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United Nations

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No Genocide in Darfur

2 October 2006

No Genocide in Darfur

By Gwynne Dyer

On one issue, at least, George Bush and George Clooney are in perfect accord: what is happening in Darfur is a genocide, and Something Must Be Done. But it isn’t a genocide, and Nothing Will Be Done.

“What you’ll hear is, well, the government of Sudan must invite the United Nations in for us to act,” said President George W. Bush in mid-September. “Well, there are other alternatives, like passing a UN resolution saying we’re coming in with a UN force in order to save lives.” But for all Bush’s tough talk, he wasn’t really ready to fight his way into Darfur, so the actual UN resolution says that Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir must approve the force. “Philanthropic imperialism” has a dwindling constituency in Washington.

Actor George Clooney is still up for it, though. If the proposed force of 20,000 UN troops was not in Darfur by the end of September, he told the United Nations Security Council three weeks ago, the scene will be set for “the first genocide of the 21st century.” There would be no point in sending UN troops later: “You will simply need men with shovels and bleached linen and headstones.” As if the UN could actually come up with 20,000 troops to send, and would authorise them to fight their way into Sudan against Bashir’s will.

The end-of-September deadline for putting a 20,000-strong force of United Nations troops into Darfur, including large numbers of soldiers drawn from NATO countries, was always a fantasy. The deadline has passed without any softening of the Sudanese government’s total rejection of the plan, and no Western troops are heading for Sudan any time soon. Instead, the existing force of 7,000 troops from African Union countries that tries to protect the refugee camps, under-equipped and poorly supplied though it is, will stay at least until the end of the year.

This is the best available outcome, and may even save some tens of thousands of lives — especially if the Western countries now give that African Union force the money, fuel, night-flying helicopters and other resources it needs to do the job. It will continue to be grim in Darfur, but at least the West has avoided a military intervention in Africa that would have made the Somalia debacle in 1992-93 look like a success story.

Darfur, the western region of Sudan, is as big as France, but it has only six million people. They are all black Africans and all Muslims, but some were Arabised long ago, while other groups, notably the Zaghawa and the Fur, have retained their original African languages and ethnic identities. (Darfur means “home of the Fur”.) Resources are scarce, and the various groups are often in conflict over them.

Nevertheless, Darfur remained relatively quiet during the dreadful war (two million dead in the past twenty years) between the African ethnic groups of southern Sudan, where most people are Christians or animists, and the Muslims of the Arabised north who dominated Sudan’s government, army and economy. It was the peace settlement between north and south in 2003 that triggered the revolt in Darfur.

That peace deal gave the southern rebels a share in the central government, a half-share of the oil revenues now pouring in from wells that are mostly located in “southern” territory, and the right to a referendum on independence from Sudan in six years’ time. So some leaders of the Zaghawa and the Fur decided to emulate the southerners: launch a revolt in Darfur, and try to cut a similar deal with Khartoum in return for ending it.

The regime in Khartoum used the same tactic that it had employed extensively in the war in the south: it armed and paid Arabised groups (the Janjaweed militia) to fight the rebels. And just as in the south, the bulk of the victims were innocent civilians. A great many people died, and almost half the population fled to refugee camps that sprang up inside Darfur and across the frontier in Chad.

International aid agencies try to care for the refugees and the African Union sent a 7,000-strong force to protect them, but none of the foreigners took sides in the fighting. At peace talks in Abuja last May Khartoum offered the rebels posts in the provincial government and a share of oil revenues, and one rebel group, Minni Minawi’s Sudan Liberation Army, accepted the deal. However, two rival groups didn’t — and even the SLA split, with breakaway factions joining the rejectionists to form the National Redemption Front.

In July fighting resumed, with Minnawi’s SLA now cooperating with government troops and the Janjaweed against the remaining rebels. What is needed is not outside military intervention against either side, but a return to the peace table. Alex de Waal, an advisor to the African Union mediation team at the talks, reckons that another $100 million on the table would probably have persuaded most of the rebel hold-outs to accept the deal.

Darfur is not another Rwanda, another Cambodia, another Holocaust in the making, as the “Never Again” slogans of protesters in the West suggest. It is a cruel war of a kind lamentably common in Africa, and the most useful thing non-Africans can do is to support the African Union’s mediators and its troops on the ground.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 3. (“What…will”)

United Nations Reform

11 September 2005

United Nations Reform

By Gwynne Dyer

If we set out to create a farm in the wilderness, we should not expect the top local predators to help. We have our interests, and they have theirs: as our little patch of order spreads, their ability to hunt freely and dominate the local environment will be increasingly constrained. So we should not be surprised that John Bolton is trying to sabotage the reform of the United Nations.

The United States ambassador to the UN, recently appointed by President Bush in defiance of Congress’s wishes, believes that if the United Nations is not an instrument of American power, then it is an obstacle to the free exercise of American power. There is no point in getting angry about that. He and his neo-conservative colleagues are deeply traditional men and women who see world politics as a zero-sum game in which there are only winners and losers, and they believe that America’s best chance of remaining a winner is to preserve the world as a free-fire zone for the exercise of US military and economic power.

That is why Bolton, at the last moment, entered over 400 objections to the draft agreement on the changes that are needed to make the UN relevant to the challenges of the 21st century. About 175 heads of state and heads of government will be in New York by Wednesday for a three-daysession to mark the UN’s 60th anniversary and approve the landmark document that has been under negotiation for the past year, but the last-minute US intervention has re-opened many issues that were all but settled and it is doubtful that there will even be a final document by Friday.

This is not necessarily an deliberate American stratagem. The Senate’s refusal to confirm Bolton as ambassador to the UN distracted the White House from the actual negotiations underway at the UN, and in any case the Bush administration has always been sloppy and offhand about the nitty-gritty of detail work. For example, US negotiators at the UN originally proposed that only democratic countries should be eligible for membership on the new Human Rights Council that is to replace the old and discredited Human Rights Commission.

Fair enough: it made no sense that oppressive countries like Sudan and Libya which abuse human rights themselves should sit in judgement on others. But how do you define “democratic countries”? American negotiators suggested that they could be defined simply as those countries that have signed the major international treaties on human rights – and then hastily withdrew their suggestion when they realised that that would disqualify the United States itself from membership.

Such difficulties can be resolved by creative diplomacy: you just require that countries be elected to the Human Right Commission by a two-thirds majority in the UN General Assembly, which allows even a minority of fully democratic countries to block any undesirable candidate without the need to define “democratic”. But what Bolton dropped into the laps of the negotiators, only three weeks before the UN summit opened, was quite different. He effectively demanded that the draft be torn up and rewritten to suit US tastes.

Bolton demanded that all references to climate change be removed, and likewise all references to wealthy countries like the US committing to a goal of 0.7 percent of their gross national product in foreign aid. There was to be no special help for developing countries to join the World Trade Organisation, and no commitment by nuclear-weapons countries to work towards nuclear disarmament. There should be no reference to the International Criminal Court (which the US is trying to destroy), and no reference either to the UN Millennium Development Goals on poverty, education, disease, trade and aid.

Passages promising a larger role for the General Assembly were to be struck out, as was the promise to create a standing military capacity for UN peacekeeping. Gone was the reaffirmation that “the use of force should be considered as an instrument of last resort,” the promise to “encourage pharmaceutical companies to make anti-retroviral drugs affordable and accessible in Africa,” and any legal responsibility for the Security Council to authorise intervention to stop genocides and ethnic cleansing. Bolton even wanted to remove the phrase “respect for nature” from the section on Values and Principles.

Since the core project of expanding the Security Council has already been postponed for several months in the face of apparently irreconcilable ideas about how to do it (and may actually be postponed for years), Bolton’s demands pretty much pulled the rug out from under the whole UN reform project. In three weeks of hectic negotiations, his only significant retreat has been to permit a reference to the “Millennium Development Goals”. So the choice effectively becomes to let the Bush administration gut the reform process – or to let it fail for now.

The option of pressing ahead without American participation, as was done with the Kyoto accord, the International Criminal Court and a number of other recent international initiatives, does not exist in this case, for the US is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council and also contributes a quarter of the UN’s budget. But the current US administration and its extreme world-view do not represent the views of all Americans – the United States was, after all, the original moving spirit behind the principles of the United Nations – and President Bush will not be in power forever.

“There is no such thing as the United Nations,” Bolton once said. “There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States.” That sums up the neo-conservatives’ view of the world, but their political power is waning as their Iraq adventure collapses and their inability to cope even with domestic disasters becomes plain. Rather than agree to an inadequate document now and foreclose the possibility of further reform for many years to come, it would be better to let the current attempt fail and try again in three years’ time.


This article is longer than usual, at 1000 words. To shorten to 725 words,omit paragraphs 4, 5 and 6. (“This is not…tastes”)

United Nations Anniversary

22 June 2005

United Nations Anniversary

By Gwynne Dyer

“The great force on which we must rely is the hatred of the cruelty
and waste of war which now exists. As soon as the war is over the process
of oblivion sets in…,” Lord Robert Cecil wrote as the war drew to an end.
“It is only, therefore, while the recollection of all we have been through
is burning fresh that we can hope to overcome the inevitable opposition and
establish…a new and better organisation of the nations of the world.”

Cecil, a member of Britain’s Imperial War Cabinet, wrote that at
the end of the First World War, and the organisation he hoped could prevent
another such war was the League of Nations. It failed, of course, and so we
got the Second World War, which killed five times as many people. By the
end of that one, nuclear weapons were being dropped on cities — so the
victors had no choice but to clone the League, making some significant
improvements, and try again. Sixty years ago this Sunday (26 June), the
Charter of the United Nations was signed by fifty nations in San Francisco.

There was not a single idealist among the men and women who signed
the Charter. They were badly frightened people who had lived through the
worst war in human history and who feared that an even worse one lay in
wait for their children. They were so frightened that they were even
willing to give up the most important aspect of national sovereignty: the
right to wage war against other countries. Six decades later, how is their
organisation doing?

Two things cannot be denied: the UN has already survived three
times longer than its ill-starred predecessor, and the great war it was
meant to prevent has not happened. In the various crises that might have
ended with the superpowers sliding into a nuclear war — the Cuban crisis
of 1962, the Middle East war of 1973, and so on — the United Nations
Security Council was an essential forum for negotiations, and the Charter
provided a new kind of international law that the rivals could defer to
without losing face when they wanted to back away from the crisis.

So why is the United Nations so widely disdained today? One reason
is that Lord Robert Cecil was right: “the process of oblivion sets in”
quickly, and later generations cannot remember why it was so supremely
important to create an organisation to prevent further great-power wars.
Besides, the UN isn’t really all that widely disdained.

It gets a bad press in the United States, but that is mainly
because it acts as a brake on the untrammelled exercise of American
military power. It’s still quite popular in most of the world, although it
continues to annoys nationalists in all the great powers — and at the
other extreme, it frustrates and infuriates all the idealists who want it
to be about justice and democracy and maybe even brotherly love.

It’s not. As Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican senator and ambassador
to the United Nations, said in 1955: “This organisation is created to keep
you from going to Hell. It isn’t created to take you to Heaven.” For all
the fine words of the Charter, the UN is still mainly about preventing
another major war between the great powers (and as many other wars as

Does the United Nations need to be “reformed”? Certainly. It has
acquired some bad habits, and its structures have not kept up with the
realities of a rapidly changing world. The current main focus of reformers
is on the Security Council, whose permanent, veto-wielding members are
still the five victorious great powers of 1945. Three-quarters of the
countries that now comprise the UN were not even independent then, so
clearly some adjustment is overdue.

However, the only imaginable solution is an expansion of the number
of permanent members, because demoting any of the existing permanent
members is unthinkable (and would simply be vetoed). But then come the
questions — how many new members, and which ones, and do they get vetoes
too? — so reform may not happen soon.

Is the UN still more or less functional the way it is? Yes. Its
various specialised agencies, from the World Health Organisation to UNESCO,
do much good work, and its core, the Security Council, is there for when
it’s needed. Most of the time it is not — but when a crisis hits, it
still usually manages to rise to the occasion. It has done particularly
well in the last few years, bending its own rules to support a decisive US
response to terrorism in Afghanistan, but then withstanding enormous
pressure to do the same over the Bush administration’s misbegotten invasion
of Iraq.

The United Nations is an attempt to change the way that
international politics works, because the only alternative was to accept
perpetual war, and by 1945 that was no longer an acceptable option. But
not even the optimists imagined that it could succeed in less than a
century or so.

Sixty years on, it may not yet be even halfway to its goal. No
need to despair. As its most influential secretary-general, Dag
Hammarskjold, used to say: “None of us are ever going to see the world
order we dream of appear in our lifetime. Nevertheless, the effort to
build that order is the difference between anarchy and a tolerable degree
of chaos.”
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 10. (“However…Iraq”)
Gwynne Dyer is an independent London-based journalist whose
articles are published in 45 countries.


13 June 2004

Sudan: Peace in the South, War in the West

By Gwynne Dyer

USaid predicts that 350,000 people will die of hunger, disease and exposure in the refugee camps of western Sudan in the next few months. Back in April Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, was already warning that the international community should be prepared to take steps in Darfur “that may include military action.” But nothing has happened.

Well, not literally nothing. The African Union is sending a handful of observers to monitor the ceasefire that was signed in Darfur in April (though it hasn’t actually stopped the killing). A UN appeal raised $288 million for relief operations in Darfur last week, although that is $80-100 million short of what is needed and the rainy season will restrict deliveries to the camps starting about now. The core of the problem is in Khartoum, however, and nobody wanted to touch that.

The Sudanese president, Omar el-Bashir, still insists that foreign governments are blowing the events in Darfur out of proportion, but low-level flights across southern parts of the province report virtually every village burned out. Over a million people are living in refugee camps (including 158,000 who have fled across the border into Chad), and even in the camps the refugees are not safe, as raids by the Janjaweed militia continue. But at least the United States and the United Nations have finally criticised the government in Khartoum directly.

“I received numerous accounts of the extra-judicial and summary executions carried out by government-backed militias and by the security forces themselves,” said United Nations special rapporteur Asma Jahangir in Khartoum on Sunday. “There is no ambiguity that there is a link between some of the militias and government forces.”

After months of dodging the issue, US Secretary of State Colin Powell echoed her words on Sunday: “We believe that the government of Sudan did provide support to these militias.” He still avoided using the word ‘genocide,’ but he was clearly aware that President Bill Clinton had evaded the duty of responding to the genocide in Rwanda a decade ago by refusing to call it by the right name: “All I know is that there are at least a million people who are desperately in need, and many of them will die if we can’t…get the Sudanese to cooperate with the international community. And it won’t make a whole lot of difference after the fact what you’ve called it.”

Why did the US and the UN wait so long before putting the blame where it belongs? This is where it gets complicated, because the main reason is that they were afraid of jeopardising the deal that is finally bringing peace to the southern Sudan after 21 years of war and at least two million dead.

Every government in Sudan since independence has been dominated by the Arabised Muslims of northern Sudan who account for two-thirds of the country’s population — and almost every one of those governments has spent much of its time at war with rebels in the African, predominantly Christian south of the country. The current fighting flared in 1983 after an Islamist faction got the upper hand in the struggle for power among the northern, Arabic-speaking population and tried to impose Islamic law on the whole country.

Eventually the growing importance of Sudan’s oil — it could be exporting half as much as Kuwait in a few years — and concerns that the country’s Islamist regime had links with al-Qaeda focussed official American attention on Sudan. An adroit use of sticks and carrots by Washington brought first a more moderate government in Khartoum, and now a peace deal between north and south (signed in Kenya early this month) that provides for a ceasefire, sharing of oil revenues between north and south, and a referendum on southern independence in six years’ time.

But other neglected regions, seeing what the Christian south has achieved by revolt, were tempted to play the same game. Everybody in Darfur is Muslim, but there is a deep hostility between the African farmers of the province’s southern river valleys and the Arabised pastoral people of northern Darfur, who traditionally raided the farmers for cattle and women. So the Islamist faction in Khartoum, now out of power and looking for a way to undermine its rivals, urged the people of southern Darfur to revolt, which some of them did last year — and the faction now in power in Khartoum turned the Arabised pastoral people of northern Darfur loose on them.

The Janjaweed militia’s raids on the farming villages are now backed by Sudanese government helicopter gunships, and rather than just stealing cattle and women they murder everyone they can catch, burn the crops and smash the irrigation systems. It is genocide, no doubt about it — but the government that backs it is the same Sudanese government that has pushed the Islamists out of power in Khartoum and is now making peace in the south.

Now, very late in the game, the the US and the UN are starting to condemn the Sudanese government openly, but it’s not clear what they will actually do about it. Overthrow the present lot in Khartoum, and you probably re-start the much bigger war in the south. It’s another problem from hell.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 10. (“Well…that”; and “The Janjaweed…south”)