Tuesday, August 10, 2004

What's in a name?

The European Union has come out on the side of the Sudanese government, the Arab League and the African Union, all well-known supporters of human rights and free speech, and against the United States Congress and, for once, the United Nations.

It is not that the leader of the fact-finding mission in Darfur sent by Javier Solana does not think that there is a problem there. People are being killed in their hundreds, maybe thousands, slowly (Slowly? That sounds extremely nasty.) and villages are being burnt down but – and here is the catch – it is not a genocide. Well goody. That means, presumably, that we can go on sending aid to the Sudanese government and have Sudan on the UN’s Human Rights Commission.

Estimates of those killed in Darfur vary from around 5,000 (Sudanese government estimate) and 30 – 40,000 (all sorts of other organizations). There is no point in coming down on one side or the other, except to point out that the Sudanese government has a track record in mass murder, always maintaining that if anything is going wrong in certain parts of the country, and, as a matter of fact, everybody is exaggerating like mad, it is all the fault of the militias that they cannot control.

That raises one or two questions. For example, do these militias have aeroplanes or do they simply go in on horseback to finish off the business after the villages had been bombed, well, by whom exactly? The Sudanese government has promised on pain of economic sanctions to do more to protect the civilians in Darfur. So far, they have done nothing and there are reports that a number of the “policemen” are simply the old militiamen in uniform.

In the past the problems were in the south and the victims of the non-genocide were African Christians and animists. Now the victims are African Muslims in the west of the country.

The Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has assured all that the government was doing everything it could to protect civilians. In fact, his exact words were that the government was "fulfilling its role completely with regard to the protection of its civilians". Quite a relief really for the civilians. One wonders why they keep running to other countries and into refugee camps.

On the subject of numbers of victims he challenged the international organizations and the American Congress “to bring their names, their families, their tribes, their graves". All in due course, Mr President. In the meantime, he may as well enjoy the fact that the EU is accepting his word on what is and is not happening in Darfur or, indeed, the rest of the country. Anything to oppose the American Congress.

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