Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Talk, Talk, Talk at the UN: How Many More Must Die in Darfur?

By Philip M. Stone

GENEVA, Switzerland, July 28, 2004 -- Darfur, in Sudan, is the world's largest self-inflicted humanitarian crisis. Thousands are dead, many thousands more are expected to die before the end of the year, more than one million people are displaced. What is the UN doing about it? It talks and it talks, and it talks. Meanwhile, in Darfur they die, and they die, and they die.

Many of the world's non-governmental agencies are trying to help on the ground in Darfur, and so are UN groups such as its World Food Program feeding the refugees and UNICEF vaccinating children against disease in the refugee camps, but that is just treating the problem, it doesn't resolve it. To resolve it the UN wags its finger, cajoles the government in Sudan, and talks. And meanwhile they continue to die in Darfur at ever increasing rates.

This invites a comparison between how the UN, and the US, handled Iraq and how they treat Darfur. No need to repeat in depth what happened in Iraq -- the US said the government there had committed genocide, Iraq allegedly had weapons of mass destruction, the US said it already had a resolution permitting an armed conflict, and if nothing was resolved by a certain time they were going in. And, right or wrong, go in they did. If nothing else a large number of countries understood from that that if a time ultimatum is issued you had better do something about it before the day, or else.

In Darfur the killing began some 18 months ago. Already at least 30,000 Africans are dead and some estimates say that by the end of the year some 350,000 will be dead. US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN General Secretary Kofi Annan made separate visits to Sudan in early July to persuade the Sudan government to call off what appears to be ethnic cleansing by Arab militia. And still they die in Darfur at increasing rates.

But where are the daily speeches from government leaders on the terror in Sudan; where are the urgent security council resolutions sponsored by the US and others warning "or else". The Sudanese played it smart. No weapons of mass destruction there!

To get international attention the world had to be persuaded that Darfur was not just a humanitarian issue but really genocide. Now the word "genocide" has some connotations in the UN and to Annan personally (remember his UN role in the Rwanda crisis), and the word "genocide" holds some weight in international law. But just think of the number of people who have died while even that much was achieved.

It makes one ask, "Where is the fast-track at the UN?" When diplomats negotiate international borders or which way a river should meander between countries and other such mundane things, they are used to taking years to work everything out in coming to agreement. But when you have humanitarian disasters or genocide on your hands, however, you just don't have that time. People continue to die while the diplomatic niceties continue. So where is the UN procedure for the "niceties"to be speeded up? Where is the Security Council resolution telling Sudan to clean up its act "or else" and "or else" doesn't mean useless trade sanctions which won't affect government leaders but only the man and woman in the street. As it is, the current draft resolution had trade sanctions removed at the request of Arab countries who didn't want to see another Arab country in armed conflict with a coalition of UN forces. No wonder the Sudanese government said they found the resolution quite acceptable.

Whether you agree or not with the US and its coalition going into Iraq, there was a point made by President Bush which the UN is not forgetting. If the UN makes a resolution to do something, then it should do what it says. To ensure it doesn't get into a similar Iraq situation again, the obvious solution for the security council is to provide resolutions without any threat of action. High among the reasons for having a UN is that it can take quick action to prevent the Darfurs of our world. By not doing so it fails us all.

The August holidays are practically with us so we can expect many diplomats will be taking their rest. An agreement was reached in Sudan with the government that conditions are to improve in Darfur within the next 30 days. Just long enough for the August holidays so many diplomats will be taking. No doubt they will tackle Darfur with renewed enthusiasm after the holidays. Of course, many people in those Darfur refugee camps may not make it through August, but, then, you can't have everything.

copyright: Philip M. Stone.

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