Sauver Le Darfour dans le monde

Message to the civilised world: save Darfurians from their own regime

The Sunday Times, 19 Septembre 2006

LAST WEEK IT WAS as though we had slipped a millennium. There was Pope Benedict XVI holed up with his guards in Castelgandolfo, fearing the wrath of Muslims angered by his invocation of the words of a Byzantine emperor. It wanted only an outbreak of Catharism and a dose of the Black Death to complete the tapestry.
Hardly were the words of Three Stages in the Programme of De-Hellenisation past the pontifical lips before the offended crowds were out on the streets of Islamabad. Such gatherings are mobilised faster than the local fire brigade, giving rise to the thought that there must be — in that great city — waiting rooms full of eager men on blasphemy-alert for offence to be given. One imagines that there are cellars full of ready-made effigies in various costumes, and flags of all the nations, helpfully pre-soaked in petrol. “Can you get me a dozen Vatican Cities?” “Sorry, there should be a delivery next week. But we do have a couple of Popes.”

One hopes that the effigy-burning took the protesters’ minds off the situation in another Islamic state, Sudan. There, a couple of weeks ago, the editor-in-chief of the Sudanese daily newspaper al-Wifaq, Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed, who had offended local Islamists, was kidnapped and beheaded. Apparently, though himself a devout Muslim, he hadn’t been forgiven for running some articles concerning the origins of the Prophet.

There are many Muslims, however, who have been watching the Sudan. At the weekend, in New York, al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, the imam of the Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood, joined a large demonstration called to draw attention to what has been happening and — worse — what may be about to occur, in western Sudan. A similar protest in London was joined by Ibrahim Mogra, a Leicester imam and member of the Muslim Council of Britain. In Canada El-Farouk Khaki, secretary-general of the Muslim Canadian Congress, was not satisfied with the response of his co-religionists, given that those dying in Darfur are all Muslims too.

“I can tell you,” he said, “in no uncertain terms that the Darfur crisis has not made news in the traditional Muslim organisations because Darfurians are black.”

Those protesting at the weekend were doing so because this is a big week at the United Nations. Last week Britain introduced a new resolution at the Security Council aimed at authorising a peacekeeping force of up to 22,000 troops in Sudan. The aim is to replace the grotesquely overstretched African Union force of 7,000, whose mandate runs out in a few days’ time. Even with the AU force in place the killings of local people and of aid workers is escalating and the World Food Programme has said that up half a million Darfurians may well not receive necessary food aid.

But the Sudanese Government has ruled out a UN force and plans instead to send in a large number of its own troops. Given the Government’s record it seems quite likely that — with international observers safely out of the way — Khartoum can get on with the business of completing the genocide that it, together with its Janjawid allies, has already half accomplished.

Stop there. How can this be? Between 65,000 and 255,000 people in Darfur have died and another million and a half are now exiles. Yet we’ve known about all this for years. Where has the outrage been? Particularly among the tenderest of us. Since this is Lib Dem conference week, it seemed a good idea to visit the Lib Dem website and its section on international affairs. There was Ming a week ago giving it out large to Green-tree Boy over his “I hate Bush too” speech. “It is only the Liberal Democrats,” lectured Sir Menzies, “who have had the courage to take a consistent and principled approach to foreign policy.”

Yet there is no recent substantial reference to Darfur anywhere to be seen. Michael Moore, the foreign affairs spokesman, “took up the post in March 2006, and is a leading campaigner against the Government’s Iraq policies” and not much else. “Latest news from Michael Moore”, as of yesterday, included slagging off the Government over Afghanistan and Iraq and slagging Israel off over Lebanon. On Darfur — zip. Consistency obviously means banging on about Iraq and nothing else.

But surely the Stop the War Campaign wants the Sudanese Government’s war on its own people stopped? The front page mentions Iraq 11 times, Afghanistan 5 times, Lebanon 5, Darfur 0. Oh, and “97-year-old Bernard Herzberg . . . who was a refugee from Hitler’s Germany in 1933, says, ‘I’ve been on all the Stop the War demonstrations and, as long as my feet hold out, I’m not stopping protesting until all Blair’s wars are ended’.” He’ll get round to other, worse conflicts in the hereafter. Or perhaps Bernard agrees with George Galloway who believes that the media are exaggerating the Darfur crisis so as to give Bush an excuse to invade and steal all the oil.

A better question, though, might be about what has happened to the Start the War Campaign — we muscular liberals and others who said “Never again” after Rwanda, but have since been watching “Again” happening in the Sudan. Are we, as people have charged, overcommitted in Iraq and have run out of bodies and credit to run an intervention operation in Sudan?

I don’t think that’s the reason. I think we knew how to win a war in Afghanistan and another in Iraq, even if the peace has been — shall we say — more elusive. We still don’t know how to intervene in somewhere such as Darfur, which is so big and so remote, any more than how to intervene in Congo. We look at the decade-long war in southern Sudan, only just concluded, and remind ourselves of the complexity and tragic dimensions of the place. Any force introduced into Sudan without agreement might be there for ever.

So how about sanctions as opposed (and who is surprised?) by Russia and China? In fact there is a sanctions regime of sorts which, since it was introduced, has involved one Sudanese official, a retired air force officer. Better, maybe, to hope that Sudan accepts a renewed mandate for the AU forces that Khartoum has been so busy ignoring recently.

The UN general in Rwanda in 1994 was the Canadian Romeo Dallaire, who also spoke at the weekend. He thinks we are seeing the prelude to a much worse period of slaughter, to be completed out of sight and off camera.

It is happening, and going to get worse, because Sudan believes that the West will not step in. Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said on television that the Sudanese “are going to have to understand that, if they can’t protect their people, the international community will do it”.

This week the United Nations must insist that Sudan accept the UN force, or we must accept that the UN can offer no protection from genocide.

There are plenty of countries, such as Germany, Spain, India, Turkey and Sweden, who are not militarily over-committed and who could take the leading role in saving the Darfurians from their own Government. A long commitment of forces is better than sharing historic guilt.