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Crisis before our eyes: Darfur

by Archives March 14, 2007

The failure of the United Nations in taking coercive action in Darfur, despite ample evidence of the need to restrain the Janjaweed rebellion, was the theme of a conference March 9 entitled “A Crisis before our eyes: Darfur.”

“We must match rhetoric with reality and principle with practice. This is not what we are seeing in Darfur,” said the former dean of the McGill faculty of Law, Peter Leuprecht.

Leuprecht said that a 2005 report produced by the UN’s Security Council lists evidence of widespread violations of international law, crimes against humanity and sex crimes committed by the government-supported Janjaweed rebels.

While the UN had adopted a chapter seven mandate that gives them the option of using coercive action, it has had to rely on implementing the Darfur Peace Agreement and the N’djamena Agreement on Humanitarian Cease-fire, neither of which have been respected.

And while Resolution 1706 proposed the intensification of the mission, including a provision for the deployment of 17,300 UN troops, the UN is restrained by the principle of state sovereignty. Under international law, consent of the Government of National Unity of Sudan is needed for deployment.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has continuously dashed hopes of deploying UN peacekeepers.

Fighting in Darfur began in February 2003 when rebels from non-Arab tribes took up arms against the Arab-dominated government, citing decades of neglect and discrimination.

According to Leuprecht, the government response to this uprising has resulted in over 200,000 killings and two million displaced refugees. Four million people depend on aid to survive and countless women have been raped. An estimated 200 people are killed daily. Darfurian refugee Fashid Baradi compared this to “a 9/11” every two weeks for two years, and there is no end in sight.

The 7,000 African Union (AU) forces in Sudan are grossly under-funded and can do little in fighting the Janjaweed.

The U.S. has lead the battle, in some ways, by declaring Darfur a ‘genocide’ in 2004 and supporting Resolution 1706. However, Leuprecht said this is of little help because the U.S. is “highly discredited in the Arab world.” He said there is also evidence of the American government co-operating with Sudanese secret services regarding the War on Terror.

Britain and other European nations have proposed further sanctions on Sudan to force the government’s hand. However, it is believed that Russia and China, two of five permanent members of the Security Council, would use their veto power to obstruct this process.

China was one of three abstentions to Resolution 1706. Chinese oil and military interests in Sudan have proven to be a constant disruption to UN objectives.

There are currently 18 non-governmental organizations operating in Darfur with a total of 13,000 workers. Leuprecht said that while “human rights organizations have been doing impressive work,” they have recently become a target which has caused them to retreat from rural areas, where they are most needed, to the cities.

The government adopted a new visa law which makes it extremely hard to recruit volunteers. The Janjaweed also often block international humanitarian access.

Another speaker at the conference was the head of the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies. Concordia professor Frank Chalk has conducted an extensive study of the Sudanese media.

Chalk said the government uses propaganda to convince its population that the crisis in Darfur is an invention of the Western media through a Zionist, pro-Israeli agenda. The government continuously represents the UN as a hostile force bent on re-colonizing Sudan.

While the UN has reason for its inability to fully use its chapter seven mandate, the question must still be asked: how can the killing be stopped?

Baradi called for an immediate commissioning of 20,000 UN troops with a stronger mandate to support the current AU mandate, regardless of international limitations. He also called for countries like Canada, who do not have a conflict of interest and are not discredited by the rest of the world, to take leadership in the process.

Fashid called upon Canadian citizens to do what they can. He said that change can come if Canadians “write to their MPs, sign petitions, decorate their neighbourhoods with posters, write letters to newspaper editors and host events in support of Darfurian refugees.”

One such event takes place March 15 as Stand Canada holds a “Rock for Darfur” benefit concert at Club Lambi.

Their website, www.standcanada.org, presents all the information for contacting your local MP and encouraging them to support Canadian participation in the UN mission.

Senator Romeo Dallaire speaks March 16 at UQAM at a conference organized by Save Darfur Canada.The former Major General of the UN’s UNAMIR mission in Rwanda will be discussing his understanding of the possible solutions to the crisis in Darfur.

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