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Sudan: academic discusses ongoing genocide in Darfur.



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RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST

16 January, 2006

 

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: This February the ongoing genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region moves into its fourth year. So far over 200,000 people have been killed and more than two million displaced. It all started when the non-Arab population of Darfur rebelled against the National Islamic Front government led by Omar El-Bashir. What followed was a campaign of rape, murder and plunder aimed at expelling the non-Arabs.

 

It’s orchestrated by the Sudanese government and carried out by the Janjaweed militia groups. The international community has not been very successful at dealing with the problem. There are currently about 6,000 African Union peacekeepers in Sudan, but they have limited resources and limited powers and have been utterly unable to stop the violence. Even worse, in less than two weeks the presidency of the African Union will be rotated to its next leader, Omar El-Bashir, the President of Sudan.

 

On Friday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan finally suggested it was time to consider preparing an international force with sophisticated systems and air power to halt the genocide. But just who would join up for such a mission remains to be seen.

 

Joining me to discuss all of this is Samantha Power, Professor at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. She’s the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The problem from hell: America and the age of genocide . Samantha Power, welcome to the program.

 

SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you for having me.

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: What are your thoughts on Kofi Annan’s suggestion to send an international force into Darfur?

 

SAMANTHA POWER: It’s the right suggestion made about two years too late, although you could say better than never. To some degree I suppose it’s linked to the fact that Kofi Annan’s term expires at the end of this year and the recognition on his part that to have Rwanda, Srebrenica and Darfur occur all on his watch will not make for a very rewarding post-retirement reading.

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: So perhaps we should be a little cynical and see this as him tidying up his books?

 

SAMANTHA POWER: I think there is a bit of that. But having said that, he is also responding to a marked deterioration on the ground in which UN aid workers are having to be withdrawn. The degeneration in security is such that they can no longer even perform the alibi function that they’re so used to performing, which is to feed the victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide, rather than dealing with obviously the political and military issues at the root of creating those victims in the first place. So with the humanitarian aid operation in great peril, with his term up at the end of the year and with the African Union mission which is on the ground, running out of money in March, just two or three months away, it’s a natural time to say: okay, now let’s reassess. ….

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Is it not ….

 

SAMANTHA POWER: …. not to live in a world where you look at the needs of civilians and you say ‘what’s actually necessary?’ and respond accordingly, but of course that’s not how the political world works.

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Is it not most unlikely that Sudan’s President will let non-African troops into Sudan?

 

SAMANTHA POWER: Yes. I mean, the Sudanese government has made it very clear that it does not intend to allow non-African troops into Darfur, partly because it recognises that the AU mission is very, very convenient. Five hundred million dollars has been spent on the AU mission so far. That’s money that goes in, of course, to the Sudanese economy. The African troops are under-equipped, under-mandated. They’re not actually contesting what the Sudanese government continues to do in terms of air force attacks on civilian villages and arming and supplying of the Janjaweed.

 

So, from the Sudanese perspective it’s just perfectly convenient. You look like you've allowed an international force in to mitigate the killing, but you know that that force is insufficient to actually get in your way. The minute you start talking about bringing in troops from middle countries like Canada, the Netherlands or Australia indeed, you start actually having to worry about a force that’s going to get in your way.

 

So they’re resisting, but they’re going to resist. I mean, any government that’s intent on ethnically cleansing its people is not going to welcome an obstruction force.

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: What sort of force would it take to stop the genocide and who could do it, given that the UN is already overstretched with some 16 peacekeeping missions around the world?

 

SAMANTHA POWER: You’re absolutely right to point out how overstretched the UN peacekeeping department is. Indeed, you can see in southern Sudan where a peace deal was signed earlier in 2005 and the Security Council came out and authorised the deployment of 10,000 UN peacekeepers to southern Sudan. Only 4,000 of those have been actually rallied in the year, nearly a year that’s elapsed since that resolution.

 

Countries around the world, rich countries, simply don’t want to be a part of peacekeeping missions, and it’s this, you know, this elephant in the room whenever there’s a debate about what should be done about a particular humanitarian crisis. In the back of everyone’s mind is: well, what will be done? Who will actually be willing to put anything on the line in service of this noble idea of a responsibility to protect civilians.

 

So you’re asking the right question. If Kofi Annan were actually to get a UN Security Council resolution authorising the absorption of the African Union mission into a larger UN peacekeeping mission he would then have to go, tin cup in hand, country by country, and say: can you contribute 500 police, can you contribute a battalion of soldiers? And in all likelihood the answer will be the same answer he’s getting when it comes to southern Sudan, which is: no, we really wish you well and we hope that the people of Darfur get to return to their homes some time soon, but we, on the other hand have to look out for our own national interests.

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Why has the African Union been unable to stop the genocide? Is this the result of the underfunding, lack of political will? What’s the problem?

 

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, for starters, the quality and the training of troops in many African countries—not all—but is of course not terribly high. Western countries have talked for a long time about training and equipping African armies, and you’ve seen pilot programs here and there. I know in the United States anyway we’ve launched some training programs. But no Western country of course looks at that operation with the kind of urgency that it would look at a counterterrorism operation or something that is actually dear to its own strategic interests.

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Presumably if Sudan now takes on the presidency the whole organisation loses its credibility.

 

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, you would think, but you know, this is … the United Nations too, of course, has a human rights commission that was chaired by Libya a couple of years ago, had a disarmament commission chaired by Iraq two or three years ago. International institutions have seats that rotate alphabetically, regionally, and so I think to some degree we’re used to that. The question is with the African Union sitting in Khartoum are the other countries like Nigeria and South Africa, the powerhouses on the continent, are they willing to raise the ever so essential question of the funding running out on the African Union mission, the insufficient mandate and then this question about whether or not Africans can be brought in.

 

That’s only the first step. First the AU has to invite outside contributions and that requires overcoming Sudanese opposition, as you say, and then the second step is Kofi Annan needs to somehow find those troops. Neither steps seem likely to be taken in the near future.

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Just finally, where do Sudan’s traditional Arab allies fit into this picture?

 

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, they are the very convenient sort of mistress to the African Union wife. If the African Union were actually to press on Sudan at this forthcoming session in January, it is very likely that Sudan will then play up its other connections in the neighbourhood and take refuge among its Arab allies.

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Meaning also that sanctions are very hard to effectively impose?

 

SAMANTHA POWER: The Arab League has no intention of imposing sanctions. They think ….

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: No, but I mean UN sanctions. Is there money from the Arab League?

 

SAMANTHA POWER: UN sanctions would  have to go through the UN Security Council in order to get passed, and there you run into a different hurdle which is the Chinese embrace of Sudan because of the oil interests in the country. So everywhere you look there’s some country or a number of countries whose economic interests or security interests are seen to be tied to being nice to a government that’s committing genocide.

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: We really appreciate your time. Thank you very much for being on the program.

 

SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you.

 

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: That’s Professor Samantha Power from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.