It pains me to
admit that I was a government minister at a time when the world failed to act
during the 100 days of the Rwandan genocide, in 1994. Now we are witnessing the
first genocide of the 21st century, but this time the ethnic
cleansing, rape and looting is in Darfur, in the remote western corner of Sudan.
ignorance is no excuse: we cannot pretend we don’t know that the government of Sudan is
arming and directing the mainly Arab Janjaweed militias to act as proxies,
killing its own black African citizens.
The United Nations
Security Council has once again been slow to react, and its resolutions on
Darfur have yet to be enforced, thanks to the business connections enjoyed by
some members of the Security Council with the National Islamic Front government
Britain has led the world in the generosity of its prompt
humanitarian response to the disaster in the refugee camps in Darfur and
neighbouring Chad. Britain has also been
instrumental in encouraging other western nations to build the capacity of the
African Union and its tiny monitoring mission in Darfur. And the British, along with American and African Union officials, have endured
marathon negotiations to clinch a deal of sorts between Khartoum
and the Darfur rebel groups.
Whether the peace deal works will depend largely on the Sudanese government. Freedom House, Transparency International, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch do not hesitate to rank Khartoum as one of the world’s worst totalitarian regimes. Since the military coup in 1989 the Islamic fundamentalists running Sudan have suppressed free speech, jailed, tortured and killed peaceful opponents and journalists, imposed Sharia law on Christians, and armed militias who have caused the deaths of an estimated two million black Africans in southern Sudan and a further 300,000 to 450,000 in Darfur.
Khartoum’s track record at honouring its promises and international obligations is not encouraging. The regime has not fulfilled its commitment to stop arming and enabling the genocidal Janjaweed militias that have rampaged across the remote and arid province of Darfur for the past two years. It has also not abided by UN resolutions, nor pledges made personally to sundry world leaders, including Tony Blair. Kofi Annan determined in a recent report that Khartoum has violated several vital aspects of the peace deal signed in January 2005 with the southern Sudan rebels. Equally disturbing, there are already reports that the Sudanese armed forces have broken the Darfur peace deal.
Against this profoundly depressing backdrop, it is vital that any UN peacekeeping force being sent into Darfur is given sufficient powers to halt the bloodshed. As a young peacekeeper in Cyprus I quickly learned the importance of being able to face an armed and dangerous threat with the international authority to protect civilians and the military muscle to do it.
We must therefore insist the UN ‘blue helmets’ have a beefed up Chapter Six mandate. Merely monitoring events cannot be an option in the face of genocide, and nor is it fair on the soldiers we send to Darfur.
Remember Srebrenica, and Kofi Annan’s words:
“The cardinal lesson of Srebrenica is that a deliberate and systematic attempt to terrorise, expel and murder an entire people must be met decisively with all necessary means and with the political will to carry the policy through to its logical conclusion.”
We must also hold the Sudanese to their commitments, and there is no better way of reminding them of our resolve than by enforcing the existing UN resolutions. In particular we should target sanctions at the architects of the genocide and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, freezing their financial assets and imposing travel bans. Given that members of the Khartoum junta rule Sudan to their own personal advantage, rather than for the benefit of the Sudanese people, it would be very unpopular were we to curtail their shopping trips to Paris.
During the peace talks, the Sudanese officials were known to taunt the Darfur rebels privately, boasting that Khartoum was running rings around the western diplomats. Yet, when the international community has chosen to stand together, and has protested about Sudan’s behaviour, Khartoum has collapsed, like a bully running home in tears because someone punched them back.
Until recently the Sudanese police and army arrested any Darfuri woman who reported being raped: the world protested in unison, and the Sudanese backed down. Khartoum refused to allow 105 Canadian armoured personnel carriers (APC) in for use by the African Union (AU) monitors: the British, and others, raised the issue, and the AU got their APCs.
Every school child knows that bullies need a taste of their own medicine, not a display of weakness. If some reluctant members of the UN cannot be shamed into action by the scale of the ongoing horror in Darfur, then it is time to do the necessary backroom deals to get the doubters to abstain, rather than to block action. Britain must lead the international community in getting tough with Khartoum to make sure the Darfur peace deal is a lasting and meaningful reality, rather than an historical footnote.