Tuesday, October 19, 2004

'If this isn't genocide, then what is?' [essay]

Some people insist that the crisis in Darfur, eastern Sudan, really isn't really genocide. Or that it isn't really a big deal. Or that it's a legitimate counter-insurgency method. Or that it's being exaggerated by the Bush administration to appeal to its Crusading supporters in the theocracy brigade. The Independent, arguably the British daily the most critical of President Bush over Iraq, ran an opinion column on Darfur entitled: "'If this isn't genocide, then what on Earth is?'"

The quote was taken from Lord Alton, a member of the upper house of the British parliament, visited refugee camps in the region and reported his findings to the country's prime minister Tony Blair. He described that report as a catalogue of systematic violence driven by ethnic hatred and aided by the Sudanese regime.

Lord Alton continued: Three months ago, the UN described the situation in Darfur as "the world's worst humanitarian crisis". On my two-day visit, I found that nothing much has changed. The government of Sudan has reneged on its promise to disarm the Janjaweed. Their campaign has the sole objective of eradicating the black tribes and installing the Arabs in their place. If this isn't genocide, then it's difficult to imagine what on earth is... An immeasurable problem will be the impact of so many babies born due to rape. While the women eventually opened up about the attacks by the militias, they would not even discuss what the future holds for the children. "They want to dilute our blood," one woman said. "They hate black people." A traumatised, helpless mood of resignation simmers in the camps. Sometimes it boils over, as, for instance, at Otash camp, near Nyala, where a policeman was lynched. A woman had recognised him as one of those who massacred her family.

Unfortunately, the American and British governments are not in a position to directly intervene militarily. Their credibility is in tatters after the invasion of Iraq. Any western intervention would necessarily be seen as an imperial one, as yet another Crusade against a Muslim country. Sure, the Janjaweed militias' victims are also Muslim, but such distinctions are immaterial to those with a gigantic chip on their shoulder. It's easier to blame the West for all one's problems than to look in the mirror. It's easier to bemoan the lot of the Palestinians (who are oppressed by Westerners) than to shed a tear for the lot of Darfurians (who are oppressed by Arabs), because this more conveniently fits the 'Westerners hate Islam' world view.

Is this fair? No. But you can not ignore perception. And more importantly, you can not ignore the impact of perception on the probability of successfully achieving your objective.

The intervention in Darfur must be done by African Union forces. Not because I object to the use of American troops for humanitarian purposes in the most extreme causes. But because the use of American troops would cause more problems than it would solve, in this particular case. First, do no harm.

However, African Union (AU) forces are ready to do the job; the US should offer any logistical assistance they require. The main impediment, however, is the resistance of the Khartoum regime to those AU forces. This is hardly surprising: considering what they're sponsoring in Darfur, they don't want witnesses.

Pressure must be exerted on Sudan to allow an AU mission. Since the US has little leverage itself on Khartoum, the administration must pressure countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to, in turn, pressure Sudan on this front. America's Arab "allies" have been criminally silent on the Darfur genocide, which is hardly surprising considering their own lamentable human rights' records.

AU chief Alpha Oumar Konaré wants the AU to have a different tradition from its sclerotic predecessor: the Organization for African Unity (OAU). The OAU placed national sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs as its motto. Despite Konaré's wishes, there's precious little to suggest the AU will adopt a more relevant approach to dealing with Darfur than the OAU would have.

It appears that "Rwanda: never again" has become as empty a slogan as "The Holocaust: never again."

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