Sunday, October 08, 2006

Darfur - A call for action from 25 human-rights & humanitarian organizations

Here is the announcement on the Physicians for Human Rights website:
25 Human Rights, Humanitarian and Conflict Prevention Organizations Call for Aggressive Diplomacy with the Sudanese Government
In a statement released on September 13, an international coalition of 25 human rights, humanitarian and conflict prevention organizations condemned the Government of Sudan’s (GOS) recent military build-up and intensifying attacks on civilians in northern Darfur.
The statement goes on to call for serious and immediate action to "intensify" diplomatic pressure on the Khartoum regime and "to protect the people of Darfur regardless of the acquiescence of the Sudanese Government." Signatories include Amnesty International/USA, Physicians for Human Rights, Refugees International, Aegis Trust (UK), Africa Action, Sudanese Organization Against Torture (SOAT), Human Rights First, Urgence Darfour (France), Genocide Watch, and the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.

The statement itself (HERE) is worth reading in full, since it is brief and gets right to the key points. It stresses, above all, the urgent and desperate need for genuinely serious action.
In summary, we call on the international community to significantly intensify diplomatic efforts with the Government of Sudan while concurrently planning for the rapid deployment of an adequately funded and well-equipped UN force to protect the people of Darfur regardless of the acquiescence of the Sudanese Government. [emphasis added --JW]
Clearly, that last point is both the most crucial and the most problematic. Whether or not it would be politically viable to carry out such a humanitarian intervention without the acquiescence of the Khartoum regime is open to question. (Certainly the UN could never undertake it, given the position of Khartoum's friends on the UN Security Council.) And as a practical solution, it would involve both risks and potentially serious side-effects of its own.

But the key point is that, as long as the Khartoum regime believes that it can continue to block any serious action with impunity, it will will do so, and toothless resolutions about the Darfur atrocity whose implementation depends on the agreement of the perpetrators are therefore farcical. A credible threat of a possible humanitarian intervention without their acquiescence would certainly help give some teeth to the concerted political and diplomatic pressure that needs to be brought to bear on the Khartoum criminals. If such an option is simply ruled out from the start, that would be an admission that none of the hand-wringing about the Darfur atrocity is actually serious, and that the Genocide Convention, international law, and the UN's officially declared "responsibility to protect" innocent civilians from large-scale atrocities all mean nothing.

Not everyone is blind to the compelling logic of this situation. As Eric Reeves pointed out on September 24 (in A Spectacle of Impotence at the UN):
A number of US senators have also spoken out forcefully on the need for urgent UN deployment, including Russ Feingold, Barack Obama, and Patrick Leahy. Leahy (D-Vermont) argued explicitly that the world must be prepared to consider non-consensual deployment:

“Finally, in circumstances like this, the United Nations should be empowered to deploy troops to prevent the mass murder of civilians, irrespective of the stubborn, self-serving opposition of the government of the country.” (Text from Senate floor address by Senator Patrick Leahy on the crisis in Darfur, September 19, 2006).

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy recently became the first senior French official to declare realities in Darfur to be genocide, and pushed for serious consideration of non-consensual deployment:

“France's Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy has raised the possibility of sending UN peacekeeping troops to Darfur, even in the face of resistance from Sudan. ‘We don't have a right to let these women and children die,’ said Douste-Blazy. ‘Do we go there [Darfur], in spite of [Khartoum’s refusal to accept a UN force]?’ Douste-Blazy told reporters [September 6, 2006]. ‘That's not on the table, nobody has asked the question like that. But it's a real question.’” (Spiegel [on-line], Germany, September 15, 2006)

In the interim, many other voices have been raised, including an increasing number of prominent editorial pages calling for non-consensual deployment of the UN force authorized by Security Council Resolution 1706, including that of the Chicago Tribune (September 18, 2006), as well as the New York Times:

“[The] message [to Khartoum] would be even stronger if Mr. Bush said the US would take the lead in soliciting troops for the UN and recommended making NATO planners available to help draw up contingency plans for a possible forced entry.” (New York Times editorial, September 19, 2006)

The authority and prospects for such non-consensual intervention have been subject to a good deal of ill-informed and tendentious commentary, particularly by British writers in The Guardian. So it is especially useful that Ian Davis (The Guardian [on-line], September 16, 2006) clears away much of the smug foolishness embodied in commentators such as Jonathan Steele, Daniel Davis, and Simon Jenkins (the latter infamously wrote in 1994 an essay for The Times of London entitled “Leave Rwanda Alone”):

“The 2005 [UN] World Summit outcome document endorsed the ‘responsibility to protect civilians’ concept, and in April 2006, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1674 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Resolution 1674 contains the historic first official security council reference to the responsibility to protect: it ‘reaffirms the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.’”

Paragraph 139 of the UN World Summit “Outcome Document” could not be more explicit in declaring that the international community must be,

"prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case by case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law.”

If these words have no compelling force in Darfur today, then the very notion of a “responsibility to protect” civilians at risk has been stillborn.

At the moment, the government in Khartoum seems to have concluded that the so-called "international community" does not really have the will or intention to do anything serious to stop the ongoing atrocity in Darfur. And unfortunately, unless some things change fairly drastically, this diagnosis looks all too plausible. At this point, only a public outcry that puts real political pressure on governments in North America and western Europe (especially the latter) can help change this situation. In this connection, Gramsci's dictum is appropriate:

Pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will,
Jeff Weintraub