Tuesday, August 10, 2004

"Always Again - Sudan" (Norman Geras)

A very useful roundup of the latest (depressing, appalling, disgusting, and discouraging) news by Norman Geras on his weblog. His sense of exasperation and moral outrage (directed at a range of deserving targets) is, as usual, thoroughly justified and expressed in an understated but powerful way.

Jeff Weintraub

Norman Geras
August 10, 2004

Always again - Sudan

There was an article in Friday's Guardian by Jonathan Steele, preferring the route of diplomacy for Sudan over talk of military intervention. In making the argument Steele refers to...

... the cult of impatience, caused by the new craze for humanitarian intervention and the excessive injection of morality into international disputes.
I've already featured some of the content of Amnesty International's recent report concerning rape in Darfur. This piece by Nada Raad in the Lebanon Daily Star includes an account of how the Amnesty report was received by the Sudanese Ambassador:
Sudanese Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammed Bakhit was present at the AI report's release. He denied the allegations against his government.

"The information present in the report is all wrong, and if there were cases of rape in Darfur they would not exceed two cases," he said.

Bakhit distributed a press release prepared by the embassy and said that AI's report is nothing but a campaign to distort the image of the Arab world.

This is reported at greater length in the same newspaper by Julie Flint:
It was a fine idea - to issue Amnesty International's latest report on Darfur, "Rape as a Weapon of War," not in London but in the Middle East and Africa. In Africa, because Sudan is part of Africa; in the Middle East, in Amnesty's own words, "because northern Sudan is part of the Arab-Islamic world, and the government and government-supported militias which are committing horrific human rights violations in Darfur have benefited from the support or silence of Middle Eastern countries."

If there was any doubt about that support or silence, it was dispelled at the issue of the report at the Press Syndicate building in Beirut this week. The opportunity to engage in a debate about the monstrous goings-on in Darfur was lost as Khartoum's ambassador in Lebanon was allowed to hijack the presentation of the report and turn it into a platform for Sudan's lies and propaganda.

Ethnic cleansing by government forces in Darfur? An invention of the people who brought you Abu Ghraib and who lied about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction! (Loud applause.) A conspiracy against the Arabs! (Louder applause.) Rape? What nonsense! Not more than two cases, the ambassador declared - apparently unaware that, under the relentless accumulation of facts, his own government had been compelled to set up committees to investigate accusations of rape in Darfur and help victims through criminal cases.

I recognized few of the faces from the media at the news conference. Where were the grandees of Lebanese journalism, the editorial writers who are respected not only in their own country, but also across the Arab world? Here was a report - researched mainly by Arabs - about a human rights catastrophe that has left 1.5 million Sudanese Muslims homeless and that may kill 300,000 people by year's end. A catastrophe, it has been said, that will probably go down as one of the greatest crimes of our lifetimes. Rwanda in slow motion.

Where were they all? And who was responsible for throwing neutrality in the dustbin by permitting the Sudanese ambassador to speak to his heart's content (and beyond) from a preferential seat on the podium, from where he questioned the integrity of Amnesty International, heaped scorn on human rights concerns and brazenly asserted that he would offer a visa to Sudan - but only to an "Arab" researcher "under my supervision." (Ecstatic applause.)

After the ambassador, it was the turn of a gaggle of well-upholstered ladies in the front row of the audience, all past the age of traveling to war zones and who apparently represented Lebanese non-governmental organizations, or NGOs. Forget the "N," these were GO ladies. They clapped, they cheered, they smiled. They just loved the ambassador. What they didn't do was ask questions or show any interest in what was happening in Darfur. They knew, you see: It's an American plot, a pure invention by the occupiers of Iraq.

But where was America in all this? The report was Amnesty International's and Abu Ghraib is a continent away from Darfur.

There's rape in every society, one GO lady declared. But not on this scale, madam, and not by men wearing the uniforms of their country. Trust me, I've been there; you haven't. Why, she asked, was Amnesty International interested only in Sudan? It's not, of course: The report is part of a wide-ranging Amnesty campaign called "Stop Violence Against Women." But these women neither knew nor cared. This was "Arabism" at is most ignorant, its most ugly, its most cruel; blind, uncaring and bigoted.

Please read the rest of Julie Flint's article (which is also here). On the ground, the attacks are reported to be continuing:
Scores of terrorised Sudanese refugees who believed government promises that the local Janjaweed Arab fighters had been reined in have been viciously attacked just days after they returned home.

Mounted on camels and waving Kalashnikovs, marauding militiamen rode into the fields near Fasha, 20 miles north of the provincial capital Nyala, on Thursday morning and hunted down black African peasant farmers planting sorghum.

The murderous raid, one of many in recent days across the desolate terrain of Darfur, made a mockery of Khartoum's claims that it is bowing to international pressure to restore security to western Sudan.

Refugees are still moving across the border into Chad:
As the first rains of the wet season promise fresh water to drink along the way, more Sudanese refugees are fleeing the Janjaweed militias in the Darfur region and filtering across the western border into Chad. This wave of new arrivals is creating fresh burdens for a poor country already coping with nearly 200,000 refugees from the 18-month conflict in western Sudan.

Many of those displaced by the Darfur conflict say they prefer to make the treacherous journey to the relative safety of Chad rather than resign themselves to squalid, government-run camps or so-called safe zones in Sudan, which are still well within the reach of the Janjaweed fighters.
''The Janjaweed burned our village. They took about 20 of our men, tied their hands together, and shot them all. Many of the women were raped and kidnapped," said [Goyra] Borgo in a near whisper, almost hiding behind the tangle of mukheit branches holding up her canopy. ''After that, we stayed in the mountains away from the Janjaweed and waited for the rain."

>From within the Janjaweed militia there is confirmation of government involvement in their activities:
Elders from the Janjaweed Arab militia blamed for the world's worst refugee crisis have confirmed they were mobilised by Sudan's government last year to suppress a black peasant revolt in Darfur, and that they are still receiving orders from Khartoum.
"Last year they came to us and asked us to fight. We gave men and we attacked the villages they were using. We did what they asked of us," said Emir Ali Maljurhim, one of the elders, speaking through a translator.

Khartoum insists there is no connection between its forces and the militia and, on Friday, it promised to set up safe areas for uprooted black Africans from Darfur and to disarm any marauding Janjaweed. The "plan of action for Darfur" was reached after talks with Jan Pronk, a United Nations envoy, and if successful would help Sudan avoid sanctions. It is expected to be ratified by the UN tomorrow.

But the Janjaweed... are far removed from the diplomatic niceties of UN headquarters in New York. Maljurhim's interview - along with others conducted with local government employees and the Sudanese army - present a frightening picture of a scorched earth policy that is continuing.

The Arab countries have come to the defence of the Sudanese government, saying it needs more time:
Cairo - Arab states rallied around Sudan yesterday in its bid to avoid sanctions over the conflict in Darfur, calling for an extension to a United Nations-imposed deadline of 30 days to resolve the crisis.

Khartoum should be given an "adequate time frame . . . to meet its commitments" to the United Nations, Arab League foreign ministers said in a declaration after an extraordinary meeting in the Egyptian capital. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit told reporters that Sudan may need as long as 120 days to bring the situation under control.

(Also here.) And here is a further delay, for fear of 'colonialism':
The African Union has delayed any decision on plans to deploy African peacekeepers to Darfur.

Sudan rejected an AU proposal to send some 2,000 peacekeepers in the region saying it could amount to colonialism.

There may be a case for diplomacy as opposed to intervention, though given what has already happened and seems to be continuing to happen I personally don't find that case compelling. However, Jonathan Steele's suggestion that it's only those favouring some speedier and more decisive action who are guilty of the 'excessive injection of morality into international disputes' is merely quaint. The international order as is, one that repeatedly allows governments to brutalize and slaughter the peoples they rule over, already embodies a grim morality of its own - in need of being comprehensively re-cast.