The international response to the continuing genocide in Darfur is marred by indifference and incompetence

White blood, it seems, always trades higher than African blood on the open human rights market


It grates that the head of the UN, an organisation accused of complicity in the Rwanda genocide, could unceremoniously hijack its 20th anniversary as a tawdry PR opportunity, airbrushing out the current Darfur genocide in the process.

In my view that’s what Ban Ki Moon did in last week’s Independent on Sunday. Although the UN failed in Rwanda, lessons have been learned, he said. His contrition came amid reports in the US’ Foreign Policy of leaked UNAMID (UN and African Union Mission in Darfur) documents proving, not only that lessons haven’t been learned from Rwanda, but that there is evidence of a pattern of denial, disingenuousness, concealment of data and reports and outright mendacity in downplaying the continuing genocide in Darfur. 

Mr Ban talks of UN “eyes” and ears” being deployed where civilians are under threat. Given the Khartoum regime forbids a media or human rights presence in those areas where it’s slaughtering its own people, the only “eyes” and ears” is a multimillion pound US embassy in the capital which is being built, not to protect Darfuri, but US citizens. The Foreign Policy report indicates that the US’ silence on the Darfur genocide is the price for anti-terrorism intelligence, considered necessary to avert attacks on the US.

White blood, it seems, always trades higher than African blood on the open human rights market. General Dallaire, who headed the UN's small peacekeeping mission in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, lambasted the international community’s reticence to act in Africa, but meanwhile hundreds of millions of dollars were pouring into Yugoslavia. Were some human beings “more human than others”? he asked.

Ban Ki Moon boasts about the UN’s Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and the “United Against Impunity” slogan. This catchy rhetoric is meaningless. In a recent attack in March, the leaked documents indicate that government forces destroyed an entire camp for displaced people adjacent to the UN compound. The attackers burned to death a sheikh, injured multiple others, kidnapped local leaders, looted property and livestock while also destroying water wells, homes, and a hospital. UN peacekeepers apparently did nothing to intervene despite their mandate to protect civilians.  The head of UNAMID later expressed typical concerns about the “escalation of violence”.

On Monday a UN spokesperson admitted that “There is tension between the necessity to preserve the consent and good will of the host government (whose president is indicted by the Hague for war crimes and acts of genocide against his own people) required to allow peacekeepers (The UN seeks permission from a despot to protect the civilians his regime is attacking)  to do their jobs and the sometimes contradictory imperative to report accurately and candidly on any and all incidents of violence”. The impression given is that the accurate reporting of “any and all incidents of violence” is willingly compromised.

Read more: 20 years after Rwanda, our leaders risk letting it happen again

The former UNAMID spokesperson, Aicha Elbasri, who resigned in protest in December, said that much of the evidence is withheld from public reports. Due to self imposed evidentiary restrictions, UNAMID disallows the testimony of local witnesses so, despite numerous aerial bombardments constituting violations of the UN ban on air strikes, they are rarely reported to the UN Security Council.

Michael Gaouette, A former UN official who led the Darfur peacekeeping team in 2008, said that many of UNAMID’s deficiencies were predictable. Without a ceasefire in place the peacekeeping mission was set up to fail. To achieve that would have meant implementing some of those 16 UN resolutions that were passed but never enforced, such as no fly zones to prevent aerial bombardments. Only when civilians are protected can political settlements be pursued. That requires political will on behalf of the international community. Unfortunately, in Darfur, as in Rwanda before it, that doesn’t exist. Today, as 20 years ago, the international response is marred by indifference and incompetence.

When, as head of the UN, Mr Ban says, “Let us show people facing threats that they are not alone or abandoned and that the lifeline they need is on the way”, we must hold him to it account. Darfuris have waited 11 long years for that lifeline. Still, those hanging on by a thread will grab it with both hands. The world is watching, waiting for you to throw that lifeline Mr Ban. Act now or face the opprobrium incurred by your predecessor, Kofi Annan, for his failure in Rwanda.

Tess Finch-Lees is a human rights specialist and Sudan campaigner

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