Having spent some 10 years reporting here on the government of Sudan’s terrorism against black Christians and animists in the south of the country—and then on black Muslims in its Darfur region—I find my reaction to the purported peace treaty between the genocidal Khartoum government and the Darfur rebels signed on May 5 in Nigeria is the same as that of Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who presided over the peace talks:
“Unless the right spirit, unless the right attitude and right disposition is there, this document is not worth the paper it is signed on.”
Ismael Haron, who operates a market stall at Gaga refugee camp in Chad—where Darfur survivors are also in mortal danger from the Janjaweed—concurs: “We know Sudan president Omar Hassan al-Bashir. We have seen him make agreements and then break them 10 minutes later.”
At the core of the peace pact is al-Bashir’s agreement to disarm the janjaweed—his militia, which is responsible for very many of the 400,000 dead and 2.4 million made homeless during the last three years. These death squads, who rape the women they do not kill, are supposedly to be demobilized by mid October. And if they continue their mass murders until that point—and beyond—what then? President al-Bashir has for three years repeatedly pledged to disarm them.
But the peace agreement also calls for a sufficient United Nations force in Darfur to protect those refugees who return to their ravaged villages. (It will take months to assemble and provide for these U.N. troops.) And cautions the May 6 Economist:
“Even with the best of intentions, retrieving guns from fierce nomadic people is a lot harder than giving the guns in the first place.” And patrolling Darfur by U.N. forces means having them cover a territory as large as France.
The peace treaty might not have been signed if, after three days and nights of fractious negotiations, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick—who has been on the case for a long time—had not read a letter to the negotiators around two in the morning of May 5 from George W. Bush. The president pledged that anyone who broke the agreement would be “held accountable” by the United Nations Security Council.
But sitting at the Security Council with the power to veto any move against a member of the United Nations is China, where the Khartoum government sends around 70 percent of its oil exports. In exchange for the oil, notes the April 24 Forbes magazine:
“China has supplied Sudan with tanks, artillery, helicopters and fighter aircraft [and] has also helped Sudan build its own factories to manufacture small arms and ammunition, the real weapons of mass destruction in Khartoum’s campaign of ethnic cleansing.”
All in all, I have grave doubts that the genocide will actually stop before or after October of this year. However, there may be a crucial result of this holocaust that could prevent future genocides and ethnic cleansing. There is a growing realization of the need to bypass the United Nations when one of its members tries to annihilate groups of its own people.
Ignored during all the coverage of the May peace agreement between Khartoum and some of the Darfur rebels was a stunning statement by U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan to Jim Lehrer on his May 4 PBS program.
Annan’s guilt at his silence when he could have stopped the genocide in Rwanda appears to have intensified as he watched the U.N. Security Council do nothing meaningful to stop the genocide in Darfur for these three years and instead engage in crafting empty proposals that amounted to a minuet of death.
This genocide in Darfur, Jim Lehrer said to Annan, “has been well known and reported all over the world. Why has it taken so long to stop this?”
Annan answered: “You can imagine my anguish as a human being and as an African—an African secretary-general—to see us going through this after what we went through in Rwanda. It’s very painful and difficult to take.”
He then described the way they “operate and run this peacekeeping operation,” saying, “It would be a bit like telling the fire department in Washington, D.C., that ‘We know you need a fire department, but we’ll build you one when the fire breaks.’ Because it is when the fire breaks that we [at the U.N.] start putting together the army, we start collecting the money, to create an army that will go in.”
Annan did not mention, though he knows it well, that in the U.N. Security Council, if one or more of the members with veto power has ideological or other reasons to refuse to start the fire engines, the fire keeps on spreading destruction.
But then came the light in the international darkness. Annan went on to declare what may well be his most vital legacy—if his successor agrees and will at least create worldwide opinion against members of the U.N. Security Council who keep feeding the flames of genocide by not allowing the U.N. to act.
“This is the built-in delay in the way we operate,” said Annan. “And this is why when member states deem that it is extremely urgent to move quickly, they’ve tended to put together a coalition of the willing, a multinational force, outside the U.N. so that they can move quickly.”
There should have been a coalition of the willing three years ago to bypass the United Nations and thereby save hundreds of thousands of lives of black Muslims in Darfur. Annan now has shown the way to make “never again” mean something.
Meanwhile, at the Gereida refugee camp in Darfur, Medina Hamed, two days after the peace agreement was signed, told New York Times reporter Lydia Polgreen that she will never trust her government after its militia, the janjaweed, seven months ago, slaughtered her two sons, Ahmed, 7, and Hamed, 9, among a group of men looking for food and water outside her village.
In that story, Jan Egeland, the U.N.’s head of emergency aid, said that while there may be “the beginning of the end of this hemorrhage of human life. . . [t]he alternative to peace through this agreement is too horrendous for any of us now to contemplate.”
But in fear and distrust, many thousands of brutally, mercilessly displaced survivors—so far—of the genocide are still contemplating their last horrifying days on earth despite the peace agreement. For some, it the last days have come already, because the janjaweed continue the killing and raping after May 5.