Published in Newsweek, September 26, 2006
By Ronan Farrow
Last week, the Washington Post's online PostGlobal addressed Khartoum's rejection of plans to send desperately needed U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur, asking "should regional solidarity be allowed to trump human rights needs?" The question makes a grave misapprehension.
Sudanese President Omar El Bashir and his allies in the Arab League have indeed cultivated an image of unified opposition, calling the proposed U.N. peacekeeping mission "an effort to re-colonize Sudan" and placing picketers shouting anti-U.N. slogans to greet foreign officials visiting Khartoum.
But they cannot hide the realities on the ground. Who, among the tortured people of Darfur, is united with Bashir? Not Hawa, who greets visitors to her remote mountain encampment of Finna with a sign, painstakingly painted in English, that reads "Welcome, Welcome, U.N." Not the hundreds of men and women who join her waving similar banners, chanting "we need protection" and "help us, United Nations."
"Without protection, we will all die," Hawa told me when I visited Finna in July. "I have already lost everything." Like most in Finna, Hawa fled to the mountains after her village was ravaged by Khartoum's terrible Janjaweed militia. She was raped and beaten by two men who broke into her home. "They cut me, here, and here" she said, gesturing towards the livid scars that line her arms and legs. Hawa was left for dead. Her husband and two sons were marched away from the village at gunpoint. She never saw them again. Hawa fled to the relative safety of the mountains, but even here Janjaweed patrol the outskirts of the camp, and fighting between government and rebel forces makes daily survival uncertain. "There is no safety. Everyone is praying that the U.N. will come to protect us."
Across Darfur, from refugees in squalid camps and rebel fighters otherwise locked in deadly opposition, I heard the same desperate plea for U.N. peacekeepers.
Even within Bashir's own government, the carefully constructed image of solidarity has crumbled. Last week, Minni Manawi, former rebel leader and currently the fourth ranking member of Bashir's regime, broke ranks to request an international peacekeeping mission. "The African Union can do nothing because the A.U. mandate is very limited. I myself am not satisfied with that the African Union is doing... If there is no alternative let the U.N. forces come."
Bashir has exhibited extraordinary skill in forestalling efforts to make that happen. Three years have passed and as many as 500,000 have been killed by most estimates, and the international community still seems paralyzed by Khartoum's defiance. Invoking national sovereignty in much the same way he is today, Bashir was able to delay the deployment of A.U. forces for more than a year, and defang them almost completely upon their arrival with a mandate that permitted only monitoring, not peacekeeping. Contributions of armored vehicles and supplies for the A.U. forces have also been delayed. Most recently, US Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer accused Bashir's regime of "sabotaging" the A.U.'s mission in Sudan, delaying visas and stripping parts from armored personnel carriers.
And now, to stem escalating international pressure, Bashir is again invoking national sovereignty in vitriolic statements to the press. And he is again endorsing token changes in favor of real action, advocating the addition of some 1,200 soldiers to the impotent 7,000-strong AU force in place of the urgently needed 20,000 UN peacekeepers.
Given the complete toothlessness the international community has displayed thus far, it seems tragically likely that this latest feint will work.
At the 2005 UN World Summit, more than 150 nations unanimously committed to be "prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner...should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity." And yet the international community seems content to use Bashir's delay tactics and hollow claims of national solidarity as an excuse for inaction. How can we accept that? How many more will die before action is taken?
Ronan Farrow, currently a student at Yale Law School, recently took his second trip to Darfur as a UNICEF spokesperson for youth. He is also a representative of the Genocide Intervention Network.