Turning a Blind Eye

June 24 2005 | by

IT HAD SEEMED oddly coincidental early this year when two separate real life dramas involving Sudan, Africa's largest country, unfolded before a world audience at about the same time. The two dramas were preceded by a little joyous preface, when in January, the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum and the black rebels in southern Sudan reached a peace agreement after more than 20 years of a war that had wrecked an uncountable number of lives. Under the terms of that peace agreement, the southern rebels are to play a role in the central government for six years, and then they may receive some level of autonomy. But while negotiations were under way in Kenya, the violence in the western region of Darfur - that has already claimed a reported 300,000 lives and displaced about 2.4 million - broke out anew.

End of history?

On March 31, 2005, the UN Security Council adopted its resolution No 1593 (2005) that refers the situation in Darfur (since July 1, 2002) to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. And with that, the UN gave names of 51 suspects in the ethnic killings in Darfur to the international court for possible prosecution, though the Khartoum government has vowed not to cooperate with the UN in this instance. This resolution, notwithstanding its historic nature, was denounced as one of the most controversial resolutions taken by the UN in recent times. It has also been described as the 'end of history' for Darfur due to its perceived partiality on the grounds that it guaranteed the USA that its nationals working in Sudan would not be handed over to the same court or any other country's court, if they commit crimes of international concern in Sudan.
Some critics fear the resolution might remove Darfur from the international stage as far as justice was concerned. They cited Francis Fukuyama's brilliant work The End of History, which views the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the 'universalization' of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government that establishes the supremacy of law and justice. One African commentator said the resolution has transformed the Sudanese people into a very special kind of refugees that are not entitled legally to the justice service of the International Criminal Court when nationals of a State not contributing to the International Criminal Court statue commit crimes against them in their country. The simple, clear and straight message of this resolution, he wrote in a newspaper column, is that, from the point of view of the United Nations, the people of Sudan, as from March 31, 2005 are legally denied access to the universal system of justice ...
The resolution was preceded by deep disagreement among world leaders over how to respond to the crisis in Darfur. Many believed that the stalemate arose from issues underlying the conflict itself: questions of racial identity, competition for natural resources, and the imperatives of a powerful sovereign state. It also seems as if international response in Darfur was complicated by issues that reach beyond this conflict. First, in pitting Arab herders against black African farmers, the civil war underscores a larger struggle for power, land and water that cuts across borders in this arid part of Africa. Second, efforts to address the Darfur crisis have become entangled in the larger grievances of the Arab world - not least, the US-dominated war in Iraq.

Devastated region

There has been no disagreement, however, about the consequences of the war itself: tens of thousands killed, outbreaks of cholera, severe malnutrition and more than a million people forced to flee their homes. Recently, several hundred refugees from the civil war trekked west for 3,000 km, crossing five international borders, to seek asylum in Ghana. They came into the spotlight for the first time as the UN resolution was being adopted, when a group of 180 of such refugees briefly occupied an unfinished building on the outskirts of the capital Accra. Most of them had been arriving in Ghana in small groups since January, as marauding Sudanese government-backed rebels known as the Janjaweed attacked many refugee camps. Ghanaian officials said it was too early to say if the influx of refugees from Darfur would continue on a large scale. Most of those who had fled from Darfur since the conflict began have remained at refugee camps in eastern Chad. In March a headcount of the UN refugee agency UNHCR put the total number of refugees there at 193,000. But conditions are tough in these overcrowded camps on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert, where food and water are often in short supply. Some of the refugees have obviously decided to move on further West in search of a better life.
Now, even as the situation in Darfur defies solution, with the Khartoum government remaining defiant and the international community unable to act, events involving the country continue to evolve all the same. In April, leaders from more than 50 nations pledged more than $4.5 billion for Sudan in a donors' conference in Oslo to support the signed peace deal between Khartoum and the southern rebels, though one official after another warned that continuing violence in Darfur would undermine the peace agreement they were there to support. A report by the United Nations and the World Bank found that Sudan needs $2.6 billion in outside aid to meet its $7.9 billion budget for humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in the south over the next two years. The European Commission promised about $760 million. Britain offered $545 million and Norway, $250 million.
The US Deputy Secretary of State, Robert B. Zoellick, while committing his country to provide $1.4 billion in aid for reconstruction in southern Sudan, said in his speech that the United States and other countries would have trouble meeting their funding commitments if the government in Khartoum does not quell the violence in Darfur. This is a time of choosing for Sudan, he said. The leaders of Sudan must realize that the eyes of the world are on Sudan. The world knows what is happening in Darfur, and the government cannot escape the consequences of that knowledge. The Norwegian prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, said, There is no peace in Sudan until the situation in Darfur has been solved.

Worsening situation

Yet, in Darfur today, things continue to deteriorate. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) added 200,000 Darfur refugees who fled to neighbouring Chad to the list of those facing hunger without new donations, just days after warning that a drastic shortage of money will force it to cut rations to more than 1 million people hit by the fighting. We need food now, said Mr Stefano Porretti, the World Food Programme Representative in Chad, appealing for $87 million in food aid to cover needs in refugee camps of eastern Chad until the end of next year. Under a revision of its current emergency operation, the World Food Programme will also be assisting over 150,000 Chadian nationals, as well as providing for the possibility that an additional 150,000 people could cross the border from Darfur if the conflict continues. With the rains only a matter of two or three months away, it is absolutely imperative that we move food to the places where it will be needed later this year.
Not too surprisingly, food shortage is not the only emergency in Darfur today. A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled Sexual violence and its consequences among displaced persons in Darfur and Chad, based on personal accounts collected during a number of missions to the region over the past 14 months, urged the donor nations in Oslo to respond to the medical, psychological, social and economic consequences of sexual violence in the Darfur conflict. The report documented how Sudanese security forces - including police meant to protect the refugees and Janjaweed militias allegedly aligned with the government - had continued to commit rape and sexual violence on a daily basis around the camps. Leslie Lefkow, a researcher for the Africa division of HRW and co-author of the report, was quoted as saying that women and girls who had fled the conflict to live in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps were continuing to suffer rape and sexual violence. Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said Rape and sexual violence have been used to terrorise and uproot rural communities in Darfur.

Vain promises?

Meanwhile, as US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick was visiting Sudan, Africa Action, a Washington-based organisation, stepped up its condemnation of US policy on Darfur, rejecting statements made by Zoellick in meetings with the government of Sudan, and on the question of whether genocide is taking place in Darfur. The organisation insisted that government-sponsored genocide and a government-engineered humanitarian crisis continue in Darfur, and reiterated its call for immediate international intervention to stop it and to protect ordinary people. Ann-Louise Colgan, Director of Policy Analysis and Communications at Africa Action, said, The promises Zoellick is hearing from the Sudanese government have been heard before. A US policy of 'constructive engagement' with this genocidal regime is morally repugnant and will not achieve security for the people being slaughtered in Darfur.
Two dramas, one people. But will the peace in southern Sudan hold? Will the fate of Darfur be turned around? Can the carnage end? Perhaps only time will tell.



Updated on October 06 2016