the Disillusioned kid: Return to Darfur
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Friday, November 26, 2004

Return to Darfur

Over the summer I went through a phase where I wrote about the situation in Darfur, western Sudan quite heavily, however, with one thing and another I haven't written much on the subject for sometime. This stems from a general sense of powerlessness over the issue and a belief that I have little to offer beyond what you can find in the pages of any half-decent newspaper. While researching my earlier post on violence against women, I visited the Amnesty UK website and my attention was drawn to a report by the organisation alleging that the UK along with others has allowed uncontrolled arms exports to Sudan, fuelling massive human rights abuses in the country. This inspired me to return to the issue and offer my two-pence.

For anyone who has been living under a rock for the last six months, Darfur is an area in western Sudan which rebelled against the central Sudanese government in 2003. The government based in Khartoum responded by arming, training and supporting Janjaweed militia who have attacked many villages, driving the inhabitants out or massacring them. This has precipitated a humanitarian catastrophe which may have claimed the lives of as many as 200,000 people. The scale of the death toll and the way the project has been carried out has led some to describe the situation as "genocide" which has a specific definition under the 1948 Genocide Convention. (For a more detailed background, I highly recommend people check out this piece by Alex de Waal from the London Review of Books.)

Last week I went to a meeting about the situation addressed by representatives of UNICEF and Justice Africa. This served to deepen my understanding of the situation and put it into context with conflicts in southern and eastern Sudan and northern Darfur which all stem from a sense of frustration at the marginalisation experienced by groups in those areas. With no way to express their grievances peacefully they have taken up arms and the government has responded viciously. The meeting also reinforced my belief that a genuinely empowered African Union peacekeeping force, with the power to intervene to stop massacres, is the best hope for an effective solution. A straight-forward Western intervention along the lines of Kosovo or even Iraq would most likely be counterproductive. One need only look at the mess which Iraq has become to see just how wrong such interventions can go.

The Amnesty report reveals,
Amnesty International has seen Sudanese End User Certificates authorising a UK company, Endeavour Resources UK Ltd, to negotiate on behalf of the Sudanese authorities for the supply of Brazilian handguns and large numbers of Antonov aircraft from a Ukrainian arms export company. Eyewitnesses in Darfur report the Sudan Air Force using Antonovs to drop ?barrel bombs?- boxes filled with metal shrapnel:

"Janjawid and soldiers of the forces of the government both in uniforms came and attacked...In the morning of 11 October they dropped 17 barrels of shrapnel from the Antonov. Then they came, the Janjawid on horses and the government army in cars. It was many many of them, maybe even 6000. More than 80 people were killed during the attack"

The UK?s Export Control Act outlaws UK nationals and residents brokering weapons to countries subject to an EU arms embargo, such as Sudan.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Stephen Bowen said:

"It is sickening that UK companies may be attempting to profit from people?s misery in Sudan, by supplying the weapons that are used to kill, maim and drive people from their homes.

"The Export Control Act was put in place to stop this happening. The UK government must use its powers to clamp down on any UK companies trying to cash in on a conflict that has already claimed thousands of lives."
It surely wouldn't be difficult for the government to crack down on these activities if they wanted to. Indeed if they are serious about much of their rhetoric regarding Sudan and its actions in Darfur, one would have expected tat they would have done all they could to crack down on the arms trade to the country. That they haven't done so raises difficult questions. When considered alongside the west's failure ensure effective provision of aid it becomes difficult not wonder if the rhetoric is not perhaps a little hollow. While oil is cited by some as motivation behind Western interest in Sudan, the failure to intervene suggests that the rhetoric may only be intended for domestic consumption. This would explain why despite having declared Sudanese actions "genocide" shortly before the election, the Bush Administration have done little in its aftermath.

I remain very dubious about the imposition of sanctions on Sudan (and indeed elsewhere, as I've commented before) they are likely only to exacerbate the suffering of ordinary Sudanese and have little or no effect on the elites pursuing the policies which have resulted in the deaths of so many Darfurians. Nonetheless an effective arms embargo seems an entirely sensible course of action and all possible steps should be taken to bring this about, ideally in concert with efforts on other fronts (securing a mandate for an effective AU force etc.).

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