Friday, February 04, 2005

UN-scapegoating more important than stopping atrocities

A UN investigative commission earlier this week issued a report into the atrocities being committed in Darfur, eastern Sudan. What did it say? Well it depends a lot on what you read (again demonstrating the wisdom of not relying on a single media source).

This article from the Associated Press, which is the most important source of world news for most newspapers in this country, made its headline: 'U.N. Clears Sudan of Genocide in Darfur.'

In order for something to technically be genocide, it must fit a precise legal definition (click here to read that definition). Something can fail to meet the definition of genocide but still be a war crime.

'UN Clears Sudan of Genocide in Darfur.' That sounds pretty definitive, right? It's not genocide so the Sudanese regime should feel exonerated. Ideological critics pounced on such headlines to denounce the UN for being complicit in atrocities, for protecting war criminals, for essentially saying, 'It's not genocide, so it must be ok.'

And a shallow, superficial reading of only the headline might lead you to that conclusion.

Take this shallow, superficial attack entitled 'The Security Council tries hard to stay irrelevant.' The author, it wouldn't shock you to learn, has traditionally been very sympathetic to both President Bush and the belligerent neo-conservative agenda. In his ideological fervor, he's too lazy to distinguish between a UN investigative commission (which issued the report) and the Security Council. But this is the first time he's written about Darfur (because it gave him a chance to attack "the UN") so such lack of nuance is utterly predictable.

This critic cited an excerpt of the report which claimed that Sudanese government sponsored militias "widespread and systematic" abuses that may constitute crimes against humanity, then added snidely 'Because the distinction is just oh-so-important.'

As anyone reasonably informed person knows, such distinctions ARE important in a LEGAL context. If you want to put criminals on trial, you have to make sure they are indicted with the proper charge so they are not ultimately set free. And those more concerned with justice than partisanship would not want such war criminals to be set free. Legal proceedings have to be done with much more precision than careless political rants.

If I believed this critic's comments, I would be outraged too. It sounds really bad what the UN said. It sounds like they are acting as apologists for genocide.

[Full disclosure: I've repeatedly described the situation in Darfur as genocide, one of the few things about which I've supported unreservedly the Bush administration.]

Except a closer look reveals something significantly different.

Take the BBC article on the story, which is entitled: 'UN urges Darfur war crimes trials.'

Even conservative Fox News' headline did a better job than the critic in capturing the spirit of the report: 'U.N.: Sudan Not Genocidal, but Still Bad.'

Hold on a moment. How can the UN be urging war crimes trials? I thought the UN was acting as apologists for the atrocities? I thought they were saying it was fine and dandy? How can they be both apologists while demanding justice?

It's all so confusing.

The UN investigation recommended that the Sudanese war criminals be brought before the International Criminal Court.

You'd think the critic would support such a decision. One part of the report he cited uncritically was The Sudanese justice system, it concluded, "is unable or unwilling" to address the situation in Darfur.

Oh wait a second. The Bush administration vigorously OPPOSES the International Criminal Court. And so does the critic, who writes The ICC was an awful idea from the start. You don't deal with genocide (or crimes against humanity or whatever) with a silly little court that only has [authority] over those who agree to let it have power over them. The obvious lack of logic just boggle my mind.

So by this logic, I can get away with theft if I don't 'agree to let [a court] have power over' me?

Typically, the critic attacks 'a silly little court' as a way of deterring genocide but he doesn't bother to offer better ways. If he has better ways of implementing justice than 'silly little courts,' then he would do well to be specific. Because it's easier to sit in your computer chair and criticize those who are trying to make a more just world than it is to actually make a contribution yourself.

[Nicholas Krystof's column in The New York Times argues that the Bush administration should set aside its opposition to the International Criminal Court, an opposition that effectively shielders the war criminals]

It's quite obvious to anyone that the critic's main concern is not the fate of the victims of atrocities/genocide/war crimes in Darfur. If it were, he would've focused on them or on attacking those who were committing the atrocities. He would've focused on what COULD BE DONE to stop the massacres. I've offered several essays which included ways to deal with the situation. Instead, he choses to eviscerate a poorly constructed strawman (and he doesn't even bother to get the right target!) which neatly conforms with his pre-conceived ideological notions.

It's a sad statement on the morality and values of those who are more concerned with petty (and not even factually accurate) sniping at the UN rather than trying to figure out how to halt the terrible atrocities. The situation in Darfur is too grave for attention to be deflected by such disingenuous ranting. Save the UN-bashing for something else. Let's try to figure out how to pressure the Sudanese regime into halting their sponsorship of genocidal militias. And if you can't offer something constructive, then at least stop denigrating those who are.

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