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Friday, March 10, 2006

Genocide? It's just so nineties

The United Nations tried to suppress a report that named the alleged war criminals of Darfur, in a way that it would never have suppressed the names of alleged torturers at Guantanamo. On the blacklist was that friend of freedom, Mr Hussein. While he was ranting at the journalists, he said that if the UN sent troops to protect the people of Darfur, al-Qaeda would flood the country. ‘Darfur will become the graveyard for the United Nations,’ he promised with what sounded like inside knowledge.

Isn’t that an extraordinary threat for a UN member to make? Why isn’t every liberal newspaper and liberal party fulminating? Because genocide is out of fashion, dear. It may make a retro return in 2008, say, or 2009. Books called We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed will win literary prizes. Lachrymose documentaries will appear on BBC2, probably narrated by Fergal Keane. The Church of England will apologise, as it invariably does. They will all cry: ‘Never again!’ And at that precise moment, it will be happening again.

- from Nick Cohen's blistering commentary on the Archbishop of Canterbury's softly softly visit to Sudan.

This was in Sunday's Observer. I've written a lot about the Archbishop, and I really, really don't want it to degenerate into a personal vendetta. I thought if I waited a few days I might read something that would persuade me that Cohen was being unfair to him.

What I did read was his interview with Sir David Frost, conducted while he was still in Sudan, in which he found it possible to utter a clear-cut condemnation of Guantanamo Bay. The 'radical Christians' of Ekklesia are orgasmic. Sudan? No interest at all at the moment, but perhaps they will eventually find some way of blaming it all on George Bush. Whilst over at Thinking Anglicans the thinkers are not to be deflected from the Real Issues. Sudan? Isn't that on the same continent as that country where the Anglicans are so beastly towards gays?

Here is what the Archbishop told David Frost about Darfur:-

Darfur is still clearly a running sore. Nobody has a quick formula for sorting it out. I think the difficulty many people find, or sense they find here in Sudan, is a feeling that some of the donors outside Sudan are waiting for Darfur to clear up before they can fully deliver on promises for the south and although that’s not a completely accurate percentage, it’s sort of skewing things a bit here, I think.

...followed by this exchange:-

DAVID FROST: And what do you see as the future thus far, for Sudan – do you see it mainly as construction rather than reconstruction.

ROWAN WILLIAMS: It’s bound to be a future of construction, as I say infrastructure has to be put in place and there has to be, I think trust, in the national government. Because of the feeling of decades that basically the government has been run from the north for the north...

The Anglican Communion News Service, to its great credit, follows its lengthy report on the Archbishop's visit with some 'background notes', incuding this:-

According to STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur),* the ethnic conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has resulted in an estimated 400,000 deaths, 200,000 refugees in Chad, and 2.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). The vast majority being ethnic-black African Darfurians, many from the three largest ethnic tribes of the Fur, Masaalit, and Zaghawa. Recent cycles of violence that the above statistics result from, began in February 2003 when two ethnic-African rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) attacked government outposts. The government of Khartoum (led by the National Congress Party, formerly the National Islamic Front) and its proxy Arab militias (the janjaweed) responded by targeting civilians, in addition to clashing with the rebel groups.

The US Government and others labelled the Sudanese government’s counter insurgency strategy as "genocide", while the UN and others determined Khartoum’s actions to be "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity". Amid this terminology, the international community has only meagrely addressed the issue of Darfur. Efforts have been made in three main areas in attempt to manage the conflict, heavily relying on the young African Union: peace negotiations, peace monitoring troops, and diplomatic, symbolic action. STAND believes that approximately 10,000 civilians continue to die each month due to violence, malnutrition and disease. The measures taken by the international community, who are the most capable, experienced and responsible actors in stopping the conflict - have been too little, too late.

That is the measure of what the Archbishop failed to say. The Telegraph is not my paper of choice, but on this question its Africa correspondent David Blair says it all:-

Sudan has precious few independent voices able to speak out about the horrors of Darfur. As a religious leader, Dr Williams has a licence to do so.

The fact that he chose to keep silent means that he has done the people of Sudan a great disservice.

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