Genocide out of control yet still the UN refuses to act
• 35,000 die since UN first warned Sudanese government over its genocidal policy
• Situation in Darfur 'spiralling out of control'
• Critics say UN has failed to grasp urgency of situation in Darfur
"Unless the Security Council backs up its earlier ultimatums with strong action, ethnic cleansing in Darfur will be consolidated. And hundreds of UN personnel will be on the ground helplessly watching as it happens." - Peter Takirambudde of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division
Story in full THE price of the United Nations’ procrastination over the genocide in Sudan is revealed today in stark human terms: 35,000 further deaths since the UN Security Council first warned Khartoum to clean up its act.
As the 15-strong Security Council meets in special session in Nairobi today to debate Sudan, the crisis in Darfur is worse than on 30 July when the first resolution was approved by 13 votes to nil. Every five minutes, another person dies.
UN staff say the Khartoum government’s armed forces have continued to attack their own people. Refugees have been beaten while UN workers stand by helplessly. Women and children have been gunned down in Darfur’s marketplaces. The world’s worst current humanitarian crisis is getting worse.
The death toll has been notoriously difficult to tally, thanks, in large part, to the obstructiveness of the Sudanese government. A figure of 70,000 deaths has been mooted, but aid workers say that simply accounts for deaths as a result of military action. Yesterday, the British aid agency Save the Children took the plunge: its spokesman, Paul Hetherington, estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 people had died since the start of the Darfur conflict.
According to the UN’s World Food Programme, about 10,000 people are dying every month.
Since 13 May, when Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, wrote to Omer al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, urging him to disarm the Janjaweed militias, maintain the ceasefire, improve access for humanitarian workers and negotiate a settlement to the conflict in Darfur, 61,500 have died.
Since 30 June, when Mr Annan arrived in Khartoum for the start of a three-day visit to see for himself the extent of the crisis, 46,000 people have died.
Since 30 July, when the UN Security Council voted to take action against Sudan if it did not make progress on the pledges it had made to relieve the situation in Darfur, 36,000 people have died.
Since 6 October, when Tony Blair stopped off in Khartoum and confidently announced he had secured a pledge from the Sudanese government to clean up its act and accept a five-point plan for action, including a force of several thousand African Union troops, 14,000 people have died.
The situation in Darfur is spiralling out of control. Jan Pronk, Mr Annan’s special representative on Sudan, has warned the Security Council that the Khartoum government is losing control of its own forces and the Janjaweed militias that it used to do its dirty work.
"It co-opted paramilitary forces and now it cannot count on their obedience," he said. "The border lines between the military, the paramilitary and the police are being blurred."
Aid agencies say the UN must act swiftly and decisively if it is to halt the killing and turn around a situation that is slipping from its grasp. They also warn that the Sudanese government is continuing to defy the will of the UN. "The Sudanese government continues to terrorise its own citizens even in the face of the UN Security Council arriving in Africa," said Peter Takirambudde, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division.
"Unless the Security Council backs up its earlier ultimatums with strong action, ethnic cleansing in Darfur will be consolidated. And hundreds of UN personnel will be on the ground helplessly watching as it happens."
However, the chances of the Security Council taking decisive action against Sudan over the Darfur crisis are remote. China and Pakistan abstained from the original resolution. China relies heavily on Sudanese oil exports; in turn, it sells large quantities of arms to the African country. China has made it clear that it will veto any attempt to impose sanctions on the Khartoum regime. And, given that China is a permanent member of the Security Council, that veto will count.
Critics of the UN’s handling of the crisis - and there are many - say that it has failed to grasp the urgency of the situation in Darfur. They say that, as in Rwanda, the genocide will be over by the time the UN raises itself from its torpor.
Yet, this is how the UN works: the main purpose of today’s special meeting of the Security Council is not to address the crisis in Darfur; it is to try to reach a conclusion on Sudan’s north-south civil war, the longest in Africa, which has been raging for 21 years.
It has taken the UN more than two decades to get around to dealing with that crisis. What hope, its critics ask, can there be for those in Darfur? The UN says that if it sorts out the north-south situation, it will improve the circumstances for a solution to the Darfur crisis. Yet it offers no timetable for such action.
Aid agencies trying to pick up the pieces are at the end of their tether. CARE International, Christian Aid, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam International, Save the Children UK and Tearfund, all say violence and insecurity have escalated since the UN became involved. They say something has to give.
"Previous UN resolutions on Darfur have amounted to little more than empty threats, with minimal impact on the levels of violence," said Cynthia Gaigals, on behalf of the agencies. "The Security Council must now outline specific and time-bound compliance measures and agree to implement them if there is no clear and sustained progress. Idle threats from the Security Council have not, and will not, help the people of Darfur."
Yet, idle threats may be the best they can hope for.
When Mr Annan wrote to the Sudanese president in May, it was to warn him that the world was tiring of the killings. We must act, the UN said then, it is urgent.
When Mr Annan travelled to Khartoum in June, the message was the same. We must act, the UN said, it is urgent. When the UN Security Council passed its resolution on 30 July, they were acknowledging that Darfur had become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. We must act, they said, it is urgent.
When they met again in September, they gave Sudan more time. But if it did not comply with their demands, they said, they would act.
So, what of today’s meeting? Today, they will say we must act. It is urgent. But they won’t. And in the time it took to read this, another person died.
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