Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Powell declares Darfur 'genocide'

Late last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared the crisis in Darfur, Eastern Sudan to be genocide. Some criticized Powell for waiting so long, but in fairness, he said long ago that whether Darfur was legally genocide or not was almost beside the point; the atrocities were intolerable and resulting man-made humanitarian catastrophe disastrous regardless of the semantic description. This is one foreign policy situation where the Bush administration is actually on the right side.

The US becomes the first major outsider to state the obvious. The Washington Post reports: Both the African Union and the Arab League have said there is no genocide. The European Union said it does not have enough information.

Despite the desire of its leader, Alpha Oumar Konaré, to prove its relevance, the African Union is proving as ineffectual as its predecessor, the Organization for African Unity. So much for the much vaunted 'African solutions to African problems' utopia.

That the Arab League adopts a 'see no evil' policy is hardly surprising; anything bad in the world is automatically the fault of Israel and the United States.

That the EU has adopted a head in the sand policy despite overwhelming independent evidence to the contrary is more disturbing, though hardly surprising. If the Bush administration trusts militarism as its preferred option, the EU has traditionally gone with the 'interminable peace conferences no matter how little progress is made' route. Slobodan Milosevic appreciated this tactic. What's happening in Darfur is, by all accounts, worse than what's happening in Chechnya, but the Russian conflict draws far more ire from Europe's politicians, editorialists and indignant outrage specialists.

While Powell's declaration is just that, words, it is not insignificant. To my knowledge, it's the first time the US has ever declared a situation genocide while the crisis was actually happening.

Security Council members Britain, Spain and Germany back U.S. efforts to establish a commission of inquiry. But some European diplomats expressed concern that Powell's statement would complicate efforts to win broader support. China warned that it may veto the resolution, noting that it does not believe genocide has occurred. "There are problems in Darfur, but we don't see it as that category," said Wang Guangya, China's ambassador to the United Nations. The council should "come up with constructive ideas to help solve the problem, not to make the problem more complicated."

It must be nice to insist on such patience when it's not your people getting massacred. China, of course, has a sterling human rights reputation, as the people of Tibet will attest.

Will Powell's declaration "complicate" efforts to set up a commission of inquiry? Who cares?

By the time the inquiry is set up (after much haggling), does its investigation, delivers its report and then the Security Council spends months arguing furiously whether or not to inflict even a slap on the wrist to Khartoum, the genocide will be over. By then, there'll be no one left to kill.

The UN should place sanctions on the complicit and/or willfully obstructionist Sudanese regime immediately. Then it can debating about further courses of action.

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