Issue 125: UN votes “no action” for victims in Sudan’s Darfur region.

News:  The UN Security Council meeting in Nairobi last week — the first such gathering outside New York in almost two decades — adopted a resolution holding out the carrot of significant aid for both sides of Sudan’s North-South civil war, if they put an end to the fighting that, since 1983, has killed more than 2 million people.  The Council also urged an end to the catastrophe in Sudan’s western Darfur region — yet notably abandoned its previous threat of sanctions meant to persuade Khartoum to rein in Arab militia groups perpetrating abuses against the black Africans of Darfur.  Meanwhile, at the General Assembly today, a resolution to condemn Sudan for grave human rights violations was voted down by a “no action” motion introduced by South Africa on behalf of the UN’s African Group.

Analysis:  Though Sudan’s civil wars continue to dominate the international agenda, leading the Security Council to extraordinarily convene in Kenya, robust action is markedly absent.  The events of the past week show conflicting signs as to whether any optimism is in order.

Due in large part to the efforts of John Danforth — formerly President Bush’s special envoy for peace in Sudan, now the U.S. Ambassador to the UN — chances for peace in the South have never been greater.  The Security Council decision to meet in Africa, to witness an agreement between the Islamic government from the North and John Garang’s Christian rebels from the South, was a welcome show of support for that process.

Amb. Danforth hopes that the conclusion of war in the South might become “a springboard to end the suffering in Darfur.”  Sudan’s Ambassador to the U.S., Khidir Haroun Ahmed, agrees: “It will serve as a model to tackle and to redress grievances in other parts of the country.”

Looking at today’s news, however, gives little ground for optimism.  A government warplane bombed a rebel camp near the North Darfur capital of El Fasher, a violation of the security protocol agreed to by Khartoum barely two weeks ago.  Official UN confirmation of the violation could generate international pressure for sanctions.

Which brings us to the issue that many consider determinative.  Sudan will continue to ignore international declarations on Darfur that lack the stick of either sanctions or an arms embargo.  Regrettably, due to their respective special interests, Russia, China, Algeria and Pakistan expressed opposition to sanctions and abstained on the previous Council resolution.  This time, in order to win symbolic unity for the Nairobi text, the U.S. and Europe removed the threat of sanctions.

The dilemma faced by Washington and Brussels is not new.  In April, at the UN’s Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Europe justified watering down its resolution on Sudanese violations by pointing to the powerful resistance led by Africa, saying it was better to have some text, and to establish an independent expert, than none at all.  In a dramatic debate, the U.S. decried Europe’s compromise, insisting that the truth about Sudanese crimes needed to be stated loud and clear, regardless of whether such a draft would be voted down.

Looking back seven months later, the watered-down declaration, negotiated between Africa and Europe, seems to have achieved little other than sparing Sudan a measure of shame and international accountability.  As for the expert, Emmanuel Akwei Addo — his record is mixed.  In his October 29 statement before the General Assembly’s human rights organ (known as the Third Committee), Mr. Addo found strong indications of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murders, rapes, acts of torture and forcible displacement of civilians.  Other than this welcome testimony, however, the expert — like his fellow Ghanaian, Secretary General Kofi Annan — has hardly been speaking out as loudly, or as frequently, as the dire situation requires.

At the General Assembly this week, it was déjà vu all over again.  When pro-democracy states introduced a resolution calling upon Sudan to end crimes such as sexual violence against women and girls, the representative of South Africa — as it happens, the man charged with human rights at the foreign ministry — rose to demand a “no action” motion.  (To watch a webcast of the debate, click here and fast-forward 22 minutes.)

Together with the Islamic countries and the voting bloc of Third World countries, known as the Group of 77, the resolution was defeated 91 to 74, with 11 abstaining.  Among those voting to shield Sudan from scrutiny:  China, Cuba, North Korea, Egypt, Iran and Syria.  (The full list is available here.)  South Africa explained that the African Group was “unwavering in its total rejection of country-specific resolutions.”  Unwavering?  Well, not when it comes to country-specific resolutions that target a certain state in the Middle East.  In that case, South Africa actually supports every single country-specific resolution.

Algeria’s ambassador, Abdallah Baali, voted no-action because “human rights is used for political reasons against some particular countries in a selective way, where there are countries where human rights are clearly abused” and are not condemned. Malaysia, on behalf of the non-aligned movement, argued that the draft resolution on Sudan was a case of “exploitation of human rights for political purposes.”  We would like to see the ambassadors try convincing Darfur’s thousands of raped women and girls that their suffering is “merely political.”

A high-level panel on reform of the UN is set to deliver its proposals to Kofi Annan next week.  Tragically, not even the most sophisticated tinkering will change the fact that the world body cannot muster a majority today to condemn ethnic cleansing.

 

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