Sunday, March 25, 2007

Slavery today (John Miller)

Outlawing slavery has been one of the great and distinctive accomplishments of the modern era. I suspect that many people don't fully grasp what a startling historical innovation this has been. In the mid-19th century, slavery was often called "the peculiar institution." But in a larger socio-historical perspective, as Orlando Patterson has remarked, the adjective "peculiar" is itself a bit odd. Up until just a few centuries ago, slavery had been a normal and accepted institution in every civilization throughout recorded history.

Of course, there were significant variations in its scale, its specific forms, and its degrees of routine brutality. In some societies slavery was economically very important, whereas in others its economic role was peripheral (and its political, sexual, and/or ritual aspects were more significant); in some cases slavery was more or less racialized, in others it wasn't; and so on. In some societies, slaves constituted a major proportion of the population, in others a relatively minor one (though for many people in those societies the alternative to slavery was not freedom but a less extreme form of dependent status like serfdom). But slavery, in one form or another, was always a pervasive institution—present in every agrarian society as well as societies of pastoral nomadism and even many hunting-and-gathering societies.

This long history included many efforts by slaves to free themselves individually or as groups, including revolts (almost all unsuccessful in the end) and other forms of resistance. Obviously, slaves themselves generally didn't want to be enslaved, and the historical record suggests that their masters rarely had many illusions on this score. One can also find various expressions of uneasiness or ambivalence about the institution of slavery itself (a classic formulation of Roman law declared it to be, strictly speaking, against nature), and even some outright criticisms. But as far as I am aware, in all previous human history before the modern era we know of no serious attempts at the comprehensive abolition of slavery as an institution or even serious proposals for its abolition.

The abolition of slavery—or at least its outlawing—was the work of the past three centuries. The abolition of British slave trade in 1807 (properly celebrated by the recent film Amazing Grace) and the abolition of slavery itself throughout the British Empire in 1834 were important milestones in this process, though some European societies had already begun to declare slavery illegal in their home territories (as opposed to their overseas possessions) during the 1700s. In the 1790s there was a massive slave revolution in Haiti that, for the first time in history, successfully and permanently ended slavery through rebellion by slaves themselves. The abolition of very large-scale systems of slavery in the US in 1865 and in Brazil in 1888 are other well-known milestones. This process of formal abolition was eventually completed in the 20th century. (I believe that the last country to declare slavery illegal was Saudi Arabia in 1962.)

[Update: For another historic milestone, see Hispanic America & the end of slavery.]

=> Why did this happen—and, in particular, why did it happen to occur in this particular historical era and never before? That's a very big and contentious subject that I don't think I want to get into here, except to observe that the explanation is far from obvious. But one key point may we worth making.

This long-term effort to abolish slavery was a project initiated in one specific civilization, namely modern western civilization, and was extended to other civilizations in large part through western influence, pressure, and example. Pointing this out is not intended to encourage western triumphalism or excessive self-congratulation, but simply to recognize a historical reality—one that I think we still don't fully understand. There is a major historical irony associated with this story, since in the preceding few centuries western societies had developed one of the most gigantic and destructive slave systems in history to service their overseas possessions, especially in the western hemisphere. (The system that for centuries took slaves from sub-Saharan Africa to the Islamic Middle East may actually have affected more people over time, but its effects were much less historically concentrated.) But then history is full or ironies.

=> It's also important to emphasize that the formal abolition of slavery has not meant its disappearance in practice. We should not forget that the 20th century saw the systematic use of slave labor on a huge scale (often accompanied by mass murder and assorted other atrocities), for example as part of the standard operation of the Stalinist, Nazi, and Khmer Rouge regimes and some of their imitators. But most of these cases have turned out to be transitory. We should also remember that systems of straightforward, old-fashioned chattel slavery still exist de facto in a lot of places, even where they are officially illegal—for example, in countries like Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Chad, and Sudan in the Sahel belt along the southern edge of the Sahara.

However, even though such pockets of slavery continue to exist, I think it is important that the institution of slavery is now universally treated as illegitimate in international law and public discourse throughout the contemporary world. It has been fundamentally repudiated, in principle, by the moral culture of modernity. And even though millions of people in the world are now enslaved—or are trapped in conditions very close to slavery—it seems likely that these victims constitute a smaller proportion of the overall human population than at any previous time since the invention of agriculture. If one wants to look for evidence that there is actually moral progress in history, it seems to me that this long-term process of world-wide abolition and fundamental de-legitimization of slavery over the past several centuries offers one good example.

=> That's looking at the bright side. On the other hand, it is also essential to remember that slavery and other forms of bondage close to slavery continue to exist—and not only in backwaters like Sudan and Niger. As John Miller pointed out in a recent LA Times op-ed piece, "Nearly 200 years since the British ban, slavery still extends to all corners of the world—developing and advanced."
The existence of slavery in the 21st century comes as a shock to many Americans who believe that the institution ended with the Civil War. Although slavery today is not legal, it flourishes.

The international slave trade reaches into every country around the world and involves, at the least, a few million people and, by some estimates, as many as 27 million. It includes the old-fashioned buying, selling and owning of humans as well as many forms of sexual exploitation and "bonded" labor — in which people are held against their will and forced to work on farms or in factories to pay off obligations that never end.

In the so-called advanced countries, the largest category is sex slavery, which is linked to legalized or tolerated prostitution. [JW: A century ago, during another period that also saw a big upsurge in international migration, this was called the "white slave" trade.] In the Near East, the largest category is domestic-servitude slavery, fed by a massive migration of young women from South Asia. On the Indian subcontinent, the largest category is bonded-labor slavery of the lowest castes in rice mills, carpet factories and brick kilns. In Uganda and Sri Lanka, the largest category is child-soldier slavery. [....]
Slavery today
[....] is more gender-based than race-based — most victims are girls. In many instances it is linked to organized crime, and globalization plays a part as well.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the abolition of slavery remains an incomplete project—and one that will probably remain permanently unfinished..
This month marks the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade in Britain, a first step toward full abolition in the British empire and later in the United States. That work was championed by hundreds of activists — among them William Wilberforce in England and Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe in the United States — who nurtured a 19th century abolitionist movement. Now it falls on us, their descendants, to continue their work, nurturing a new abolitionist movement for the 21st century.
Read the rest.

(And for more on this subject, see The persistence of slavery. That also provides a link to the website of Anti-Slavery International, a good source of relevant information.)

—Jeff Weintraub

=========================
Los Angeles Times
March 13, 2007
Slaves among us
Nearly 200 years since the British ban, slavery still extends to all corners of the world--developing and advanced.
By John Miller

John Miller began working for the State Department on the issue of slavery in 2003. He was U.S. ambassador-at-large for modern-day slavery from 2004 to 2006. He now teaches in the international studies

The existence of slavery in the 21st century comes as a shock to many Americans who believe that the institution ended with the Civil War. Although slavery today is not legal, it flourishes.

The international slave trade reaches into every country around the world and involves, at the least, a few million people and, by some estimates, as many as 27 million. It includes the old-fashioned buying, selling and owning of humans as well as many forms of sexual exploitation and "bonded" labor — in which people are held against their will and forced to work on farms or in factories to pay off obligations that never end.

In the so-called advanced countries, the largest category is sex slavery, which is linked to legalized or tolerated prostitution. In the Near East, the largest category is domestic-servitude slavery, fed by a massive migration of young women from South Asia. On the Indian subcontinent, the largest category is bonded-labor slavery of the lowest castes in rice mills, carpet factories and brick kilns. In Uganda and Sri Lanka, the largest category is child-soldier slavery.

Modern slavery is more gender-based than race-based — most victims are girls. In many instances it is linked to organized crime, and globalization plays a part as well. Except for bonded-labor slavery, rarely does one find a victim in her hometown; she has been trafficked from one region to another or across international borders.

As U.S. ambassador-at-large on modern-day slavery, nothing moved me as much as the meetings I had all over the world with survivors. I did not believe slavery could exist in a democratic country until I met Katya in the Netherlands. Katya had left a failing marriage and a 2-year-old daughter in the Czech Republic when a "friend of the family" suggested that she go to Amsterdam, where she could make money as a waitress. She and other young women were driven across Europe by a Czech trafficker who turned them over to a Dutch trafficker. Katya's passport was seized, and she was driven to a brothel in Amsterdam's red-light district.

When Katya protested, explaining that she came to the Netherlands to work in a restaurant, the traffickers claimed that she owed them 20,000 euros for bringing her across Europe. When she refused to cooperate, she said, the traffickers told her that "you will if you want your daughter at home to live."

Katya succumbed, as have many in Western Europe, Japan and even the United States.

I met Susan in Minneapolis. Starting at age 13, she spent two decades terrorized by a pimp. At first she thought she loved him, but she soon realized she had no control, no way out. When Susan was rescued, she was penniless and so traumatized that she could not get on a bus alone.

Lord, a Laotian teenager I met in Thailand, was 11 when she was sold by her parents, then resold and finally deposited across the border in a Bangkok embroidery factory. Prevented from leaving the factory, given minimal food and clothing and no wages, Lord and other children sewed 14 hours a day. When she rebelled, she was banished to a closet as an example. Her owner poured industrial chemicals on her.

And there was Nour, a young Indonesian woman who came to Saudi Arabia to work as domestic help and send money home to her family. She was locked up by her masters, beaten and lost fingers and toes from gangrene.

Katya, Susan, Lord and Nour are more fortunate than most victims — they escaped or were rescued, and they survived. Katya had the help of a friendly taxi driver; Susan met outreach workers on the street who persuaded her to make a break; Lord was rescued by the police; and Nour was discovered at a hospital where she had been taken by her owners for "repairs."

There are signs of belated progress. When the U.S. passed its anti-trafficking law in 2000, only a handful of countries had such laws. In the last two years, 80 countries have passed similar legislation. Several years ago, the number of human traffickers sent to jail numbered in the hundreds. In 2005, the year of the most recent State Department statistics, that figure was 4,700. Over the last few years, hundreds of shelters have been set up around the world to care for survivors. Media coverage of the problem, and public awareness, has risen exponentially. And yet so much more remains to be done in every country, including the U.S.

What can Americans do? Support church and civic groups that help fight modern slavery abroad. Find out if there is an organization caring for survivors in your community and support it. Make sure local police are sensitive to and search out victims. Californians should make sure the state's 2005 anti-trafficking law and local anti-pimping ordinances are enforced.

This month marks the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade in Britain, a first step toward full abolition in the British empire and later in the United States. That work was championed by hundreds of activists — among them William Wilberforce in England and Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe in the United States — who nurtured a 19th century abolitionist movement. Now it falls on us, their descendants, to continue their work, nurturing a new abolitionist movement for the 21st century.
---------------
FOR THE RECORD:
Slave trade: An article Tuesday about modern-day slavery said that March 2007 is the 400th anniversary of the ban on the British slave trade. It is the 200th anniversary.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Why does the Islamic world support the mass murder of Muslims in Darfur? (Adam LeBor)

What has been going on in Darfur since 2003-2004 (and now eastern Chad as well) constitutes, by far, the most large-scale ongoing mass murder of Muslims anywhere in the world. So far, the overwhelming response by governments and public opinion in the Arab world and the larger Muslim world has ranged from indifference to active support for the genocidal regime in Khartoum. (There have been scattered exceptions. For some protests against this situation by Arabs and Muslims, see here & here & here.) As Adam LeBor points out, this matters. It matters a great deal.
Question: When do Muslim states deem the lives of fellow Muslims not worth saving? Answer: When they are black Africans.

Islam holds that all Muslims, no matter what their colour or ethnic origin, are equal members of the umma, the community of believers. [....] The 57 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) seem to think otherwise.

The UN Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, this week issued its report on the continuing slaughter in Darfur. Echoing the findings of previous UN investigations, it documented how Sudanese government forces and their proxy militia, the Janjawid, are committing murder, mass rape and kidnap: [....]

Since the start of the conflict in spring 2003, more than 400,000 people have been killed, or died of disease or malnutrition, while more than two million have been made homeless. The Fur, Zaghawa and Massalit ethnic groups of Darfur, Sunni Muslims, are victims of the first genocide of the 21st century — their menfolk massacred, their women raped, their villages razed, their children thrown into burning houses. Their tormentors abuse them as abid, Arabic for slave, or zurka, meaning “dirty black”. The Prophet’s sermon does not resonate in Darfur.

Sudan demanded that the report be rejected by the UN’s Human Rights Council. You might expect, with all the furore about the abuses of Muslims in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere, that the OIC would welcome the report. You would be wrong. The OIC rejected the report. It demanded that it should not considered by the Human Rights Council. [....]

So continues Darfur’s danse macabre, helpfully choreographed by Sudan’s allies. The Arab and Muslim world’s continuing indulgence of Sudan’s onslaught has been a big factor in weakening the UN’s sporadic efforts to stop the carnage. The Security Council did not even discuss Darfur until April 2004, a full year into the crisis. “Sudan was initially very successful at keeping itself off the Security Council agenda, with the full support of the Arab group,” said one UN official working on Darfur.

For many Muslim governments the weary reflexes of anti-colonialism still triumph over saving lives. Far better to show solidarity with Khartoum than cede an inch to Western concepts of human rights — because that would set a dangerous precedent for the decrepit monarchies and dictatorships that rule much of the Arab and Muslim world.

Does it matter which resolutions are passed or opposed in the labyrinthine UN bureaucracy? It does. During the Bosnian War, Muslim countries exerted sustained pressure at the UN on the Western powers to intervene against the Serbs. Pakistan and Turkey, in particular, were vocal defenders of Bosnia, attempting, unsuccessfully, to toughen up the Security Council resolutions. Madeleine Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN, recalled how she witnessed US prestige draining away over the West’s failure to save Bosnian Muslims. The growing Muslim anger over Bosnia eventually galvanised President Clinton and Nato into action.

Muslim states, especially Pakistan and Algeria, which have sat on the Security Council during this crisis, have consistently watered down the same type of resolutions over Darfur that a decade ago they tried to strengthen for Bosnia. Rather than issue sanctions against Sudan, the members of the Human Rights Council repeatedly condemn Israel. All of this Sudan, correctly, interprets as a licence to carry on slaughtering.

There is much talk of what the West must do to save Darfur. Whatever our obligations, the crisis is also a chance for the Islamic world to save lives. It’s a tragedy for the people of Darfur, for all of us, that the hypocrisy and double-standards of the OIC make this an opportunity wasted.
Read the whole thing.

--Jeff Weintraub

=========================
London Times (Online)
March 17, 2007
When Muslims ignore the Prophet
Don’t have a black skin and come from Darfur

Adam LeBor

Adam LeBor is author of Complicity with Evil: the United Nations in the Age of Modern Genocide

Question: When do Muslim states deem the lives of fellow Muslims not worth saving? Answer: When they are black Africans.

Islam holds that all Muslims, no matter what their colour or ethnic origin, are equal members of the umma, the community of believers. “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a nonArab over an Arab, also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black over a white, except by piety and good action,” said the Prophet Muhammad in his last sermon. The 57 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) seem to think otherwise.

The UN Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, this week issued its report on the continuing slaughter in Darfur. Echoing the findings of previous UN investigations, it documented how Sudanese government forces and their proxy militia, the Janjawid, are committing murder, mass rape and kidnap: “The situation is characterised by gross and systematic violations of human rights and grave breaches of international law.”

Since the start of the conflict in spring 2003, more than 400,000 people have been killed, or died of disease or malnutrition, while more than two million have been made homeless. The Fur, Zaghawa and Massalit ethnic groups of Darfur, Sunni Muslims, are victims of the first genocide of the 21st century — their menfolk massacred, their women raped, their villages razed, their children thrown into burning houses. Their tormentors abuse them as abid, Arabic for slave, or zurka, meaning “dirty black”. The Prophet’s sermon does not resonate in Darfur.

Sudan demanded that the report be rejected by the UN’s Human Rights Council. You might expect, with all the furore about the abuses of Muslims in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere, that the OIC would welcome the report. You would be wrong. The OIC rejected the report. It demanded that it should not considered by the Human Rights Council. In fact, the OIC says, the report does not even exist.

Babacar Ba, the OIC’s representative to the UN in Geneva, said: “We didn’t recognise the mission to have fulfilled its mandate and we rejected the report.”

Instead, the OIC argued that the report was, in UN parlance, a “nonreport”. Why? Because the investigators did not visit Darfur. Why did they not visit Darfur? Because the Sudanese Government refused to issue them visas. The answer, the OIC and Sudan agree, is to dispatch a new mission, its members to be approved by Sudan and doubtless to agree, as Khartoum claims, that the situation is “improving”.

So continues Darfur’s danse macabre, helpfully choreographed by Sudan’s allies. The Arab and Muslim world’s continuing indulgence of Sudan’s onslaught has been a big factor in weakening the UN’s sporadic efforts to stop the carnage. The Security Council did not even discuss Darfur until April 2004, a full year into the crisis. “Sudan was initially very successful at keeping itself off the Security Council agenda, with the full support of the Arab group,” said one UN official working on Darfur.

For many Muslim governments the weary reflexes of anti-colonialism still triumph over saving lives. Far better to show solidarity with Khartoum than cede an inch to Western concepts of human rights — because that would set a dangerous precedent for the decrepit monarchies and dictatorships that rule much of the Arab and Muslim world.

Does it matter which resolutions are passed or opposed in the labyrinthine UN bureaucracy? It does. During the Bosnian War, Muslim countries exerted sustained pressure at the UN on the Western powers to intervene against the Serbs. Pakistan and Turkey, in particular, were vocal defenders of Bosnia, attempting, unsuccessfully, to toughen up the Security Council resolutions. Madeleine Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN, recalled how she witnessed US prestige draining away over the West’s failure to save Bosnian Muslims. The growing Muslim anger over Bosnia eventually galvanised President Clinton and Nato into action.

Muslim states, especially Pakistan and Algeria, which have sat on the Security Council during this crisis, have consistently watered down the same type of resolutions over Darfur that a decade ago they tried to strengthen for Bosnia. Rather than issue sanctions against Sudan, the members of the Human Rights Council repeatedly condemn Israel. All of this Sudan, correctly, interprets as a licence to carry on slaughtering.

There is much talk of what the West must do to save Darfur. Whatever our obligations, the crisis is also a chance for the Islamic world to save lives. It’s a tragedy for the people of Darfur, for all of us, that the hypocrisy and double-standards of the OIC make this an opportunity wasted.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The world stands by while Darfur burns (Jonathan Freedland)

An excellent piece by the British journalist Jonathan Freedland, simultaneously tough-minded and morally anguished, which appeared in the Guardian's "Comment is Free" website.
I once spoke to a journalist who had covered the war in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He said that he and his colleagues kept heading into harm's way, because they believed that once the world knew of the horrors they had witnessed, the world would be stirred to act. They filed their reports and waited. Soon enough, they understood. The world knew what was going on - and yet it did nothing. For some of those reporters, this experience broke their faith in the power of journalism. For others, it broke their faith in their fellow human beings.

I suspect the aid workers and United Nations staff who signed a collective statement on the plight of Darfur in January are going through a similar heartbreak right now. Fourteen different UN humanitarian bodies, including the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation, issued an unprecedented cry of despair. They explained that their workers had "effectively been holding the line for the survival and protection of millions, [but] that line cannot be held much longer". Under attack themselves, these UN workers could no longer reach the people they sought to protect and feed. "In the last six months alone," they wrote, "more than 250,000 people have been displaced by fighting, many of them fleeing for the second or third time. Villages have been burnt, looted and arbitrarily bombed and crops and livestock destroyed. Sexual violence against women is occurring at alarming rates. This situation is unacceptable." [JW: For the full report, see here.]

I'm sure that when they drafted that message, they believed the world would stir and come to their rescue. Surely it could not ignore such a stark, desperate plea from those whose only motive is to save lives?

Well, now they know. The message came and went, reported here and there, posted on the odd website and comprehensively ignored. The humanitarians of Darfur have learned the lesson of the old Bosnia press corps: that the world might know, and know in great detail - but still the world does nothing, or waits until it's too late. [....]

Why can it not be stopped?
Freedland offers a concise, perceptive analysis of some of the major reasons and excuses--and the two are not always easy to separate, since, as he points out, some of the reasons offered or implied are really bogus rationalizations or evasions. The economic and political interests of governments backing Khartoum, especially China's, are clearly important factors. But another crucial factor, as Freedland properly emphasizes, is the same one that those journalists in Bosnia discovered: "there is little or no pressure from public opinion" (above all European public opinion, which I'm sure is what Freedland has in mind).
Those are some of the reasons why the world has done nothing; perhaps there are others. But the fact of it still stains our world. At the end of this month, leaders will gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of what became the European Union. They will make fine speeches, declaring that after the horrors of the second world war the only moral course was "never again". If those words reach all the way to Darfur, how hollow they will ring.
Read the whole thing. (Also noted by BobFromBrockley.)

--Jeff Weintraub

(P.S.The full title of this piece on the CiF website is "The legacy of Iraq is that the world stands by while Darfur burns"--which suggests that the main subject is Iraq, not Darfur. But that gives a very misleading picture of Freedland's actual discussion, and I'm pretty sure that this title was assigned by a Guardian editor rather than the author--the standard practice--so I have felt free to remove this distortion ... as did the African Mail & Guardian and some other publications that reprinted the piece.
On the other hand, one element of Freedland's analysis does have to do with the ways that reactions against the Iraq war have helped to discourage impulses toward humanitarian action, especially when Muslim governments are involved-or at least, I would add, have added to the repertoire of excuses that people invoke to justify inaction. That part of Freedland's discussion points to some depressing questions that deserve careful consideration.)

=========================
The Guardian (Comment is Free)
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
The world stands by while Darfur burns
An unprecedented plea from 14 UN humanitarian bodies on behalf of the people of western Sudan has been roundly ignored
Jonathan Freedland

I once spoke to a journalist who had covered the war in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He said that he and his colleagues kept heading into harm's way, because they believed that once the world knew of the horrors they had witnessed, the world would be stirred to act. They filed their reports and waited. Soon enough, they understood. The world knew what was going on - and yet it did nothing. For some of those reporters, this experience broke their faith in the power of journalism. For others, it broke their faith in their fellow human beings.

I suspect the aid workers and United Nations staff who signed a collective statement on the plight of Darfur in January are going through a similar heartbreak right now. Fourteen different UN humanitarian bodies, including the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation, issued an unprecedented cry of despair. They explained that their workers had "effectively been holding the line for the survival and protection of millions, [but] that line cannot be held much longer". Under attack themselves, these UN workers could no longer reach the people they sought to protect and feed. "In the last six months alone," they wrote, "more than 250,000 people have been displaced by fighting, many of them fleeing for the second or third time. Villages have been burnt, looted and arbitrarily bombed and crops and livestock destroyed. Sexual violence against women is occurring at alarming rates. This situation is unacceptable."

I'm sure that when they drafted that message, they believed the world would stir and come to their rescue. Surely it could not ignore such a stark, desperate plea from those whose only motive is to save lives?

Well, now they know. The message came and went, reported here and there, posted on the odd website and comprehensively ignored. The humanitarians of Darfur have learned the lesson of the old Bosnia press corps: that the world might know, and know in great detail - but still the world does nothing, or waits until it's too late.

First blame lies of course with the government of Sudan, which UN human rights investigators this week accused of "gross and systematic" abuses, orchestrating and participating in a campaign of violence that has seen, at a conservative estimate, 200,000 people killed and 2 million displaced. Officially, this has been done in the course of a civil war against rebels in Darfur, who are guilty of their own atrocities. But the UN human rights council [JW: more specifically, its investigators, since the so-called "Human Rights" Council itself has officially ignored Darfur--and will probably ignore this report] was quite clear: the "principal pattern" was of violence committed by the Sudanese government and its allies in the Arab Janjaweed militias.

Why can it not be stopped? The answer reveals much about the state of our world, the limitations of power and the extent to which the liberal interventionist vision articulated by Tony Blair during the Kosovo war in 1999 - of a world in which states could no longer murder their own people with impunity - lies in shreds.

It's not as if the international community has done nothing. In August last year the UN passed resolution 1706, agreeing to upgrade the small African Union force of 7,000 troops that was attempting to police Darfur - a territory nearly the size of France - with a UN deployment of 22,500. Such "heavy support", in both personnel and hardware, would have made a vital difference, standing between the Khartoum-backed predators and their Darfuri prey.

Trouble is - and here's a surprise - the predators don't want that force to come in. And this has to be a "consensual" deployment: it can't happen without the permission of those who are to be restrained. It's as if the police knew that terrible crimes were going on at number 73 - but were forced to stand outside, doing nothing, because the man of the house wouldn't let them in.

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's president, is not quite as crude as that. If the pressure is sufficient, he tends to say yes to the requests of the international community - only to say no later, when the attention of the world's capitals has moved on. Bashir has turned saying no into an art form, constantly refusing UN and other officials access to refugee camps, townships and villages. Jody Williams and her team of UN human rights investigators were forced to do their work from across the border when the Sudanese authorities denied them a full set of entry visas.

Back in the prelapsarian days of 1999, when Tony Blair went to Chicago to evangelise for liberal interventionism, the response to this closed door would have been to suggest that the rest of the world, led by the west, should bust its way in. But that was before the calamity of Iraq, which has tainted for a generation the Blairite doctrine of muscular humanitarianism. So no one talks seriously about military action against Khartoum now, not least because Bashir's government is an Islamist one - and a western war against such a regime would look uncomfortably like confirmation of the clash of civilisations that both Blair and President Bush insist does not exist.

Claiming to be the victim of some western vendetta against Islam also suits Bashir, but it is bogus. For one thing, Bashir's Darfuri victims are themselves Muslim. But, more importantly, those seeking to restrain him and his Janjaweed militias are hardly the hated west - they are the African Union. It is the AU which has been impeded, harassed and attacked, and whose expansion Bashir resists. Indeed, the hybrid UN force he is currently barring would be overwhelmingly African and Asian, drawn from mainly Muslim states. The first batch of UN troops, already on standby, is from Rwanda.

But force is not the only pressure. London is pushing for narrowly targeted sanctions, aimed at Sudan's ruling elite, hitting the companies they own and the luxury goods they covet. That, combined with a no-fly zone and an arms embargo covering all Sudan - not just Darfur - could, say its backers, force Bashir to back down. If neighbouring Arab states put pressure on the rebel groups, the result could be a ceasefire and an end to the terrible violence.

Yet even that course of action seems too much for the international community. China won't sign up, because it relies on Sudanese oil and sells arms to Khartoum. Some African and Asian states have grumbled that Sudan is being unfairly singled out.

More importantly, perhaps, there is little or no pressure from public opinion. That's partly because there has been none of the intensive media coverage that triggered the drumbeat for action in Kosovo, for example. The left, who one might expect to rise in fury at the mass murder and oppression of a black African population, has also kept its distance. That might be because it suspects those demanding action on Darfur are driven by an anti-Islamist agenda, or because it fears that "action" would translate into an Iraq-style invasion.

Those are some of the reasons why the world has done nothing; perhaps there are others. But the fact of it still stains our world. At the end of this month, leaders will gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of what became the European Union. They will make fine speeches, declaring that after the horrors of the second world war the only moral course was "never again". If those words reach all the way to Darfur, how hollow they will ring.

freedland@guardian.co.uk

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Panel discussion on Iraq - Saturday, March 17, 2007 (Eastern Sociological Society)

For those of you who are in the Philadelphia area or who know people within striking distance of Philadelphia, I want to announce a panel discussion on
Iraq since 2003: What's gone wrong? What's gone right? What next?
that will take place here on Saturday, March 17 from 1:45-3:15 p.m.. This session is part of the 2007 Annual Meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society, but anyone interested in the subject--and who isn't?--is welcome to attend. Speaking with all due modesty as the organizer of this discussion, I expect it to be unusually substantial, illuminating, lively (another way to say argumentative), and thought-provoking.
--------------------
Eastern Sociological Society
2007 Annual Meeting
Sheraton Philadelphia City Center
17th & Race Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19103


Session #209: Saturday, March 17 | 1:45 PM - 3:15
(Philadelphia Ballroom North - Mezzanine Level)


Iraq since 2003: What's gone wrong? What's gone right? What next?

Presider & Organizer: Jeff Weintraub, University of Pennsylvania

Participants:
Ian Lustick, University of Pennsylvania
Brendan O'Leary, University of Pennsylvania
Trudy Rubin, Foreign Affairs Columnist, Philadelphia Inquirer
--------------------

The three speakers--Trudy Rubin, Brendan O'Leary, and Ian Lustick--are all people with exceptional expertise and insight regarding Middle Eastern society & politics who have devoted a lot of serious thought and genuine concern to Iraq and the issues it raises (for Iraqis as well as Americans and others). They will offer contrasting assessments of developments in Iraq since the overthrow of the Ba'ath regime in 2003 and will consider prospects and possible options for the future. These analyses and recommendations will be grounded in socially and historically informed understandings of Iraq itself--including the structure and dynamics of ethnic and sectarian identities and conflicts, the historical formation and legacies of state-society relations in Iraq, and the competing projects of different political forces and ethno-religious communities--while also placing Iraqi developments and dilemmas within larger regional and geopolitical contexts.

Ian Lustick and Brendan O'Leary are highly regarded scholars of comparative politics, nationalism, state-building, ethnic conflict, and related matters at the University of Pennsylvania (O'Leary also happens to be a constitutional adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraqi Kurdistan), and Trudy Rubin is a widely read and highly respected foreign affairs columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. But these specific institutional and disciplinary affiliations are of secondary significance. This panel discussion should serve as a contribution to political sociology and as a venture in public sociology that integrates informed socio-political analysis with consideration of urgent practical concerns.

Even if you can't come yourself, please pass along this notice to anyone else who you think would be interested.

Yours for informed public discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

Friday, March 09, 2007

Darfur at the edge of the abyss (Julie Flint)

The journalist Julie Flint is one of the best-informed observers of the Darfur catastrophe and co-author (with Alex de Waal) of a standard book on the subject, Darfur: A Short History of a Long War. Therefore, it is striking that her latest piece in the Lebanon Daily Star radiates a sense of terminal despair.
The sense of despair among those working in Darfur is palpable and makes a nonsense of the upbeat assessments and "expectations" of some of the more senior international emissaries to the region. There is, for the moment, nothing to expect in Darfur except more death, more destruction, more rape and more pressure on the rapidly dwindling band of humanitarians struggling to save lives in areas far outside the war zones.[....]

Darfur is settling down to be one of those intractable conflicts in which the spoilers run the show. [Chadian President Idriss] Deby wants Darfur in flames because it allows him to blame his internal troubles on Khartoum. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir wants it because it is the best possible pretext for not implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement concluded with South Sudan, an agreement that obliges Khartoum to share both wealth and power.

The UN's acting emergency relief coordinator for Darfur, Margareta Wahlstrom, said recently that Darfur is becoming one of the most dangerous areas in the world for aid workers. With more than a third of Darfur's war-affected population - almost 1 million people - effectively out of bounds to aid agencies, aid workers are themselves now coming under direct and deliberate attack. Attacks on aid workers almost doubled in 2006. In December alone, hundreds were withdrawn from Darfur for their own safety.

Andrew Natsios, the US special envoy to Sudan, has said [that] he fears that aid groups could be forced out of Darfur, opening the way for a "bloodbath" in which the government-sponsored Janjaweed militias would try to close down camps that give refuge to millions. Natsios said [that] US diplomacy would focus on protecting the humanitarian aid effort in Darfur. How? The AU has proved incapable of doing this, and there is no agreement yet, and may never be, on a tougher hybrid force.

The only possible solution lies in going back to the drawing board and seeking a political settlement that involves all those who are a party to the conflict - inside and outside Sudan. There are no shortcuts, and it may well be that there will be no solution for a very long time: All the key elements are moving in the wrong direction today. The international players made mistakes, bad mistakes, and didn't care enough when all was said and done. But if the leaders of the parties, government and rebel, don't want peace they can't be forced to make it. The responsibility, at the end of the days, is theirs.
Given who these local players are, this is a terrifying conclusion. But that simply means that, if there is any to be any hope at all of helping the victims, then the role of outsiders--of the alleged "international community"--is actually crucial. As Flint herself makes clear, there is no reason to expect the Khartoum regime and its military and political opponents to end the carnage on their own. From their point of view (especially that of the Khartoum regime), why should they want to?

Some parts of Flint's analysis of how things got to this point seem more convincing than others, but the central message seems irrefutable:
It is impossible to pinpoint the moment at which things began to go wrong, for they have never gone right. There has been a lot of racket about the "genocide" in Darfur - a controversial and time-consuming debate that did nothing to help find a solution to the killing. However, there have been no effective measures to halt it, and no serious, concerted, believable pressure on a Sudanese government that, although not monolithic, is still controlled by those who can watch Darfur dying without flinching.
The question is whether we should now respond with a sense of futility or with a sense of urgency. Read the whole thing. [Reprinted from Sudan: The Passion of the Present]

--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
March 2, 2007
Darfur's step forward, into the precipice
Julie Flint

Julie Flint has written extensively on Sudan. She is the author, with Alex de Waal, of Darfur: A Short History of a Long War. She wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

It was one of those moments during the Lebanon war in summer 2006, when newspapers were glimpsing the metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel. A friend turned to me and said, without realizing what he was saying: "Yesterday we stood on the edge of a precipice. Today we have taken a great step forward." He was correct. The light disappeared, and we fell off the precipice.

All over Darfur, lights are going out and great steps are being taken off the edges of precipices. The sense of despair among those working in Darfur is palpable and makes a nonsense of the upbeat assessments and "expectations" of some of the more senior international emissaries to the region. There is, for the moment, nothing to expect in Darfur except more death, more destruction, more rape and more pressure on the rapidly dwindling band of humanitarians struggling to save lives in areas far outside the war zones.

For the first time since the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed in Abuja, Nigeria, in May [of] last year - an agreement forced to a hasty conclusion that left it incomplete and so ensured its failure - those who would bring peace to Darfur are finally acknowledging that the agreement cannot work as it is and needs re-examination. ("Renegotiate" is still a no-no word. As if semantics matter when people are dying.)

The DPA "is not like the Koran or the Bible that you cannot change or modify," the special envoy of the African Union (AU) to Sudan, Salim Ahmed Salim, said on February 16, after months of saying the opposite.

The bad news, the step off the edge of the precipice, is that there is no coherent plan for how to go about "modifying" the peace agreement. The United States, essential to any successful pressure on the Sudanese government, remains fixated on getting United Nations peacekeepers into Darfur - admittedly as part of a "hybrid" force with the AU now - to enforce a peace that does not exist and that neither the UN nor the AU can bring about by force. Field commanders of the fragmented Sudan Liberation Army were to have met in North Darfur this month to try to forge a degree of unity in advance of new peace talks somewhere, somehow, under AU-UN auspices. But, like the DPA before it, the conference lacks the security guarantees necessary to make it workable.

First scheduled for November last year, when the government prevented it by pounding the conference site from the air, the commanders' conference may never happen - not inside Darfur at least. And even if it does, the manner in which it has been handled has already created a new divide among the non-signatories of the DPA - most importantly, between those who want to represent the interests of their people and seek a negotiated settlement for Darfur, and those who are in hock to outside interests and their own ambitions for power in Khartoum.

It is impossible to pinpoint the moment at which things began to go wrong, for they have never gone right. There has been a lot of racket about the "genocide" in Darfur - a controversial and time-consuming debate that did nothing to help find a solution to the killing. However, there have been no effective measures to halt it, and no serious, concerted, believable pressure on a Sudanese government that, although not monolithic, is still controlled by those who can watch Darfur dying without flinching.

In the post-DPA days, the tipping point probably came in the middle of last year when the African Union expelled non-signatories from the Darfur Cease-fire Commission. The decision deepened the non-signatories' distrust of the AU - and its motives - and made nonsense of the commission, which gives representation only to the government and its abusive partner in peace, the rebel leader Minni Minawi. As things stand today, the government and Minawi must investigate their own cease-fire violations. And pigs can fly.

Since then, a wide coalition of DPA critics grouped in the National Redemption Front (NRF) have accepted Chad's patronage and now find themselves on the front line of Chadian President Idriss Deby's war with Darfur-based Chadian rebels supported by the Sudan government. For many NRF leaders, the need to end the bloodshed in Darfur and to get the displaced safely back to their homes is no longer the priority. Safeguarding the Chadian regime that supports them and their own political ambitions is.

Darfur is settling down to be one of those intractable conflicts in which the spoilers run the show. Deby wants Darfur in flames because it allows him to blame his internal troubles on Khartoum. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir wants it because it is the best possible pretext for not implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement concluded with South Sudan, an agreement that obliges Khartoum to share both wealth and power.

The UN's acting emergency relief coordinator for Darfur, Margareta Wahlstrom, said recently that Darfur is becoming one of the most dangerous areas in the world for aid workers. With more than a third of Darfur's war-affected population - almost 1 million people - effectively out of bounds to aid agencies, aid workers are themselves now coming under direct and deliberate attack. Attacks on aid workers almost doubled in 2006. In December alone, hundreds were withdrawn from Darfur for their own safety.

Andrew Natsios, the US special envoy to Sudan, has said [that] he fears that aid groups could be forced out of Darfur, opening the way for a "bloodbath" in which the government-sponsored Janjaweed militias would try to close down camps that give refuge to millions. Natsios said [that] US diplomacy would focus on protecting the humanitarian aid effort in Darfur. How? The AU has proved incapable of doing this, and there is no agreement yet, and may never be, on a tougher hybrid force.

The only possible solution lies in going back to the drawing board and seeking a political settlement that involves all those who are a party to the conflict - inside and outside Sudan. There are no shortcuts, and it may well be that there will be no solution for a very long time: All the key elements are moving in the wrong direction today. The international players made mistakes, bad mistakes, and didn't care enough when all was said and done. But if the leaders of the parties, government and rebel, don't want peace they can't be forced to make it. The responsibility, at the end of the days, is theirs.

A right-wing ad attacking Giuliani

Well, it certainly makes him sound good to me. Watch it HERE and see what you think.

Of course, a few sound-bites taken out of context are not enough, by themselves, to define a candidate. But these are all positions that Giuliani has held consistently over the years. So given that it is so easy to assemble them into such an effective hatchet job aimed at right-wing voters, one has to wonder ... why is Giuliani leading the polls among Republicans right now (a mere 20 months before the 2008 Presidential election)?

[Via Andrew Sullivan]

--Jeff Weintraub

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Please sign this petition in support of Salah Choudhury

Back in October 2006, in my first discussion of the case of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury (Freedom of the press under attack - Bangladeshi journalist Salah Choudhury faces the death penalty), I emphasized that
This is not just a tale of woe, but also a call to action. Over the past decade there have been several significant cases involving the persecution, arrest, and/or or prosecution of writers and intellectuals where international attention has helped to avert, or at least moderate, unjust and repressive outcomes. Some obvious examples include Said Eddin Ibrahim in Egypt, Orhan Pamuk in Turkey, Ramin Jahanbegloo in Iran (where the outcome was far from ideal, but a lot better than it could have been), Kamal Sayid Qadir in Iraqi Kurdistan, etc. International response to these cases, and international solidarity with the victims, are obviously very important to help preserve some space for freedom of expression and to encourage possibilities for political liberty and political sanity.

The case of the outspoken Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, now on trial facing a trumped-up charge of treason with a possible death penalty, is another important challenge of this sort. Bangladesh is generally considered a relatively "moderate" Muslim country, but it is also one in which radical Islamist parties and movements are gaining increasing influence. One sign of these tendencies is the increasingly precarious position of independent journalists, epitomized by the treatment of Choudhury. He has faced years of persecution, including physical attacks and death threats as well as criminal prosecution, for his 'crimes' of criticizing Islamist radicalism and advocating reconciliation with Christians, Jews, and Israel. [....]

Choudhury was awarded the PEN-USA Freedom to Write Award in 2005, and his cause has been taken up by Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN. Their statement of October 10 (reproduced below) urges that everyone committed to freedom of expression should:
Send appeals to authorities:
- expressing serious concerns for the safety of journalist Salah Uddin Choudhury
- calling for him to be provided with immediate and effective police protection
- protesting the charges against Choudhury and calling for them to be dropped in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
All of this still applies. The legal proceedings against Choudhury continue to grind on, but in the meantime his case has attracted increasing attention around the world.

On December 26, 2006 the prominent international human rights lawyer and Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada during the last Liberal government, argued that
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is not a household name. But he should be - and his case is becoming - a cause celebre. For this courageous Bangladesh journalist and human-rights defender is about to stand trial on the charges of sedition, treason and blasphemy, offences possibly punishable by the death penalty.

His crime? Promoting inter-faith dialogue among Muslims, Jews and Christians, seeking peaceful relations with Israel, and expressing concerns about extremist radical Islam. [....]

It is not Choudhury who should be on trial; rather, it is the Bangladesh authorities who have violated his fundamental rights guaranteed under the Bangladesh constitution, international treaties as well as the basic principles of criminal justice [....]

At the time of Choudhury’s first arrest in 2003, a New York Times editorial characterized him as having "a rare virtue - he champions dialogue and decency in a culture hemmed in by extremism and corruption." The charges against Choudhury, said the New York Times editorial, are a "baseless sham." It went on to say, after describing the plight of journalists in Bangladesh: "Bangladesh may now be among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. That makes Choudhury’s courageous stand for Muslim-Jewish dialogue all the more admirable - and vital to defend."

Three years later, Choudhury faces possible death from this "baseless sham." It is vital now to defend Choudhury’s rights as we defend the courageous stand that brought about his ordeal.
All of you who want to help defend Salah Choudhury and the principles he represents--not least the most basic principles of freedom of the press and free expression--have an opportunity to do so by signing a petition on his behalf being circulated by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. In my opinion, the appeal to the Bangladeshi government outlined here is right on target. Please read it (below) and add your signature.

--Jeff Weintraub

=========================
Scholars For Peace in the Middle East

A Petition to Government of Bangladesh to Free and Drop All Charges of Sedition Against Muslim Journalist Salah Choudhury

To: Government of Bangladesh

We, the undersigned scholars and other individuals of good will, petition the Government of Bangladesh to drop all charges against Muslim journalist Salah Choudhury. We understand that he faces charges under the Bangladesh Penal Code of "sedition, treason, blasphemy and espionage," which are punishable by death.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is editor of the Bangladeshi tabloid The Weekly Blitz. A practicing Muslim, Choudhury wrote about the rise of Islamist extremists in Bangladesh and has written articles against anti-Israeli and Judeophobic attitudes in Muslim-majority countries. He also urged Bangladesh-Israel relations and real interaith understanding based on religious equality.

PEN USA gave him their Freedom to Write Award in 2005 in recognition of his commitment towards courageous journalism and confronting extreme adversities.[4]

The American Jewish Committee presented its Moral Courage Award to him in May 2006, but the Bangladesh government prevented him from visiting the United States to receive the honor.

Choudhury is facing these charges for taking strong public and professional stands against the radical Islamists who are quietly taking over the world's third largest Muslim-majority country, against the oppression of religious minorities and others there, and for positive relations between Muslims and Jews. His one formal violation of Bangladesh regulations was his attempt to visit Israel in 2003 to attend a conference of the Hebrew Writers' Association. The applicable act allows Bangladeshis to travel to all countries in the world except Israel. The penalty for such violation is a 500 Taka (less than $8). On November 29, he was taken into police custody and, as he tells it, blindfolded, beaten and interrogated for 10 days in an attempt to extract a confession that he was spying for Israel. He spent the next 17 months in solitary confinement, and was denied medical treatment for his glaucoma. Only after an international campaign and the personal intervention of U.S. Congressman Mark Kirk did the Bangladesh govenment release Choudhury on bail. At the same time, the Bangladesh government promised to drop all charges against him after admitting that there was no substance to them.

In July, a mob stormed the premises of Choudhury's tabloid and beat him, fracturing his ankle.When Choudhury lodged a complaint with the police, the government responded by issuing a warrant for his arrest. That summer, a bomb was also set off at the Weekly Blitz offices and although government officials admitted knowing the perpetrators led by Mufti Noor Hussain Noorani, self-proclaimed bigot and head of the radical Khatmey Nabuat Movement, no arrests were ever made.

In September, a judge affiliated with a radical faction ordered the case continued, in spite of the government's reluctance to prosecute, proclaiming that "by praising Christians and Jews," Choudhury had "hurt the sentiments of Muslims."

The United States, the European Union, and other democratic nations have sent observers to his trial. Government witnesses have refused to show in court, the court has violated Bangaldeshi legal procedure, and the prosecution has yet to provide a scintilla of credible evidence to support the capital charge. The new government in Dhaka has promised several American officials and others that they will have the case dropped. Yet, on February 28, 2007, the radical judge brazenly ordered the trial to proceed.

Resolutions in support of Choudhury and demands that the charges be dropped have been passed in the European and Australian Parliaments. A similar resolution passed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs unanimously and is scheduled to come before the full House this month where it is expected to pass without opposition.

Noted international Human Rights attorney Irwin Cotler, whose clients have included Nelson Mandela and Andrei Sakharov, has identified eight violations of Bangladesh's own law in Choudhury's prosecution. The only way to restore the integrity of Bangladesh is to end this persecution now. In the name of justice, freedom of speech, freedom of passage and of human rights, we join with governments, human rights advocates and other scholars worldwide and ask that this injustice be immediately halted and that all charges against Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury be dropped.

[We urge each of you who sign this petition and even those of you who don't to circulate it amongst your colleagues and friends to help us reach 10,000 names by April 1, 2007. Thank you from Scholars for Peace in the Middle East www.spme.net.]

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Coalition of genocide deniers in Khartoum

The International Criminal Court has just announced that it will soon issue its first indictments for war crimes in Darfur, one of which will name a minister in the Khartoum government.
In a 94-page prosecution document filed with the court's judges, [ICC prosecutor]Luis Moreno-Ocampo singled out Ahmad Muhammad Harun, now a state minister for humanitarian affairs who was state minister of the interior, along with Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman (also known as Ali Kushayb), a leader of the Darfur militia known as the Janjaweed, in a total of 51 crimes against humanity and war crimes. The filing marked the first accusations against named individuals as a prelude to a trial.
What could be more timely than a visit to Khartoum by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Here is President Ahmadinejad with President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan:

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, center left, and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad review an honor guard upon Ahmadinejad's arrival at Khartoum airport, Sudan, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007. (AP Photo/Abd Raouf)

As my friend Gershon Shafir pointed out, the two belong to an exclusive club of genocide-denying heads of government. One has been trying to deny the existence of a genocide that already occurred, while the other tries to deny a genocide that his government is in the midst of committing. --Jeff Weintraub

====================
CBS News
February 28, 2007
Iran, Sudan Leaders Meet
Ahmadinejad In Khartoum For Talks As He And Counterpart Face U.N. Ire


KHARTOUM, Sudan. (AP) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Sudan on Wednesday for talks between two leaders who face strong U.N. Security Council pressure — Iran for its nuclear program and Sudan for the conflict in Darfur.

Ahmadinejad was met at Khartoum airport by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a day after the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor accused a junior member of al-Bashir's Cabinet of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

During his two-day visit, Ahmadinejad will deliver a lecture at a private institution in Khartoum and witness the signing of several bilateral agreements, according to Sudan's Information Ministry.

The permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany are currently discussing strengthening the limited sanctions imposed on Iran in December for its refusal to stop enriching uranium. Enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear reactors but uranium enriched to a higher degree is used to make atomic bombs.

The United States accuses Iran of secretly trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its enrichment is solely for self-sufficiency in fuel for nuclear power plants.

The United Nations is pushing the Khartoum government to accept 22,000 U.N. and African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, where 2.5 million people have become refugees and more than 200,000 have died in four years of fighting. Al-Bashir has rejected any significant U.N. deployment as a violation of sovereignty.

On Tuesday, the ICC chief prosecutor accused Sudan's minister of state for humanitarian affairs, Ahmed Muhammed Harun, of paying and recruiting militias responsible for murder, rape and torture in Darfur.

Harun, who is known to be a member of al-Bashir's inner circle, is alleged to have committed the crimes while a junior interior minister.

The prosecutor also accused a militia leader, Ali Mohammed Ali Abd-al-Rahman, of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Sudan rejected the allegations and said it would not hand the suspects over for trial.

Remember Chechnya?

Back in March 2006 the on-line journal Democratiya carried an important appeal to End the Silence Over Chechnya. The signers, who included several Nobel Peace Prize winners, were Andre Glucksmann, former UN Human Rights Commissioner & Irish President Mary Robinson, former democratic activist and then Czech President Vaclav Havel, democracy-promoting philanthropist George Soros, Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan (the politically influential brother of the former King Hussein), Frederik Willem de Klerk, Yohei Sasakawa, Karel Schwarzenberg, and Desmond Tutu. They correctly argued that the "dreadful and endless war" in Chechnya, marked by enormous suffering and by horrifying brutality on all sides, has been all but ignored by the alleged international community and deserves some serious attention.

Well, I may have missed something, but so far I haven't heard any significant break in this international silence. Meanwhile, the relentlessly courageous Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who insisted on covering the never-ending catastrophe in Chechnya, has been disposed of by assassination. And then earlier this month the Kremlin appointed a notorious thug, Ramzan Kadyrov, as Chechnya's acting president.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday appointed Ramzan Kadyrov, a 30-year-old former rebel and son of a murdered Chechen leader, as acting president of Chechnya, a spokesman for Putin said.

Kadyrov, who was made Chechnya's prime minister last year, is head of a private militia force that human rights groups implicate in murder and kidnap but which he says provides security in the war weary region. (Washington Post - February 15, 2007)
In Chechnya itself, the carnage and atrocities grind on. So this statement issued last March remains all to timely, and it deserves re-reading.

--Jeff Weintraub

[P.S. It would be quite wrong to suggest that Russian troops and their local auxiliaries are the only ones who have been committing atrocities in Chechnya, and I would be unhappy if anyone thought I was implying that. Let me repeat some comments I made at the time of the Beslan massacre in September 2004, when over 300 civilian hostages, including 186 children, were murdered by Chechen terrorists:
To avoid any possible misunderstanding, I want to emphasize some further points as clearly and forcefully as I can. None of this criticism of the Beslan atrocity, and of the kind of terrorism it exemplifies, in any way justifies or excuses the fact that Russia has been fighting an incredibly brutal, destructive, and often appalling war in Chechnya, marked by extensive atrocities (on both sides!), massive civilian deaths, and pervasive violations of the laws of war, including murder, rape and kidnapping of civilians by Russian troops and security services. However, the opposite is also true. Nothing about the Russian war in Chechnya in any way justifies or excuses this kind of terrorist massacre, which ought to be unreservedly condemned whatever one thinks about the Chechen war.]
==========================
End the Silence Over Chechnya

It is extremely difficult for an honest observer to break through the closed doors that separate Chechnya from the rest of the world. Indeed, no one even knows how many civilian casualties there have been in ten years of war.

According to estimates by non-governmental organizations, the figure is between 100,000 (that is, one civilian out of ten) and 300,000 (one out of four). How many voters participated in the November 2005 elections? Between 60 and 80%, according to Russian authorities; around 20%, reckon independent observers. The blackout imposed on Chechnya prevents any precise assessment of the devastating effects of a ruthless conflict.

But censorship cannot completely hide the horror. Under the world’s very eyes, a capital – Grozny, with 400,000 inhabitants – has been razed for the first time since Hitler’s 1944 punishment of Warsaw. Such inhumanity cannot plausibly be described as “anti-terrorism,” as Russian President Vladimir Putin insists. The Russian military leadership claims to be fighting against a party of 700 to 2,000 combatants. What would be said if the British government had bombed Belfast, or if the Spanish government bombed Bilbao, on the pretext of quelling the IRA or the ETA?

And yet the world remains silent in the face of the looting of Grozny and other Chechen towns and villages. Are Chechen women, children and all Chechen civilians less entitled to respect than the rest of mankind? Are they still considered human? Nothing can excuse the seeming indifference displayed by our worldwide silence.

In Chechnya, our basic morality is at stake. Must the world accept the rape of girls who were kidnapped by the occupying forces or their militias? Should we tolerate the murder of children and the abduction of boys to be tortured, broken, and sold back to their families, alive or dead? What about “filtration” camps, or “human firewood”? What about the villages exterminated to set an example? A few NGO’s and some brave Russian and Western reporters have witnessed countless crimes. So we cannot say “we did not know.”

Indeed, the fundamental principle of democracies and civilized states is at issue in Chechnya: civilians’ right to life, including the protection of innocents, widows, and orphans. International agreements and the United Nations Charter are as binding in Chechnya as anywhere else. The right of nations to self-determination does not imply the right of rulers to dispose of their people.

The fight against terrorism is also at stake. Who has not yet realized that the Russian army is actually behaving like a group of pyromaniac firefighters, fanning the fires of terrorism through its behavior? After ten years of a large-scale repression, the fire, far from going out, is spreading, crossing borders, setting Northern Caucasus ablaze and making combatants even more fierce.

How much longer can we ignore the fact that, in raising the bogeyman of “Chechen terrorism,” the Russian government is suppressing the liberties gained when the Soviet empire collapsed? The Chechen war both masks and motivates the reestablishment of a central power in Russia – bringing the media back under state control, passing laws against NGO’s, and reinforcing the “vertical line of power” – leaving no institutions and authorities able to challenge or limit the Kremlin. War, it seems, is hiding a return to autocracy.

Sadly, wars in Chechnya have been going on for 300 years. They were savage colonial conflicts under the Czar and almost genocidal under Stalin, who deported the whole Chechen population, a third of which perished during their transfer to the Gulag.

Because we reject colonial and exterminating ventures, because we love Russian culture and believe that Russia can bloom in a democratic future, and because we believe that terrorism – whether by stateless groups or state armies – should be condemned, we demand that the world’s blackout on the Chechen issue must end. We must help Russia’s authorities escape from the trap they set for themselves and into which they fell, putting not only Chechens and Russians, but the world at risk.

It would be tragic if, during the G8 summit scheduled for St. Petersburg, Russia, in June 2006, the Chechen issue were pushed to the side. This dreadful and endless war needs to be discussed openly if it is to end peacefully.

ANDRE GLUCKSMANN, VACLAV HAVEL, PRINCE HASSAN BIN TALAL, FREDERIK WILLEM DE KLERK, MARY ROBINSON, YOHEI SASAKAWA, KAREL SCHWARZENBERG, GEORGE SOROS AND DESMOND TUTU.