17 May 2006

Annan: Please help African Union in Darfur

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the rich members of the International Community for immediate action to protect peace in the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur. The question is: Will the International Community listen and act upon to Annan’s cry for help? After all, so far the wealthy west wasn’t much interested in Darfur’s problems. Or in African humanitarian tragedies in general.

Despite the newborn peace-agreement between the Sudanese government and the major rebel group in the first week of May, the situation in the region of Darfur is still troubled. Observers of the peacekeeping force deployed by the African Union have – about ten days after the agreement was signed - for instance reported renewed and persistent occurrence of rape, roadblocks, looting, arson, violent attacks and robbery of innocent civilians by groups of bandits.

Cry for Help

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, therefore, urged UN member states – especially the rich ones - to undertake immediate action in order to enable the 7 000 African Union peacekeepers to fulfill their duty; to protect the peace agreement as well as the people and the aid workers active in the region.

"Right now, there is only one force on the ground that can begin to provide protection: AMIS”, Anan wrote in an editorial in the Financial Mail of May 15 2006. “Our immediate priority must be to strengthen that force, so that it can move ahead with implementing the agreement and providing real security for the displaced people … Right now the region is facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Without massive and immediate support, relief agencies will be unable to continue their work and hundreds of thousands of people will die from hunger.”

It is to be seen whether the International Community will listen to and act upon Annan’s cry for help. For the previous three years the world has watched in apathy how a humanitarian tragedy beyond proportions unfolded itself. A tragedy, which saturated the region in fear, terror, sorrow, trauma, blood and death: Over 400 000 people were killed since 2003, and 2 million were displaced. More than 3 million struggle with severe hunger.

Ethnic Cleansing

Since 2003 forces of the Sudanese government and the ethnic militia – Janjaweed – on the one side and two rebel groups (the Sudanese Liberation Movement – SLM – and the Justice and Equality Movement, the JEM) have been engaged in a violent conflict. One of the tactics of the government forces and the Janjaweed is a campaign against the civilian population who belong to the same ethnic group as the rebels. Over the last three years, hundreds of rural villages and towns have been destroyed and cattle was killed en masse. Tens of thousands of people were killed, raped, maimed, and traumatized. Two million Darfurians were chased away from their homes of whom 1,8 live in camps scattered across Darfur. About 200 000 have fled to neighbouring countries as Chad. In addition to the 2 million displaced people, 1,5 million people need some form of food assistance. The conflict has destroyed the local economy, markets and trade.

Policy Priority

All this happened before the eyes of the International Community. While photographs of maimed men, skin-over-bone children, dying babies and empty eyed women haunted by what had happened didn’t leave anything to one’s imagination, the response of the wealthy west was one of talking and discussing. But not a response of getting involved. While for instance the United States and the United Kingdom have pressured a greater UN role in Sudan, neither of them have made the conflict a policy priority and neither of them plan to send troops over.

This despite it was agreed upon that a genocide was unfolding in Darfur. No UN mission has been send to Darfur yet, to protect the people from act against humanity, no UN force was send to bring a halt to those violations. It will only be late September 2006, almost four years after the start of the genocide, when the UN plans to replace the only force present in Darfur; 7 000 troops from the African Union.


Apart from the slow and inefficient response of the international community with regards to Sudan so far, the recent past is another reason for skepticism whether or not wealthy countries will act upon Annan’s plea for more assistance in Darfur. In 1994 the world stood by and watched Rwanda being ripped apart by one of the bloodiest genocides in history. It took the International Community three months to undertake action. When in July 1994 the first peacekeepers of the new UN mission for Rwanda arrived, the genocide – that had claimed 800 000 lives in a scope of 100 days - had already been ended. By Paul Kagame, who had overtaken the capital Kigali that same month.

Then we have the hunger in the Horn of Africa for instance, which at the moment of writing threatens over 11 million people of which 7 million immediately. According to World Food Program (WFP) the hunger is caused by a drought, which started five to six years ago. Back in 2000, the world was already warned for what is happening now and assistance was requested to prevent the unthinkable.

While many millions were collected for Katrina and the Tsunami, while all eyes were focused on Afghanistan, the Twin Towers, and the security situation in Iraq, East Africa was ignored. And even now, the scope of the humanitarian crisis being crystal clear, the International Community does not seem to be willing to stick out a quick helping hand: So far the World Food Program (WFP) has received only $28 million of the $225 million it needs to feed the hungry and te prevent them from starving.

Repeating history

Unfortunately these are not the only examples of a slack and negligent attitude of the International Community towards serious emergencies. The conflict DRC for instance, the never-ending insurgency in Uganda which has displaced more than a million people in a scope of twelve years, claimed 100 000 lives and has driven 30 000 children into the arms of war lords. The never-ending violence in Burundi, the situation in Zimbabwe, and so forth. Cases that claimed many thousands of lives over the last years, cases that destroyed many more. Cases that were not interesting enough for the wealthy west to intervene.

The past may regarded be a legitimate reason for a pessimistic outlook on whether or not the International Community will listen and efficiently act upon Anna’s plea for more assistance for the 7 000 AU soldiers in Sudan. But maybe we should consider – despite the previous - to give the situation the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, people do learn from the past.

Miriam Mannak / Cape Town

05 May 2006

Green light UN for anti-genocide committee

The United Nations have given the green light to a new advisory committee on the prevention genocide and acts of genocides worldwide. Seven professionals from different fields, yet all dealing with genocide in one way or another, will have the task to provide guidance to Juan Méndez, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide of Secretary-General Kofi Annan. One of the panel members is Romeo Dallaire.

The name of Romeo Dallaire, currently a Canadian Senator, will always be linked to the willingness to prevent genocide. In 1993 and early 1994, as the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), Dallaire had strong suspicions that something terrible was about to happen in Rwanda. He had for instance noticed an increased import and trade in machetes and other arms.

Cleansing Campaign
Dallaire, via a Hutu informant known as Jean Pierre, found out that thousands of Hutu militias were preparing themselves for a national ethnic cleansing campaign against the Tutsi population. Jean-Pierre for instance told the UNAMIR Commander about the existence a growing list of Tutsi residents in Kigali. This list was to facilitate the cleansing campaign.

The Hutu informant also mentioned planned violent actions against the Belgian peacekeepers, the core of the present UN peace force. With the Belgians being under severe fire, the Hutu militia’s predicted the complete withdrawal of the United Nations. As a result, they were able to continue ‘the purification of the country from Tutsi cockroaches’. Last but not least, Jean-Pierre informed Dallaire about hidden arm depots in and around Kigali.

Genocide Fax
In a fax on January 11 1994 to the UN’s Head Quarters, known as the Genocide Fax, Dallaire informed his superiors about his findings. He also asked them for the green light to undertake preemptive action, to prevent whatever atrocities were planned. The UN refused, as ‘preemptive action’ was against UNAMIR’s mandate. The job of the peacekeepers was to monitor, to report and to support in a peaceful manner and see upon a peace agreement between warring factions in Rwanda. Using force in whatever way was prohibited.

Barely three months later Rwanda was drenched in blood, hatred, sorrow and a surreal madness that can’t be describe in words. In a scope of three months, the country one million people were slaughtered. The genocide in Rwanda would end up in the history books as one of the bloodiest genocides ever.

Scattered and haunted
Dallaire, who refused to withdraw after UNAMIR was decimated – a reaction on the cold blood murder of ten Belgian peacekeepers – remained in Rwanda for months. He left Rwanda in August of 1994, as an scattered man, haunted by what happened, what he saw, experienced, and most of all: what he could not and did not do.

About the atrocities and the role the international community played in preventing it, Dallaire commented on the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide: "I don't think there's any justification for what happened, it was a shameful episode for collective shame. The genocide was brutal, criminal and disgusting and continued for 100 days under the eyes of the international community. There is no country today... which can wash its hands of Rwandan blood just by saying sorry."

By joining the UN’s Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention Romeo Dallaire, who has spoken and lectured countless times on how to prevent a genocide, proves once again that he is not just a man of mere words. Like he did in Rwanda in 1994, when he stuck around when the entire abandoned Rwanda. By so Dallaire, despite the fact he could not have stopped the atrocities, has made a true difference to Rwanda – a country that is also in my pores.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town