Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 1 July 2004

The Darfur Delay: Who’s Responsible?


By Jefferson Morley, The Washington Post

What took so long?

July 1, 2004 — That’s what many in the international online media are asking. With the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in the Darfur region of Sudan, the world’s attention has finally been focused on an epic humanitarian catastrophe. But it didn’t happen until after Arab militiamen, backed by the Sudanese army, had killed or raped tens of thousands of African farmers and driven many more from their homes, as Emily Wax reported Wednesday in The Washington Post.

And as the rainy season engulfs refugee camps, malaria and malnutrition could claim the lives of another 1 million people in the western region of the country.

The less-than-urgent reaction of the international community, coming exactly 10 years after the world’s failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda, has stirred indignation in the international online press. Commentators searching for culprits have found plenty of plausible suspects.

Sudan’s Rulers

"Sudan is run by a powerful class of Arab plantation owners, almost entirely from two tribes in the north-east," reported South Africa’s Mail & Guardian in May.

"Residents throughout Darfur, including many local Arabs, say the government is attempting to divide the country along religious and racial lines so as to maintain power," the paper said. After a 21-year civil war, the government has entered into a peace agreement with rebels from the mostly black and Christian south. This power-sharing arrangement may be threatened by the situation in Darfur.

The Sudan Tribune says the "government resorts to official lies to support the hypocritical policy of publicly negating the army/militias’ repression of Darfur."

The Paris-based news site is especially critical of the state-controlled television channel and its "Islamized war propaganda."

"Sudan TV stands alone when every other media station in the whole world repeatedly condemns the unprecedented acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and dehumanization of the DarFur innocent citizens, especially the powerless women, children and elderly by the government’s air raids and the Arab militias’ attacks."

Arab Governments

"What are the Arabs doing about this atrocity in their own back yard?" ask the editors of the Daily Star in Beirut, Lebanon.

"The answer, of course — as usual — is nothing. At the conclusion of this year’s annual Arab League summit just a few short weeks ago, a statement was issued. On Sudan, the statement ’reaffirm(ed) ... the Arab states’ solidarity with the sisterly Republic of Sudan and their keenness to preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty and reinforce all peace initiatives started by the Sudanese government with the international and regional parties.’ "

"We are sick of vacuous statements," the Daily Star editors concluded. "The time for action is now. In fact, the time for action was yesterday, last week, last month, last year, last decade."

U.N. Bureaucrats

As Julie Flint, a reporter for the Daily Star, put it in a May 14 article on Darfur, "the international reaction to mass killing has been too little - and far, far too late."

"As Rwanda commemorated its dead, and a UN fact-finding mission reported finding similarities in Darfur to the ’brutalities’ committed in Rwanda, the UN Security Council decided not to act, and postponed discussing the matter for a month. Once again, the UN failed to act."

But U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the United Nations should not be blamed.

"We should avoid the situations where we allow member states to hide behind the secretary general, use him as an alibi for their own inaction," Annan told the Addis Tribune in Addis Ababa, the capital of neighboring Ethiopia.

It was not until yesterday, the same day Powell and Annan toured refugee camps, that the United States offered a UN resolution calling for an arms embargo and travel ban on Arab Militias, the Associated Pressreported.

Busy Diplomats

Last week, the Arab News in Saudi Arabia reprinted a story from the Guardian of London, with the headline: "Darfur: The Cry of ’Something Must Be Done’ Is Becoming Louder."

Correspondent Ewen MacAskill noted that one British organization called for the imposition of a no-fly zone to keep the Sudanese military out of Darfur.

"British government policy is to resist such calls and instead concentrate on diplomacy, maintaining dialogue with the Sudanese government and trying to win concessions through persuasion or pressure," MacAskill said.

The U.S. government also has a stake in traditional diplomacy, according to the BBC, which notes that Sudan "has a radical Islamist government which hosted Osama Bin Laden in the early 90s."

"Since then the Americans have worked hard at persuading Khartoum to be more co-operative. Osama Bin Laden was expelled, training camps were closed, and the US state department says Sudan has ’deepened its cooperation in investigating and arresting extremists.’ "

Secretary Powell, the BBCsays, "now has to tread a fine line between putting pressure on the Sudanese government over its activities in Darfur, and driving it back into the arms of America’s enemies."

The Iraq Hangover

MacAskill also notes that two possible solutions to the agony of Darfur—military intervention and economic sanctions-had been "largely discredited" by the experience of the United Nations in Iraq.

"Blanket sanctions by the international community would add to the suffering of an already impoverished population, as happened in Iraq after the first Gulf War," he wrote.

"The final logic of [military] intervention is the overthrow of the government. That would provide the UN with a problem comparable to Iraq," he wrote.

The Indifferent West

"One might as well ask, after such knowledge, what forgiveness?"

That was the central question asked by The Times of India in an editorial about Darfur.

"The Nazis killed six million or more out of hate. Today’s civilised democracies prefer to kill out of benumbing indifference. The Dark Continent has exposed the quiet savagery of the rest of the world. How does one explain this callousness? At the recent G-8 meeting, the US made a strong case for writing off Iraq’s debt of $120 billion. The proposal to waive Africa’s $300 billion debt was once again set aside."

Darfur is a tragedy with many authors.

— -

washingtonpost.com producer Ed O’Keefe contributed to this article.

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