Archive for the ‘Darfur’ category


April 19, 2007

I am a bit late to this item from today’s New York Times (please understand, where I work it has been Virginia Tech massacre around the clock) , but Warren Hoge dropped a bombshell with a leaked confidential UN report – (I wonder if the US leaked it?) – that contains visual evidence that the government of Sudan is flying arms and heavy military equipment into Darfur in violation of Security Council resolutions. It even makes clear that they are painting Sudanese military planes white to disguise them as United Nations or African Union aircraft.

One item in the report tells of a night attack by men wearing Sudanese armed forces uniforms and traveling in 60 Land Cruisers mounted with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns to a village that they burned. The human toll?  A 105-year-old man was burned alive and three girls were abducted, raped and sent home naked. The mind reels at the savagery.

The report was published one day after Sudan announced it was dropping its long-standing objections to a UN plan to bolster the woefully understaffed African Union peacekeeping force. It seems obvious that this evidence was flashed to the thugs in Khartoum and it catalysed a change of mind on this matter. Even so, it would be folly to underestimate the seemingly innate duplicity of the Sudanese regime.


Mr. Ban Goes to Cairo

March 24, 2007

Darfur is tragic and Darfur is very complex. So complex that I do not even begin to grasp the multi-faceted nuance of the conflict. That said, it seems to me that when you shave away all the (admittedly important) details, you are left with a basic, unavoidable story line: The government in Khartoum implemented a policy of counter-insurgency by arming a band of nomadic ranchers, even providing them air support, and a green light to run wild in Darfur – raping, pillaging, murdering to their heart’s delight. Yes, the insurgents have done bad things. We should not be blind to that. This is not a morality play. This is reality, and as such it is drenched in gray. But again, there is a fundamental storyline and it is important not to lose sight of it the more complex all these diplomatic machinations become.

My brother asks the vital question: Where is the outrage from the rest of the world? The silence is vital because it lays bare an important truth. For all the deafening griping about American heavy handedness, and interventionism, and unilateralism, and all the related crap heard in various precincts in America but even more predominantly in Europe and beyond (Moscow) about America being uncouth (for lack of a better term), let it be remembered that virtually NOTHING GETS DONE WITHOUT AMERICAN LEADERSHIP. When it comes to all the accusations about the (troubling) US Human Rights record during the War on Terror, let it be acknowledged that for all their elevated talk, the European Union is punching well below its weight when it comes to human rights issues (and this criticism is not limited to Darfur). UN Sec-General Ban Ki-moon’s recent trip to Cairo perfectly exemplifies how the UN has no power.

And there is this: For all of those who counsel a more modest role for the United States in the world. I understand the argument. It makes sense on a lot of levels. But those that make that case, that resort to endless chatter about multilateralism and the UN, must acknowledge the consequences of such an approach: Issues like Darfur will simply never be addressed. There is no constituency agitating on these issues and no military powers willing to expend resources rectifying them (or at least ameliorating them). For instance, Mr. Ban is in the region for the forthcoming Arab League Summit. The Arab League is a deeply cynical outfit, a deliberative body that can do nothing unless the culprit they wish to call to account is Israeli. (In this it shares its predilection with the UN Human Rights Commission.)

A chastened, humble, modest (choose your adjective) American foreign policy? Sure. But let us at least be honest about the consequences.

A “Balanced” Perspective

March 13, 2007

A United Nations Human Rights mission to Darfur is pressing the Human Rights Council to take a break from its ceaseless denunciations of Israel to place on the record what is completely obvious: that the Sudanese government has organized and taken part in human rights crimes against its own population, and that international action to stop the killings and rapes had been inadequate. The 35-page report also called for action including imposing travel bans and freezing funds, assets, and other economic resources held by those who commit violations.

All 8 of the previous condemnations offered by the Council have been against Israel. But this mission, headed-up by the impressive American activist Jody Williams, faces serious odds in getting the Council to adopt her findings.  “I understand there has already been tabled a resolution to try to block the presentation of this report and call for a new quote, unquote balanced and objective mission,” Williams told The New York Times.

In short, there is considerable  cause for pessimism.

My Italics

March 12, 2007

From the New York Times:

The Human Rights Council has been widely criticized for being no more effective than the discredited Human Rights Commission it replaced this year, and whether it takes action on Darfur or not is being seen as a measure of whether it can start to build credibility during its formal session, the fourth it has held, that began Monday.

All eight previous condemnations of human rights performance that it has issued since its creation in June have been against one country, Israel.

In the four years since the Sudanese government began fighting separatist rebels in Darfur province, violence in the region has left more 200,000 villagers dead and 2.5 million people homeless.

About That Curious Line

March 6, 2007

Over the course of its short, too often dormant existence, small-d has not been shy about criticizing the editorial position of The Nation. (Caveat: more accurately, I have not been shy about lambasting the editorial position of The Nation – while always taking care to note the very significant exceptions. As a professional courtesy, I leave my PITC out of this). As I have probably stipulated previously, The Nation’s front section suffers from being maddeningly predictable, while the back of the book offers consistently terrific literary criticism as well as consistently wrong-headed foreign policy prescriptions.

So it is only proper that I acknowledge my very pleasant surprise to see that Adam LeBor has a review essay in the current number of the magazine. (LeBor is the author of a searing new indictment of the United Nation’s complicity in acts of genocide during the tenure of Kofi Annan.) The essay is worth a read in its entirety, but one passage in particular warrants special citation.

Wrongly viewing Darfur through the prism of the Iraq War, much of the left, both in the United States and Europe, seems paralyzed by the fear of being seen to support another overseas adventure. For all its complications–pre-existing conflicts over water and agricultural land, desertification and arbitrary international borders–the crisis in Darfur is also simple. The Sudanese government is waging a sustained campaign of murder, ethnic cleansing and displacement against the people of Darfur, a campaign extensively documented by the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others. The slaughter could be curtailed or even brought to a close without Western military intervention. Such steps might include: deploying UN troops inside Sudan; deploying peacekeepers in Chad to prevent cross-border raids; targeted sanctions on Sudan’s oil industry; targeted sanctions on Sudanese government ministers, army and intelligence officers; using US trade as a weapon to pressure China, Sudan’s main sponsor, to stop the carnage; and even threats to boycott the Beijing Olympics. [Emphasis my own]

LeBor offers many compelling prescriptions in here. None terribly novel, but each warranting considerably more attention than they have been receiving in the trans-Atlantic halls of power as of late. That said, I question the notion that “the slaughter could be curtailed or even brought to a close without Western military intervention.” This questioning is not to say that such an intervention would be prudent. LeBor may very well think it not. He would be in good company. My questioning is to say that I am very curious about how this line found its way into this paragraph. Mere speculation, but having read some of LeBor’s work, it strikes me as curious and perhaps a bit out of character.

This non-consequential (and tediously minor) compunction notwithstanding, the essay covers a great deal of new literature in the field of genocide studies.

Sudan: The Crimes and the Heroism

January 23, 2007

The current issue of Newsweek brings word that charity workers operating in Darfur are being systematically assaulted, raped, and otherwise harassed in an effort to drive them from the war-torn Western region of Sudan. These attacks – on such venerable outfits as Medecins sans Frontieres, Oxfam, and Action Contre la Faim – are taking place in territory controlled by the Sudanese government and its allies. A dozen staffers from foreign NGOs have been killed in just the past six months, more than in the previous two years. And last week, 14 U.N. agencies working in Darfur issued a stark warning that “the humanitarian community cannot indefinitely assure the survival of the population in Darfur if insecurity continues.”

The bottom line is and remains that the current level of US inaction is morally unacceptable. We will see if this international disgrace gets any attention in the President’s State of the Union speech tonight. There are no pleasant options when it comes to Darfur. Which makes it imperative that innovative thinking on the matter – like the creation of a genocide prevention division within the US Army, proposed by Michael O’Hanlon in a recent issue of The New Republic – receive attention.

It is also worth drawing attention to a fascinating article in a recent number of The Chronicle of Higher Education about the Ahfad University for Women, Sudan’s only all-female institution of higher learning. As The Chronicle‘s far-flung foreign correspondent Megan Lindow reports, Ahfad was established as an elementary school in 1907 by a broad-minded soldier-turned-merchant named Sheikh Babiker Badri, who wanted to educate his 13 daughters at a time when most considered the idea deeply shameful. The institution has pioneered women’s education in Sudan for a century, weathering successive military coups and resisting vigorous state clampdowns on higher education.

Most remarkable is the heroic role Ahfad played during the near-interminable North-South Civil War that convulsed Sudan for years. Although the school is situated in the North, Ahfad lecturers would travel to the South and recruit promising women who they felt would be able to use a university education to bring benefits back to their beleaguered communities. Similarly, in Darfur (where most of the aid workers are hired local help) Ahfad graduates have been integral in getting aid delivered to those in need.

I present it as an optimistic anomaly on an otherwise bleak horizon.

Some Good News

November 15, 2006


Nice to see that the suggestion of Nicholas Kristoff and others – that the least we can do is provide a protection force for the refugees in Chad, hopefully creating some kind of safe haven – is being taken somewhat seriously in policy circles. Chadian President Idriss Deby is a corrupt autocratic disaster, but that is one of the factors that make him highly amenable to international troops being stationed on Chad’s border with Sudan. Given the horrors unfolding in Darfur, propping up his sorry regime would be the lesser of evils by far.