Darfur

For the first time in a long time there is halting, yet tangible, movement in the United Nations Security Council to put some actual muscle behind years of lamenting the ongoing genocide in Darfur. Last week Britain and the United States circulated a U.N. Security Council resolution that would get about 20,000 peacekeeping troops and police officers into Darfur. The resolution may come up for a vote in the coming weeks, and the only voice of opposition on the council comes from Qatar, who – as The Washington Post correctly editorializes this morning – is reflecting the collective unwisdom of the Arab League.

As has been pointed out on small-d, there is a perverse logic at play when it comes to fomenting outrage in the Arab world. “There seems to be comparatively little outcry at Muslims killing Muslims, or blacks killing blacks.” This cynicism is nowhere more evident then in Darfur, where an Islamic government is perpetrating genocide against fellow Muslims on a scale that dwarfs by magnitudes the death toll in Lebanon.

All of this highlight a fundamental contradiction at the heart of U.N. peacekeeping efforts: Forces are only deployed with the agreement of the government’s party to a conflict. In one sense, this is appropriate, as violating another state’s sovereignty is one of the most egregious acts under international law. But in another sense it leaves the decision to take the necessary steps to end the genocide in the hands of the very perpetrators of the genocide.

One way out of this sovereignty conundrum is to be found in the thinking of political theorist Michael Walzer. “Collective decisions to act may well exclude unilateral action,” he has argued, “but collective decisions not to act don’t have the same effect…. If there is no collective response, anyone can respond. If no one is acting, act.”

On this point Tim Fernholz of The New Republic points to a glimmer of hope. Quoting from a press gaggle with Ambassador Jackie Sanders, the alternative representative for special political affairs to the United Nations, Fernholz flags a potentially important exchange:

Reporter: Ambassador, on that last point, [Sudanese] President [Omar Al] Bashir said as recently as yesterday that not only will he not welcome a U.N. force, he would attack it. What do you plan to do about that?

Ambassador Sanders: Well, there are a number of high level dialogues going on including from the United States. The UK is sending an envoy to the region to speak with him, and I think–as was discussed in the Council today–all the countries of the Council and any country that has any influence with this government is welcome and encouraged to use its influence to get the president to get on board with this… .

Reporter: Is the consent of the government of Sudan required by this resolution as far as you see it?

Ambassador Sanders: I would say it is not required. The fact of the matter is it’s in our job description to get this thing adopted, then it’s in the job description of the government of Sudan to consent to it and to move forward. And that’s what we are expecting and that’s what we’re going to work toward.

Reporter: Sorry, you just said not required?

Ambassador Sanders: The consent is not required in the resolution.

Reporter: But it’s required for the force?

Ambassador Sanders: Well practically speaking, it’s going to be useful to have the government on board to get this accomplished.

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