A Multipolar World Fails in the Sudan
NEW YORK, 11 June 2004 — Of the million Sudanese that have fled their home to the edge of the Sahara, 300,000 will die within months. That is the best-case scenario, according to Anthony Natsios, USAID chief. He predicts that without an immediate and enormous international effort, nearly all the displaced population — up to a million people — may perish. None of the European, African or Middle Eastern states so vehemently opposed to the US’s role as global policeman are willing to assume for themselves the burden of the prevention of genocide.
In the last year, the Sudanese government has systematically targeted its black population in Darfur, an Iraq sized area of six million. Families have been driven from their homes by bombings, crop destruction, and well poisoning and mass executions.
The Janjaweed, a government backed Arab militia, roam the Darfur region on horseback pillaging like Genghis Khan. They massacre men, rape women, and torch villages with complicit governmental support. Many youngsters not slaughtered in their homes have become chattel in the thriving slave trade. An estimated 40,000 children are enslaved in government-held territories.
Over 100,000 have escaped to neighboring Chad and are receiving some aid. The Sudanese government has not allowed assistance to reach the million internal refugees. Using administrative powers, Khartoum has blocked international monitors, aid, medical supplies, and the media from reaching into the Darfur region. Refugee children are dying from treatable maladies: Starvation, malaria and diarrhea. Acute malnutrition already affects 21 percent of these children and the infant mortality rate is 25 times the international average in some refugee camps. Aid delivery, already a serious political challenge, will become a greater physical challenge with the onset of the monsoon in June. At that time, the roads will become nearly impassable and families unsheltered and unfed in the rain will die from disease and starvation.
The roots of the conflict are many. The collective punishment of the civilian population began as reprisals for an uprising by rebel groups from the disenfranchised western populace. In the Sudan, the ruling class is primarily nomadic cattle and camel herders. The Darfurians are primarily pastoralists, farmers. Drought and desertification has made arable land more scare and placed these groups in conflict. Culturally, some of the Darfurians, though Muslims, are at odds with the Shariah law of the government in Khartoum. Others point to a racially motivated Arabization policy to explain the intensity of the slaughter.
The heavy hand of US soft power has had a positive impact in the south of Sudan. The recent fragile peace agreement between the government in Khartoum and southern Christian and animist rebels occurred after strong US involvement in ending the twenty-one year civil war. Credit is due. Yet the new promise of peace does not reach into Darfur where the government is targeting black Muslims. Washington has maintained intense pressure on the Sudanese government to curtail the militias and to open the Darfur region to aid workers but has few allies in this effort.
Considering these victims are starving, poor, black African Muslim women and children, in theory they should have support in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Unfortunately for the little children, the multipolar model has failed as self— interested states champion the status quo. No intervention is contemplated by African regional organizations, the Arab League, the EU or the UN. The massive human rights violations amount to crimes against humanity, a UN report stated last month. Calling it the “worst humanitarian disaster today” the UN nonetheless refuses to officially define the slaughter as genocide, which would trigger an automatic response. With a candidacy sponsored by the African regional group, the Sudan became a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission last month. Now one of the worst violators of human rights has been entrusted to police itself and all nations.
As in Rwanda, the UN leadership is unwilling to confront the regional voting blocks that have elected them. Kofi Annan “is following the situation in Darfur closely and with great concern,” his spokeswoman reports. The UN calls itself “late” in organizing a donors conference. It was only with substantial pressure from the US that the Security Council recently passed a resolution strongly condemning “indiscriminate attacks on (Sudanese) civilians, sexual violence, forced displacement and acts of violence.”
The international community appears content to let a million people die; the costs in money, manpower and political capital are too great to bear for the sake of a million Africans. The shadow of shame on the UN for the slaughter in Rwanda again darkens the soul of the international community. And the calls for the supremacy of international law ring hollow when that law overlooks genocide for the sake of political expediency and power politics.
The power of public opinion impacts foreign policy internationally as never before. Constituents thus empowered are more complicit by silence and face a choice. The new global power struggle is between the civilians and the terrorists, the civilians and the murderous regimes. As thousands upon thousands of Sudanese children die, our children become more vulnerable.
— Jane Novak is a student of international relations and a columnist.