Thursday, September 30, 2004

Julie Flint - Darfur & the Insecurity Council (Beirut Daily Star)

To repeat Michael Walzer's lapidary formulation (

It is a good idea to strengthen the UN and to take whatever steps are possible to establish a global rule of law. It is a very bad idea to pretend that a strong UN and a global rule of law already exist.

Jeff Weintraub

Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
September 28, 2004

On Darfur, behold the Insecurity Council

By Julie Flint
Special to The Daily Star

Julie Flint researched and co-authored a recent Human Rights Watch report on Darfur, "Darfur Destroyed." She wrote this commentary for The Daily Star.

The UN Security Council this week begins a third round of deliberations on Darfur, where as many as 10,000 people are now dying every month. The council is unlikely to do more than it has in the 10 months since a UN official first called the calculated slaughter by the government of Sudan "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world." It will "urge ... reiterate ... demand," but do nothing that will force a change of behavior on Khartoum. Thus will it ensure once again that it fails to live up to its "primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security," as set out in Article 1 of the UN Charter.

The Insecurity Council - let's call a spade a spade here - is an unrepresentative, undemocratic, unmonitored forum that has failed twice in the last decade to do anything whatsoever to respond to mass murder: first in Rwanda, in 1994, and now in Darfur. What it does - or, more to the point, doesn't do - is determined by five nations who have a right of veto simply because they were on the winning side of a war that took place more than half-a-century ago, in a very different world.

The five permanent members of the Security Council are today the largest arms traders in the world, investing billions of dollars in the research, development and manufacture of lethal weapons. Because of their veto power, they determine the final shape of decisions with which all UN member states are obliged to comply. But they are wholly unrepresentative of the present membership of the UN - especially the countries of the southern hemisphere - and such critical regions as Africa, Latin America and the Arab and Islamic worlds are all excluded from their charmed circle.

The reports of the African Union's hopelessly overstretched, under-resourced monitoring force in Darfur should leave no doubt about the veracity, or lack thereof, of Khartoum's insistence that the bloodshed in Darfur is merely a local difficulty, regrettable trouble among tribes. Despite the AU's best efforts, its mission chief, Colonel Anthony Amedoh of Ghana, lamented in an interview with The Scotsman newspaper this month that "everything is falling apart." He remarked: "There are so many clear violations by the Sudanese government. They're using aircraft where they're not supposed to and they're moving their forces all the time. They are not complying at all, but we can't stop them from violating the cease-fire, we can just report it. They just deny it and don't stop what they are doing."

But just as America prevented any action against its ally Israel during the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, so China, Khartoum's largest arms supplier and all-important partner in oil exploration and exploitation, will ensure that no action is taken to halt the government-sponsored death and destruction in Darfur.

The Security Council passed its first, derisory resolution on Darfur on July 30 - 16 months after the crisis erupted. It set a 30-day deadline for the regime to act on disarming and bringing to justice the so-called Janjaweed, its proxy militia in Darfur, but failed to threaten Khartoum with any specific sanctions in the event of noncompliance. A second resolution on Sept. 18 threatened "additional measures" - an oil embargo or sanctions against individual members of the regime - if Khartoum persisted in ignoring the UN's demands. Oil embargo? Fat chance. China will veto. The ink wasn't dry on the September resolution before Beijing made that very clear. It said it would reject any resolution that sought to impose sanctions on Khartoum. Hands will be wrung, but nothing will be done. The killing in Darfur will continue.

Security Council reform has been on the UN's agenda for more than a decade, and has been stuck in the mud for almost as long - not least because those who most benefit from the status quo are also those who must approve the council's transformation. A 16-member group - the so-called High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change - has a Dec. 1 deadline to present to Secretary General Kofi Annan recommendations on how the UN can transform itself into an organization for the 21st century. The group is said to favor expanding the council from two tiers of 15 members to three tiers of 24 members. But composition is only part of the problem - some believe the lesser part.

The Security Council decides UN policy in secret session. It is wholly unaccountable. It debates behind closed doors and its deliberations remain behind closed doors. In her book, "Conspiracy to Murder," a detailed account of the planning and execution of the Rwandan genocide, British journalist Linda Melvern revealed that in the first three weeks of the genocide, when 10,000 people on average were being killed every day, the council did not discuss at any length this slaughter of civilians. The United States and Britain rejected suggestions that the UN's small and wholly inadequate peacekeeping force in Rwanda should be reinforced. Their reason? "Economy."

"It is only by reporting the decision-making within the council - holding the governments to account for their decisions - that there can ever be any meaningful reform," Melvern says. "What happened over Rwanda is one of the greatest scandals of our age. To blame the UN Security Council is a tactic for avoiding scrutiny. The founders of the UN intended that each country justify its own policy in public session. This is not the way it works anymore."

In April 1994, the then president of the Security Council, New Zealand Ambassador Colin Keating, suggested that council meetings be videotaped and a copy of the video given to each member government to show how "UN policy" was decided by the few. Many of us have suggested that the Sudanese officials responsible for the government's militia policy be named and shamed, and subjected to targeted sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans.

But it's surely also time to name and shame those in the Security Council whose actions make the body that is responsible for the maintenance of global well-being unworthy of its name.