Quick to Condemn, World Slow to Deliver Aid to Darfur
Tens of thousands of villagers have been killed in the area and more than one million people forced from their homes after government-backed militias launched a campaign months ago that some observers are labelling "genocide."
In July, the U.N. Security Council issued a 30-day ultimatum to Khartoum to rein in the "janjaweed" fighters, yet on Tuesday reports continued to emerge that ethnic Arab militias are still attacking ethnic African villagers.
While the international community continues to hotly debate what action to take against Khartoum, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has complained that although he appealed for 349 million dollars in humanitarian aid for the region, only 161 million dollars have been pledged so far.
"It is far from clear whether the international community will respond, at least in part because there is a certain numbness that has developed when it comes to crisis in Africa," says Bill Fletcher Jr, executive director of Washington-based TransAfrica Forum.
According to Kwame Akonor, executive director of the New York-based African Development Institute, "historically, the international community has taken a hands-off approach to African conflicts, except in cases where it served the immediate strategic interests of (U.N.) member countries."
"Recent events in the (Democratic Republic of) Congo, Angola and now the accelerating genocide in Sudan bear this out," he told IPS.
Annan has sought troops, weapons and logistical support to bolster the African Union (AU) protection force in Darfur from the current 300 to over 2,000 members.
"If the AU is to deploy a much larger force it will need the support of the international community -- assistance in command and control, logistics and financial support," the secretary-general told reporters last week.
He added that he will send a team of U.N. officials to Addis Ababa to work with the AU "on its requirements, on its needs and how to assist with structuring the force, and to determine the exact requirements so that we can ask capitals for assistance."
According to Fletcher, "there is this sentiment that seems to translate into fatalism: that Africa will always have crises and that nothing can be done."
"This links itself with the larger, racist view of Africa, which downplays black life compared with white life," he added.
Given this sentiment, Fletcher told IPS, "there needs to be continued grassroots outrage and activism in favour of peace, human rights and humanitarian assistance for the people of Darfur".
The atrocities in the region -- where an estimated 30,000 black Africans have been killed and over 1.5 million displaced -- have been committed by militias the Sudanese government has been accused of creating, and of allowing to continue killing. Khartoum has denied both charges.
In its resolution, the Security Council warned the Sudanese government to help contain the widespread atrocities or face possible economic and military sanctions.
Last month the U.S. Congress proclaimed the killings in Darfur tantamount to genocide. But the United Nations, the European Union, the League of Arab States and the administration of U.S. President George W Bush have all refused to use the word "genocide," a label that under international law carries with it obligations, which could include the need for armed intervention by states.
But Akonor described the situation as the attempted destruction of the Fur, Zaghawa and Massaleit peoples.
"It is a government-supported military campaign that is 'deliberately inflicting on (these groups) conditions of life calculated to bring about (their) physical destruction'," he said, citing Article 2 of the 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Whether the language chosen is "ethnic cleansing" (as described by the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch), "crimes against humanity", "ethnic-based murder", or "ethnocide", he added, "the realities clearly match the language defined in the Genocide Convention."
Last week, a British military commander said he is battle-ready to send 5,000 troops to Sudan, if needed. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was quoted as saying that if the United Nations requests it, "there's a good chance that (Australia) will send some troops to Sudan."
But the very idea of a military intervention has generated strong protests from the League of Arab States, whose members say western nations, particularly the United States and Britain, have lost their credibility after invading Iraq in 2003 on the grounds that it was developing weapons of mass destruction -- which have still not been found in the now-occupied country.
Additionally, the discovery of oil in southern Sudan has raised more suspicions of western motives -- as in oil-rich Iraq.
"The tendency is to see anything that comes from the United States as a big lie," says Hassan Abu Taleb, deputy director of the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "Some even doubt the catastrophic images of Darfur because they come from the western media," he added.
Fletcher said the situation in Sudan is complicated. "Many countries are suspicious of the intentions of the United States and Britain, particularly when it comes to foreign military intervention."
That is compounded by "the relative silence by the United States on the atrocities being carried out against the Palestinian people by the Israeli military, where there are few international outcries for intervention," he added.
"At the same time, too many countries wish no obstacles to their relationship with the Khartoum government and fear that stronger action will hurt them," he added.
In any case, said Fletcher, these are excuses in the face of massive deaths, rape and pillage. "While some of the objections may be understood, they cannot be accepted."
Faced with reservations by several key members of the Security Council, including veto-wielding China and Russia, the United States was forced to delete the word "sanctions" from the draft resolution on Sudan last month.
China and Pakistan were the only two countries in the 15-member council that did not vote for the resolution; they both abstained.
"It is rather ironic that in this case the immediate strategic interests of some veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council have led to a lack of swift concerted international action," said Akonor.
"It should come as no surprise that China, for example, opposes the threat of trade sanctions from the West to force the Sudanese government to take action when more than half (53.3 percent) of Sudanese exports went to China in 2002, and China also led the way for imports into Sudan, accounting for 20.1 percent," he added.
"The international community needs to call the crisis what it is -- 'genocide' -- and act swiftly," said Akonor. (Source: IPS, Johannesburg)