolution of humans, cultural homogeneity is detrimental to its social evolution.

[The report can be accessed by clicking here]


The UNDP report also quantified what is widely acknowledged. The Aids crisis has slashed the life expectancy in some parts of Africa to less than 33 years.

"Twenty countries have suffered severe reversals in human development in the last 10 years because of HIV/Aids," lead author Sakiko Fukada-Parr said.

Ms Fukada-Parr says the devastation that the pandemic has wreaked in African countries is so massive that every facet of life is affected - not only life expectancy and health care, but the economic and educational well-being of the country too.
As a result some 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are suffering drastic development reversals, where standards in education, health and wealth are getting progressively worse, undoing the hard-won development gains made in recent years.

"The Aids crisis cripples states at all levels because the disease attacks people in their most productive years," said Mark Malloch Brown, head of the UN Development Programme.

Sierra Leone had the world's lowest life expectency, followed by Sahel countries Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. Scandinavian countries Norway and Sweden topped the list, followed by Australia, Canada and the Netherlands.


Robert Mugabe plans to continue his war on civlization in Zimbabwe; this time, with a clampdown on charities.

Not surprisingly, the dictator's theme was blaming outsiders for problems created largely by his regime's own mismanagement, corruption and brutality.

"Non-governmental organizations must work for the betterment of our country. We cannot allow them to be used as conduits and instruments of foreign interference," the strongman told parliament.

The proposed "Non-governmental Organizations and Churches Bill" calls for the registration of all groups and trusts involved in charity work and educational and research programs, reports the Associated Press. Failure to register and acquire a government license would make it illegal for a group to operate. Staff members of groups that violated the law would face arrest. The bill also requires disclosure of the origins and use of all funds and the identity of foreign donors.

Sound familiar?

Opponents of the bill have likened it to sweeping media laws passed in 2002 that gave the government the power to close independent media, stifle criticism of its policies and arrest 31 independent journalists.

The only independent daily newspaper, which had become a platform for dissent, was shut down last year after being refused registration.


Do you squash mosquitoes when they're biting you? Don't! At least, that's the advice of doctors in the US.

The doctors, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine said that swatting could increase the risk of serious infection.

It follows the case of a 57-year-old woman who died after developing a fungal infection in her muscles.

Doctors believe she developed the infection after she swatted a mosquito, causing part of the insect to penetrate and infect her skin.

"I think if a mosquito was in mid-bite, it would be wiser to flick the mosquito off rather than squashing it," said Christina Coyle, one of the authors of the article.

Personally, I've never squashed, because I don't want bug guts on my arm. But this is good advice for any who do.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Where's the Arab outrage over Darfur? -- 'Genocide': the new 'terrorism'

Ethnic cleansing continues in the Darfur province of eastern Sudan. In one of the Bush administration's rare good moves, they are actually paying attention to this genocide, rather than playing the ostrich like the Clinton administration did during Rwanda. The New York Times noted that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Thursday demanded "dramatic improvements on the ground right now" in the Darfur region, where armed militias have routed more than a million Sudanese from their homes, adding that "Despite the promises that have been made, we have yet to see these dramatic improvements," Mr. Powell told a panel on African policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Only actions, not words, can win the race against death in Darfur. And we will not rest. We will continue to apply pressure."

Meanwhile, France signaled it would block UN sanctions on the Khartoum regime even if they do nothing to stop the ethnic cleansing. (More on this outrage later this week)

Over at Foreign Dispatches, Abiola raised an interesting question: why are Arab countries silent in the face of the Arab genocide against Darfur's black African population?

Abiola writes No amount of Arab or Muslim hypocrisy would ever justify shameful behavior on our side, and the point here isn't to say "Who are these people to point at us?", but to push the Arab and larger Muslim world to adhere to the same standards of conduct within its boundaries that it demands of outsiders. What would truly be shameful would be to turn our eyes away from the way in which "brother" Muslims mistreat each other for fear of offending their sensibilities, as we would in effect be saying "Well, one can't really expect any better of such people, can one?"

Although Lebanon's Daily Star did call for the Arab League to respond strongly to the Darfur crisis, they seem to be a lone voice in the wilderness. If Arab countries were to come out more strongly against the Sudanese regime's crimes against humanity, it would give them a little more credibility when they scream about Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories or American conduct in Iraq.

But I guess they wouldn't want to shift attention away from their designated scapegoats.

The annual African Union summit was held last week in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. The organization approved the sending of 300 AU troops to guard the 40 monitors who have so far been unable to start work due to a lack of security. AU Peace and Security Director Sam Ibok said Nigeria and Rwanda were ready to contribute and they were talking to Tanzania and Botswana as well. He appeared confident the Sudanese government would accept the armed force, although there has been no word from Khartoum. The BBC added The AU, which was set up to replace the ineffective Organisation of African Unity, is now apparently making a major effort to be more assertive in how it deals with its members.

Though not everyone is convinced that the current organization is much different from its predecessor. Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, in Zimbabwe, rounded on the AU for ignoring the crisis in his country. "All they do is back each other up and drink tea together," said the archbishop, who has been very critical of the country's dictator Robert Mugabe.

The African Union summit has dropped a report criticising Zimbabwe's human rights record from its agenda after complaints from Mr Mugabe's government.

Mr Ncube said that Mr Mugabe was planning to use food aid as a political tool to win elections next year.

"It is clear that they want to use starvation as a tool to get people to vote for them," he said.

The Zimbabwe government is predicting bumper harvests this year after three years of food shortages.

And many other African leaders by into Mugabe's 'Blame everything on Tony Blair' rants. BBC Southern Africa correspondent Barnaby Phillips says many African leaders agreed with Mr Mugabe that Zimbabwe's crisis is caused by British interference and historic inequalities in land ownership.

Inequalities which are surely exacerbated by the seizure of productive white-owned lands for disproportionate distribution not to the poor, but cabinet ministers and party loyalists.


Others are more optimistic about the AU's prospects

"There seems to be a new group of African leaders who want to make the African Union credible," Grant Masterson of the Johannesburg-based Electoral Institute of Southern Africa told Inter Press Service.

The AU's 15-member Peace and Security Council says the proposed 15,000-strong peacekeeping force will be deployed to prevent wars, disarm and demobilise fighters, ensure that cease-fires are honored, distribute relief aid and perform other peace-building functions in Africa's hot spots.

AU members have set 2010 as the date for creating the force, which will initially comprise troops from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt.

It's good to see that the AU is breaking from the OAU's most sacrosanct principle of non-interference in the affairs of member states, even when those member states refused to apply their own laws or voluntarily ratified continental human rights' treaties. Whether or not sufficient resources are made available for such a force remains to be seen.


More attempts to muzzle opposition is yet again marring the political landscape in Rwanda. Human Rights Watch reports that the Rwandan parliament on Wednesday [31 June] asked the government to dissolve the League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Ligue Rwandaise pour la promotion et la défense des droits de l'homme, or Liprodhor) and four other civil society organizations because they allegedly supported genocidal ideas. The action was recommended by a parliamentary commission that also called for the arrest of leaders of the organizations... Information presented during the parliamentary debate this week included a number of inaccuracies, but Liprodhor had no opportunity to correct errors or to respond to allegations, neither during the time the commission gathered information nor during the debate itself.

As Abiola, at Foreign Dispatches, noted, that in Rwanda "Genocide" is the New "Terrorism". What fighting "terrorism" is to many a repressive Arab state, battling "genocidal ideas" has become for Rwanda's rulers - a useful way to bludgeon dissenting voices into silence with the acquiescence of the outside world.

To that end, Human Rights Watch added that the parliamentary commission interpreted 'genocidal ideas,' prohibited by law in Rwanda, so broadly as to include even dissent from government plans for consolidating land holdings.

Friday, July 02, 2004

What to do about genocide in Darfur? [essay]

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited the Darfur region of eastern Sudan. In Darfur, government backed Arab militias, called the Janjaweed, are engaging in a mass campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region's black population; a campaign which has cost an estimated 30,000 lives already and 300,000 may die by the end of the year. There are over 1 million refugees and internally displaced people. Famine looms in the region.

Though the Sudanese government denies sponsoring them. In fact, they deny that there's a serious problem at all, despite the UN and most non-governmental organizations calling it the worst humanitarian situation in the world. Sudan's Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid said there was no systematic violence in the region and that the problem was the rebels who attacked police stations and aid convoys.

Is there any doubt that what's going on in Darfur is ethnic cleansing/genocide (I'm still not sure what the distinction between those two words is)? One refugee, a victim of the Janjaweed, told her story. She and two other women had gone out to collect straw for their family's donkeys. They recalled thinking that the Arab militiamen who were attacking African tribes at night would still be asleep. But six men grabbed them, yelling Arabic slurs such as "zurga" and "abid," meaning "black" and "slave." Then the men raped them, beat them and left them on the ground, they said.

"They grabbed my donkey and my straw and said, 'Black girl, you are too dark. You are like a dog. We want to make a light baby,' "

Does it really matter now whether this fits the legal definition of 'genocide' or if it's "merely" mass slaughter?

To its credit, the Bush administration is not turning a totally blind eye to the situation, as evidenced by the mere fact that Secretary Powell made a very high profile visit to the region. They could very easily have buried their head in the sand like the Clinton administration did during the Rwandan genocide. A columnist for The Guardian (UK) opines that the Iraq war has blunted the west's appetite for foreign interventions, even in a humanitarian disaster that would normally have the American and European left screaming, "We do something!"

The Guardian columnists suggests Until recently, [the British] Labour [party] understood how to deal with regimes like Sudan. But instead of diplomacy backed by the credible threat of force, we now have empty promises backed by an incredible leap of faith. The reason for this change is no mystery. It can be summed up in one word - Iraq. Having cried wolf over the threat posed by Saddam, Britain and America have found themselves incapacitated in the face of a far more pressing humanitarian crisis. They are too overstretched, in military resources and in political credibility, to intervene in Sudan, so the people of Darfur will be left at the mercy of their government. But this conclusion need not be so.

He continues, But there is one important respect in which the Sudan crisis shows how [Prime Minister Tony] Blair's kaleidoscope has been irrevocably shaken by the Iraq war. It goes back to the speech he gave to the Labour conference in Brighton shortly after 9/11, when he promised that: "If Rwanda happened again... we would have a moral duty to act." Yet there is relative silence from liberal internationalists in London, while the mantle has been picked up by the much-maligned government in Washington. Or at least one man in DC.

The Bush administration has drafted a UN resolution to impose sanctions on the militias, that would authorise an arms embargo and ban on training for the Janjaweed.It would also impose a travel ban on Janjaweed members named on a list compiled by a Security Council committee set up to monitor the sanctions. The draft resolution requires the Council to decide after 30 days whether the arms embargo and travel ban against the militias should be extended to others "responsible for the commission of atrocities in Darfur".

Though no one can argue that this is a bad idea, it would be wrong to think this is enough. I doubt medieval militiamen on horseback are going to be dissuaded by being banned from travelling to Paris or Los Angeles. Sanctions should be extended to ranking members of the central government.

Secretary Powell, the only statesman and only high-ranking moderate in the Bush administration, met with the Sudanese government and delivered a strong message. "We need to see action promptly because people are dying and the death rates are going to go up significantly in the next several months. We've got to act now, not later. We can't talk. We have to see action." Most notably, he did something fairly undiplomatic, he contradicted the Sudanese officials' line that they are already doing what they can to stop the violence.

When asked if the Khartoum government has control over the militias, the secretary said "I believe they have the capacity to do that. We want to encourage them to have the will to do that and to do that right away."

Significantly, he shied away from an esoteric debate over whether Darfur constitutes genocide, something which would provoke a damaging delay in any response. Mr Powell also repeatedly described the humanitarian situation as a catastrophe, although he has tried to deflect attention away from the debate on whether the legal definition of genocide can and should be applied. He pointed out that in actually trying to address a man-made catastrophe like this, whether or not it's legally genocide is functionally irrelevant.

However, the administration may need to bear direct pressure on the regime. A senior State Department official described Khartoum as being "a state of denial, a state of avoidance. Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail in a joint press conference with Mr Powell after the initial top-level meetings, said there was no famine, no disease epidemic. There was a humanitarian problem in Darfur, he said, but his tone suggested the sense of international alarm was exaggerated.

Mr Ismail said the regime would focus on three areas:
-More police and security forces in Darfur to protect civilians and combat militias

-The lifting of restrictions on humanitarian items to speed up the process of delivering supplies before the rainy season makes routes even more hazardous

-Speeding up political negotiations, in co-operation with the African Union, to work out a solution to the crisis.

Mr Powell said the timetable agreed for action is immediate: "We're talking about days and weeks."

Powell's insistence belies the warnings of Africa Action who called his and Annan's trip "dangerously naive." The organization falls into the trap of obsessing about the 'g' word. Their director said, "The Khartoum government is clearly responsible for the genocide taking place in Darfur, and yet it continues to deny its role and to obstruct humanitarian access to the region. Rather than traveling half-way around the world to hold talks with this murderous regime, Powell could achieve much more by simply uttering one word - genocide."

Bizarrely, after her organization called the trip dangerously naive, the director said, " "Colin Powell’s trip to Sudan gives him an opportunity to witness first-hand the devastation being wrought in Darfur and the stone-walling of the Khartoum government."

What should be done? In a Washington Post op-ed, Republican Senators Mike DeWine and John McCain wrote: The U.N. Security Council should demand that the Sudanese government immediately stop all violence against civilians, disarm and disband its militias, allow full humanitarian access, and let displaced persons return home. Should the government refuse to reverse course, its leadership should face targeted multilateral sanctions and visa bans. Peacekeeping troops should be deployed to Darfur to protect civilians and expedite the delivery of humanitarian aid, and we should encourage African, European and Arab countries to contribute to these forces.
The United States must stand ready to do what it can to stop the massacres. In addition to pushing the U.N. Security Council to act, we should provide financial and logistical support to countries willing to provide peacekeeping forces. The United States should initiate its own targeted sanctions against the Janjaweed [militias] and government leaders, and consider other ways we can increase pressure on the government. We must also continue to tell the world about the murderous activities in which these leaders are engaged, and make clear to all that this behavior is totally unacceptable.

It took concerted international pressure to achieve an end to the 20-year war between the north and south in Sudan, and even greater intensity is required to save lives in Darfur.

The Sudanese government claims it is willing to accept foreign assistance to stabilize the situation in Darfur; this sounds good because they claim they aren't sponsoring the Janjaweed. The foreign minister told a press conference, "We are ready to accept help," Speaking of proposals made by Powell, the foreign minister added, "We will look at these, including the lifting of any restrictions concerning humanitarian aid, also more security arrangements to protect civilians and disarm militias.

Adding that, "We are looking seriously before the end of the visit of Secretary Powell to reach an agreed plan [on] how we can help bring the situation in Darfur to normal."

The international community should call this bluff. Immediately.