Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Darf - Darfu - where, you say?

Darfur is back in the news.

What's prompted the attention this time is a dispute over a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council accusing the government of Sudan of orchestrating human rights abuses and war crimes in Darfur.

In its Summary, the report declares that (from the .pdf version of the whole report, available here)
[t]oday, millions are displaced, at least 200,000 are dead, and conflict and abuse are spilling over the border into Chad. Making matters worse, humanitarian space continues to shrink, and humanitarian and human rights actors are increasingly targeted. Killing of civilians remains widespread, including in large-scale attacks. Rape and sexual violence are widespread and systematic. Torture continues. Arbitrary arrest and detention are common, as is repression of political dissent, and arbitrary restrictions on political freedoms. Mechanisms of justice and accountability where they exist are under-resourced, politically compromised, and ineffective. The region is heavily armed, further undercutting the rule of law, and meaningful disarmament and demobilization of the Janjaweed, other militia and rebel movements is yet to occur. Darfur suffers from longstanding economic marginalization and underdevelopment, and the conflict has resulted in further impoverishment. As violations and abuses continue unabated, a climate of impunity prevails.
It urges the UN to act to protect civilians in a conflict which has seen 2.5 million displaced by four years of fighting.

The dispute over the report came as a result of a complaint raised late last week by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which said it rejected the report and wanted to keep the Council from considering it. It was, the OIC claimed, a "non-report" that had not "fulfilled its mandate." The basis for the complaint was that the team had not actually visited Sudan, instead relying on observations and interviews outside the country.

And why did the team not go to Sudan? Because the Sudanese government refused to let it in, that's why.

It is an astonishingly, transparently, bogus complaint, one that, if accepted, would allow every government on Earth to exempt itself from international examination of its abuses: Just don't let the investigators in and poof! there is no report, no valid source of complaint. Which also, of course, makes it obvious why some other nations - such as Russia and China - would support the OIC's effort.

The head of the team, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, fired back on Friday, warning the Council would damage its own reputation if it refused to consider the report.
"About credibility - it's not about ours, it's about yours," Williams told the 47-nation council. "If the council chooses not to consider our report ... it will have impact on the credibility of the council but not on this mission." ...

"Responsibility to protect is meant to protect civilians, not abusive governments," Williams said.
Fortunately, the attempt to kill consideration of the report was for the moment "thwarted by tough bargaining, a senior EU official said." However, that doesn't spell the end of the effort, because while the Council didn't discard the report, neither did it approve it.
Instead, the 47-member assembly was set to continue its debate on Darfur next week. ...

The eight EU countries in the Human Rights Council are now aiming to convince a majority of the 47 nations to at least "take note" of the report, and then act to follow-up on its findings, the EU official said.
Meanwhile, the US has said that it's planning on trying to get the Security Council to adopt a resolution aiming to force Sudan to admit a UN peacekeeping force into Darfur, an effort whose chances have improved as some African nations, such as Ghana and Senegal, have begun to question a "hands-off" approach. In addition, Zambia said that
[d]enial of access was not grounds for dismissing [the report] ... noting South Africa under apartheid and the then Rhodesia, also under white rule, routinely refused entry to such missions.

"The people of Darfur deserve better," said Zambia's ambassador Love Mtesa.
However, Sudan still has its supporters. Egypt says it's opposed to any additional sanctions being placed on Sudan. Instead, it wants the UN
"to treat in a positive way the last letter of Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon."

A UN spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, said earlier that Beshir's letter "contained positive elements, including the strong expression of support to joint efforts by the African Union and United Nations... as well as assurances over humanitarian aide for the people of Darfur."

But she had also said the message "seems to cast doubt on" a November 2006 accord in which Sudan agreed to the deployment in Darfur of a joint UN-AU force.
This would not be the first time Beshir has played the compromise-and-stall game: Hold out until the pressure is too much, then "compromise" to take the heat off - and promptly forget about it once people look the other way. Nearly three years ago, for example, he claimed he was ordering a "complete mobilization" of all Sudanese army and security forces to disarm all Darfur's warring parties, including the janjaweed, the nomadic Arab militia that have acted as Beshir's surrogates in carrying out atrocities in Darfur. We know how well that turned out.

So it will be interesting to see how aggressively this gets pursued. I mean, after all, it's only mass murder, rape, torture, and displacement to a degree labeled by the US State Department itself in its annual report as the world's worst human rights abuse of 2006. It's not like the people there are Palestinians or something.

And, of course, any Security Council resolution still faces the possibility of a Russian or Chinese veto. Which is at least part of the reason why some organizations are pressing for tough US actions against Sudan, including a so-called "Plan B" with actions ranging from targeted and unilateral economic and trade sanctions against Sudan, through pushing for worldwide sanctions and a strong peacekeeping force in Chad, the Central African Republic, and Darfur, to enforcing in conjunction with NATO a no-fly zone over Darfur for Sudanese military aircraft.

The latter, the plan says, "could be accomplished by immobilizing Sudanese planes known to have taken part in illegal bombing missions" - which, if it means anything, means direct military action against Sudan: attacking those planes while they are on the ground. (I assume that's why the plan calls for NATO rather than Security Council action, the latter being very unlikely to approve such an idea.) Although that does appear intended to minimize any "collateral damage," i.e., dead Sudanese, I still can't in good conscience support the parts of the plan that rely on military action. The economic and political sanctions, the blocking of trade and freezing of assets, the push for international sanctions, yes - but the direct use or threat of military force, no.

I know that I will be condemned in some quarters for that - or, more properly, would be condemned if any significant number of people cared what I have to say - on the grounds that sanctions alone will not work and only force or at the very least the threat of force wielded by a peacekeeping force will save the people of Darfur. Or, again at the very least, even if sanctions work they will take so much time to do so that an unknowable number of people will die first, all of whose deaths will be on my conscience and whose blood will be on my hands. I would be accused of inaction or insensitivity or both.

I admit to being somewhat uncomfortable with my position and the truth is, this is a hard case for me because the objections regarding the peacekeepers may well have some merit (but not, I emphasize, the direct air attack on Sudanese territory, i.e., the one to "immobilize" military aircraft). Yet at the same time I wonder how many would die if peacekeepers were inserted in the absence of a genuine agreement and then actually acted on their threat of force to "keep the peace." Or if, as often happens, after being inserted they didn't act at all because the real hope was that their sheer presence would act as a buffer between warring parties. Which was, in fact, the hope of the current 7,000-member African Union peacekeeping force - and it has been a futile one.

Beyond "Plan B," there is yet another way to bring pressure on Sudan, a way which carries enough moral weight potentially (and likely) to make some nations re-think their policies and want to start keeping their distance from Sudan. (It also carries legal weight but that has to do with international law and who gives a tinker's dam about that?) This is from a Human Rights Watch press release, February 27:
The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor’s case against two Sudanese leaders for atrocities in Darfur is a first step in ending the impunity associated with horrific crimes there.... Earlier today, the ICC prosecutor asked Pre-Trial Chamber I to issue summonses for two suspects to appear before the court. ...

The prosecutor is seeking summonses for State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Haroun and “Janjaweed” militia leader “Ali Kosheib,” (a pseudonym for Ali Mohammed Ali).
The Pre-Trial Chamber now reviews the prosecutor's submission; if it decides there are “reasonable grounds to believe” the charges and summonses are “sufficient to ensure” the accused will appear before the court, it will issue the summonses. The ICC is acting under a March 2005 Security Council referral.
“The ICC prosecutor’s request sends a signal to Khartoum and ‘Janjaweed’ militia leaders that ultimately they are not going to get away with the unspeakable atrocities,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program.
(Links to documents and a video of the prosecutor's press conference can be found at this site.)

Be that - all of that - as it may, even with the reports, the prosecutions, the pressure for increased sanctions, all of it, the hard reality is that the people of Darfur are still there. Still living and dying, still struggling to survive, struggling to keep their lives and communities together and to make sense of what has happened and is happening all around them - and neither government forces nor, in truth, rebel forces are making that any easier:

The government, for its part, is "paralyzing" the aid operation in Darfur, according to US special envoy Andrew Natsios, who said earlier this month that there has been a big increase in bureaucratic roadblocks to, and harassment of, international aid workers.

And right around the same time, a rebel faction that signed last year's now-evaporated peace agreement kidnapped and killed two African Union peacekeepers and seriously wounded a third. Humanitarian workers had pulled out of that area in December after they were targeted by rebels.

Natsios also charged that both government and rebel forces have sexually assaulted and beaten humanitarian workers.

And so the killing fields just keep on killing - while the "civilized world" dithers, some nations governed by poor excuses for human beings, seeking to cover their own sorry asses from human rights investigations, disgrace themselves before history, and "the world's only superpower," which not that long ago was dismissing the UN as irrelevant, now seems incapable of pulling the unilateral action levers available it.

No wonder we want to let it drop from the headlines, from our awareness - no wonder we want to forget.

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