ME and Ophelia

Saturday, August 14, 2004

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This morning, I felt uplifted to read David Clark's report, entitled "In Darfur, the UN veto is proving as deadly as the gun", in today's Guardian because he so brilliantly puts into words what I was trying to articulate in my last few posts here -- about the Obligations and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I've not read of such ideas anywhere else -- so I am relieved to see that I am not alone in my thinking. Clive Soley MP seems to be the only blogger in Britain (that I can find) with political influence who cares to write about the Sudan and failing states and write important papers on the subject.

Having said that though, I must credit Labour MP Tom Watson for responding positively to a comment I left at his blog on June 26, in support of no fly zones over Darfur. Tom is the first British MP to get blogging, he posts almost daily at his award winning blog that covers all sorts of local, national and global issues. Here's hoping Tom will use his talents to focus attention on the problems of a toothless U.N.

The U.N. is a hugely costly organisation that renders its 191 members impotent when it comes to any of them wanting to intervene with humanitarian assistance in countries where genocide and ethnic cleansing are happening. After Rwanda, the West said, never again. Here we are again, ten years later, and all world can do is use its techology to watch and talk about genocide and ethnic cleansing unfolding in slow motion like a horrofic movie. The fact that an unelected dictatorship in Sudan can preside for 15 years over the slaughter of two million Sudanese while rejecting offers of help to provide a safe corridor for humanitarian assistance is, in itself, a crime against humanity.

Please read David Clark's report in full -- it's like he has read my mind and is writing what I am thinking a thousand times more better than I can articulate. He says:

"States that fail to protect the human rights of their own citizens forfeit the sovereign right to non-interference in their internal affairs. Without that principle, the universal declaration of human rights isn't worth the paper it's written on."

PLUS he confirms what can be done about it:

"Only a transfer of power to the general assembly will end this misery"

Here is the report, copied in full:

Today marks the halfway point in the UN security council's 30-day ultimatum to the government of Sudan to disarm the Janjaweed militias, responsible for what is commonly described as the world's worst humanitarian disaster. Already it is apparent that the response of the Islamist regime will be to continue bluffing it out with protests of injured innocence in the hope that the international community eventually gives up and loses interest.

Daily reports of attacks against civilians continue to come in from across Darfur; 30,000 people are said to have fled in the latest round of violence. But far from restraining the militias, the government is providing continued military support for their campaign of ethnic terror. In the past week the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that helicopter gunships had again been used in attacks; and the traumatised victims of earlier atrocities, crammed into refugee camps, continue to suffer violent assaults by the Janjaweed, often under the nose of Sudanese troops supposed to protect them. This is not a little local difficulty; it is a war waged by the government against its people.

To the extent that the authorities have acted at all, it has been to cover up evidence of what is happening. Instead of being disarmed and disbanded, the militias are being integrated into the security forces where they will be less conspicuous. Refugees are being pressured to return to their villages with threats of violence or offers of desperately needed food, only to become victims once again. Those who speak to international observers are being rounded up and imprisoned, according to Amnesty International. And aid workers attempting to get supplies to those most at risk from malnutrition and disease are reporting new government-imposed restrictions on their operations. Everything that is being done is a calculated play for time.

The reaction of the Khartoum regime is scarcely surprising. Little of what the international community has done suggests that the political will exists for any meaningful intervention. The watering down of security council resolution 1556, as a result of pressure from several states, will not have been lost on Sudan's rulers. While the original draft contained an explicit threat of sanctions, the final version did little more than vaguely promise to "consider further actions" in the event of non-compliance. This will have been interpreted, correctly, as a sign of weakness and an indication that little is likely to be done when the UN deadline expires.

Those of the "nothing must be done" persuasion dismiss outside intervention as irresponsible or malevolent, and probably both. Not one of them has suggested a credible way for this hopelessly one-sided conflict to be resolved except for it to run its bloody course. They are entitled to their position, but they are not entitled to deny its human consequences.

Splitting hairs over the definition of genocide or quibbling over how many thousands have been killed doesn't alter the fact that serious crimes against humanity are being committed with every passing day. Nor does the argument that the militias are beyond Khartoum's control. Disputes about whether the regime is orchestrating the violence or has simply lost control of events are unimportant when set against the suffering in Darfur. States that fail to protect the human rights of their own citizens forfeit the sovereign right to non-interference in their internal affairs. Without that principle, the universal declaration of human rights isn't worth the paper it's written on.

Unfortunately, as Darfur illustrates, the UN system is singularly ill-suited to upholding its own stated values. Four of the countries that forced the threat of sanctions to be removed from the security council resolution - Russia, China, Pakistan and Algeria - have extremely poor human rights records. Two are permanent members with the power of veto, commercial ties to the Sudanese government and a strong interest in defending the inviolability of state sovereignty against the humanitarian imperative. Why do they enjoy this privilege? Because almost 60 years ago they happened to be on the winning side in a war.

The veto power of the other permanent members is no less anomalous and no less hypocritical in the uses to which it has been put. America has exercised its veto on 79 occasions, most frequently to shield Israel from international criticism. It has also used the veto to avoid censure for its aggression against Nicaragua, the invasion of Grenada and other misdeeds. Britain and America, with occasional French support, performed the same service for apartheid South Africa throughout the 70s and 80s. With these rules, the aspiration for global justice will always lose out to the reality that there is one law for the "great powers" and their client states, and another law for the rest.

Tony Blair's ambition to establish a new "doctrine of international community" with human rights as its central focus is struggling to make progress in the face of widespread international scepticism. Not all this is due to the fallout over Iraq. Some of it is also prompted by the fact that Blair's apparent enthusiasm for reform does not extend to asking whether it is still legitimate for Britain or any other country to insist that its own interests should take precedence over international law.

If he really wanted to push a radical agenda, he could do worse than propose that the power to impose sanctions and authorise the use of military force should be exercised by the UN membership as a whole. The general assembly has its problems, but is a far more representative body than the security council and is becoming more so with the passage of time. The days when its membership consisted largely of the representatives of military juntas and one-party states are long gone. The remarkable progress of democratic ideas in Latin America, eastern Europe and parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa over the past two decades means that two-thirds of UN members now have elected governments. There is every reason to believe that this figure will continue to rise. Isn't it time for the world body to shake off the colonial assumptions on which it was founded?

When the security council meets at the end of the month to consider Sudan's compliance with resolution 1556, the result is likely to be more paralysis and inaction. If Blair's reaction is to bemoan the unreasonable and unprincipled resort to the politics of the veto, someone should remind him that it's his system too. [end of item]
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Note Friday Aug 13 report from China News: Sudan rejects foreign interference. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said in an interview with CNN that his government will not accept foreign interference in Darfur in any case.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 8/14/2004
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