Monday, January 29, 2007

The AU is embarrassed by genocide - Are the rest of us?

Believe it or not, up until today it looked quite possible that the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, would be chosen as the new head of the African Union--despite the fact that his government is engaged in the genocidal mass murder of black Africans in Darfur. At the last moment, this grotesque outcome was averted when enough governments from sub-Saharan Africa balked at the prospect of electing Bashir to serve as the public face of Africa. Instead, an alternative compromise candidate, President Kufuor of Ghana, was named AU Chairman.

According to a Reuters report:
Sudan lost the leadership of the African Union for a second time after the pan-African group on Monday awarded the rotating chairmanship to Ghana because of widespread outrage over continuing bloodshed in Darfur. [....] Delegates at the summit said a deal was worked out through the mediation of South African President Thabo Mbeki and a group of seven respected presidents or "wise men".

The 2007 chairmanship was promised to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir a year ago when he was passed over for the post because of the violence in Darfur, which experts estimate has killed 200,000 people [JW: the actual figure is certainly 500,000 or more by now, but the news media seem to be stuck on 200,000 since mid-2004] and driven 2.5 million from their homes.

Critics say that far from abating, the violence has worsened in the last year and government-backed Arab militias have killed thousands. Bashir has repeatedly blocked deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to bolster an overstretched African Union military mission of 7,000 soldiers and monitors.
I suppose we should be thankful for small favors. But the real scandal is that the head of a genocidal government like the one Khartoum was a strong candidate in the first place. In fact, it seems clear that the Sudanese government fully expected Bashir's candidacy to be successful and was both surprised and angry when it wasn't (despite some face-saving diplomatic pretenses otherwise). As Nick Kristof correctly pointed out in a column yesterday ...
[...] it’s mind-boggling that African countries would even consider selecting as their leader a man who has systematically dispatched militias that pick out babies on the basis of tribe and skin color and throw them into bonfires.
Meanwhile, the more important news is that the Darfur atrocity continues to unfold. And despite this moment of embarrassment by some sub-Saharan African governments, the Sudanese government has every reason to believe that it can continue to proceed with impunity.
One reason Mr. Bashir has continued to engage in such behavior is that the world doesn’t seriously object. Almost all North African countries [were] backing his bid to chair the African Union. China, which supplies nearly all the AK-47s that are used to kill children in Darfur, has underwritten the genocide. [....]

Sudan promised a cease-fire, but instead it has been attacking aid workers. As Newsweek reported, at least four female aid workers have been beaten and sexually abused recently — raped in the case of two French women. [....] Broader security is also collapsing. On a road near Bulbul that used to be safe, gunmen stopped a public bus in the middle of the day and brutally beat the men and gang-raped the women for hours. In the face of all this, aid workers are jittery and some are pulling out.

Yet Europe is oblivious (the Davos conference here has great sessions on Africa but nothing on Darfur). President Bush has been better than most world leaders, but still pathetic: he mustered half a sentence in his State of the Union address. Perhaps this is because Mr. Bush regards the situation as tragic but hopeless, but in fact there is plenty he could do. [....]
However, no governments will contemplate serious action, even on the diplomatic plane, unless they feel public pressure to do so. (European readers, please take special note.) Read the whole column.

--Jeff Weintraub

[P.S. 2/1/2007: I notice that this post was among those quoted in a BBC News piece, Bloggers mull African summit. That's not very important in itself, but it's worth emphasizing that the British news media, including the BBC, have paid much more serious and consistent attention to the Darfur atrocity than news media or public opinion elsewhere in Europe.]

=========================
New York Times
January 28, 2007
A Choice for Darfur
By Nicholas D. Kristof

DAVOS, Switzerland

Over the next two days, African leaders will convene in Ethiopia and choose a new head of the African Union. Incredibly, that job may go to Sudan’s blood-drenched president, Omar al-Bashir, architect of the genocide in Darfur.

The outcome is still uncertain, with Sudan campaigning furiously for the job, but it’s mind-boggling that African countries would even consider selecting as their leader a man who has systematically dispatched militias that pick out babies on the basis of tribe and skin color and throw them into bonfires.

At a time when Africa is enjoying solid economic growth and improved leadership, this self-inflicted wound would sully Africa’s image and make it far more difficult for African Union peacekeepers to save lives in Darfur.

Mr. Bashir hasn’t confined himself to killing his own people, but has also sent his janjaweed militias to invade Chad and the Central African Republic. The janjaweed have beaten mothers with their own babies, until the infants are dead, and lately they have diversified into gouging out people’s eyes with bayonets. For anyone who wants the best for Africa, it is repulsive to think of President Bashir as the duly elected spokesman for the continent.

One reason Mr. Bashir has continued to engage in such behavior is that the world doesn’t seriously object. Almost all North African countries are backing his bid to chair the African Union. China, which supplies nearly all the AK-47s that are used to kill children in Darfur, has underwritten the genocide. Lately, it has encouraged Sudan to be more responsible, but President Hu Jintao is visiting Sudan shortly — let’s see whether he publicly expresses concern about Chinese-supported atrocities in Africa that far exceed the Rape of Nanjing.

Sudan promised a cease-fire, but instead it has been attacking aid workers. As Newsweek reported, at least four female aid workers have been beaten and sexually abused recently — raped in the case of two French women.

In addition, an aid worker in Sudan tells me that on Jan. 22 the police raided a party in the city of Nyala and arrested 22 employees of aid groups. Several were beaten and one woman was sexually abused but managed to fend off an attempted rape.

Broader security is also collapsing. On a road near Bulbul that used to be safe, gunmen stopped a public bus in the middle of the day and brutally beat the men and gang-raped the women for hours. In the face of all this, aid workers are jittery and some are pulling out.

Yet Europe is oblivious (the Davos conference here has great sessions on Africa but nothing on Darfur). President Bush has been better than most world leaders, but still pathetic: he mustered half a sentence in his State of the Union address. Perhaps this is because Mr. Bush regards the situation as tragic but hopeless, but in fact there is plenty he could do.

He could speak out forcefully about Darfur. He could bring victims to the White House for a photo op. He could help the U.N. send a force to protect Chad and the Central African Republic — while continuing to push for U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur itself. He could visit Darfur or Chad and invite European or Chinese officials to join him. He could invite African leaders to Washington for a summit meeting that would include discussion of Darfur. He could impose a no-fly zone. He could develop targeted sanctions against Sudanese leaders. He could begin forensic accounting to find assets of those leaders in Western countries. He could call on NATO and the Pentagon to prepare contingency plans in case the janjaweed start massacring the hundreds of thousands of Darfuris in camps.

And this weekend he could telephone a few African presidents to tell them what a catastrophe it would be if Africa chose Mr. Bashir as its leader.

Serious negotiations between the government and Darfur’s rebels are crucial for a lasting peace deal in Darfur, and new discussions are expected soon (that may be why President Hu dares visit Khartoum). But Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, a Sudanese human rights leader, says the new talks will fail unless the Darfur rebels have a chance to consult first. And when they try to meet, the Sudanese government bombs them.

There are countless other practical ideas for Darfur, and I’d like to hear yours. Send your suggestions to me at DarfurSuggestions@gmail.com. I’ll post some on my blog at www.nytimes.com/ontheground and discuss them in a future column.

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