As the Olympic torch continues its controversial ‘long march’ towards
Beijing, the placard-wielding demonstrators lining the route have a
litany of concerns: political prisoners, falun gong, Tibet, Burma and
Taiwan. On today’s Global Day for Darfur, the focus will be on China’s
economic and diplomatic support for the military regime in Khartoum.
The issue has already led Steven Spielberg to pull out of being the
head filmmaker for the Olympics, wishing to avoid playing a Leni
Reifensteil-esque role in legitimising the 2008 Olympics.
But China is not the only country whose policies towards Sudan need to
change. Instead of smugly congratulating ourselves about our
enlightened approach, we in the West need to do more to help secure an
end to the violence in strife-torn Sudan.
At the start of the year, after much diplomatic argy-bargy, the UN agreed to deploy 26,000 troops to Darfur to bolster the struggling African Union mission. But today only 10,000 troops are on the ground – and they lack basic equipment like helicopters to get around. The humanitarian situation is dire, with over two million people living in desperate refugee camps and aid workers at daily risk of harassment, hijack and murder. Gordon Brown has talked the talk about imposing sanctions on spoilers of the peace – but renegade rebel groups and government forces are still wreaking havoc. Sudanese bombers have been flying with impunity. Astonishingly, there is no UN arms embargo on Sudan. And there’s been a real failure to confront the wider national and regional problems that Sudan faces.
The conflict has been raging for five years now. Yesterday was the fifth international Day for Darfur – and the way things are going, there will be many more. We’ve had video messages and warm words from our Government ministers for long enough. We now need tougher, targeted sanctions on the men of violence, greater support for the beleaguered UN-AU mission, an immediate arms embargo, and a reinvigorated peace process to address the root causes of the conflict.
Fourteen years ago this week, the Rwandan genocide began in all its horror. Darfur in 2008 is not Rwanda in 1994. But the shocking events there underline the need for continued vigilance in Darfur – and for the current half-hearted and frustratingly slow international response to move up a gear. If we don’t, it will be Britain, America and Europe – as well as China – that will have blood on our hands and a stain on our conscience.