Sunday, September 12, 2004

The "g" word reappears

Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that, having studied the findings of experts who had gone to Darfur in July, he has decided that genocide had occurred in the area through the actions of the Janjaweed militia groups, backed by the Sudanese government.

The United Nations, in his opinion, should treat the situation as such and impose various penalties. Congress has already passed a resolution declaring the situation in Sudan genocide, and those who think American foreign policy will be different, should John Kerry be elected in November, might like to know that he has called for tougher action by the United States.

For the record, the victims of the many murders, rapes, tortures and ethnic cleansing in western Sudan are Muslim but not Arab. For some reason, however, other Islamic and African countries have been very slow about even criticizing the developments in Darfur.

Well, the Americans have made their views known. But, as all right-thinking Europeans know, the Americans are unsophisticated, gung-ho, outdated power freaks. They see everything in black and white. They look at a situation in which something like 50,000 people have been killed, unknown numbers tortured and raped, 1.5 million made homeless through ethnic cleansing and think that this is not very nice. In fact, it is genocide or something approaching it.

Not so the sophisticated EU representatives. ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian office says that the situation is unstable and will remain that for at least another 18 months. One ECHO source said:
“While I can be hopeful that the health needs of the refugees can be met, I can’t be hopeful about the security side of things. People across Darfur are scared out of their wits.”
How very unreasonable of them. And while we are on the subject, why is ECHO still being only hopeful about the health needs of the refugees, not to mention unhopeful about everything else? As we have already written, the EU has supposedly spent 104 million euros since the beginning of the year to try to solve the Darfur crisis and help the victims of the Janjaweed violence. When are we going to be told what that rather large sum of money has achieved?

Meanwhile, the refugees in the Fatta Barnu camp in Kutum, northern Darfur, run by the Spanish Red Cross and the Irish relief agency Goal, have kept a log of events. It seems that members of the militias enter the camp regularly, threaten the refugees there, take away their last few possessions and exit again, firing into the air. I suppose one can say that the NGOs are achieving something. The guns could so easily have been pointed at the unfortunate refugees, who are sitting ducks in the camp.

Not all is lost, however. ECHO is planning to open an office in Darfur to co-ordinate its relief activities by the end of the month. It will be headed by an experienced aid professional, António Fernandez de Velasco. He has, apparently, worked in Moscow on the humanitarian response to the war in Chechnya. A man clearly used to success in his endeavours. One hopes the people of Darfur will fare better than the Chechnyans.

The European Parliament is expected to pass a resolution on the Darfur sitation in next week’s plenary session. That will come in useful, I don’t doubt. They, too, had sent a delegation to Darfur, which came back, saying that they were not sure that the “g” word could be used about what is happening there. In a typically sophisticated, nuanced response the European Parliament will probably urge a visa ban on members of the Khartoum government and a freezing of assets. Remembering what has happened since similar sanctions had been imposed on Zimbabwe, I doubt if those members of the Khartoum government are exactly shaking in their shoes.

According to Emma Bonino, the former Commissioner for humanitarian affairs, now MEP, the European Parliament is unlikely to call the situation in Darfur genocide, explaining:
“To define that exactly, you first need to have a legal enquiry.”
Mercifully, the unfortunate people of Darfur need never know how greatly their sufferings have augmented the air miles collected by various MEPs and other euro-functionaries.

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