Why Sudan must not be new Rwanda

Generation Y and Z are the terms demographers use to categorize the people born in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The world was at least a more serene place then, the Berlin Wall was coming down, the Communist bête noir is finally slain, and the forces of democracy seems thriving: from China to the Philippines to Kuwait. And then came Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the false illusions of a peaceful and glorious 21st century were shattered forever.

Fifteen years after the Rwandan Genocide (a term the Clinton Administration wavered in using), another conflict in Africa is quickly transforming itself into a catastrophe of Rwandan proportions. In 100-day genocide in Rwandan, an estimated one million people has perished. In Darfur, the death toll is nearing half-a-million now. Unlike Rwanda, the numbers are spread over the conflict’s five-year span (2003-2008). This makes the world less attentive but this does not mean that Darfur is not Rwanda, the Sequel. It is already becoming one.

Sudan’s main trading partners China and Russia are more concerned with oil rather than human lives. Currently, it will not be politically correct to point fingers for the Rwandan genocide, France and other Francophone nations of Africa that initially prevented the international intervention in Rwanda with their irrational fears that the American and British troops (who had just rolled back the Iron Curtain) would gradually diminish Francophone influence in Africa.

With Rwanda, the UN took forty days just to agree on the term ‘genocide’. On May 17, 1994, it pledged to send a peacekeeping force, which was further delayed by arguments over cost and contributions. A month later, the Security Council authorized the French forces to enter the country, but it was too late. They arrived in one area after another only to find burnt villages and killing fields. Later, the French Operation Turquoise was even accused to aiding the genocide perpetrators.

People who believe that the Western peacekeeping forces will only exacerbate the conflict between Islamic World and Judeo-Christian West need to revisit their creeds. The international community’s beliefs that the conflict is religious and political were the result of a false propaganda campaign by the Arab League, on whose leaders’ necks the scarlet letters of genocide should–and will–hang. Despite the Arab League’s ill omens, the Darfuri conflict is less religious in nature, but more political.

The Arab League has expressed ‘concern’ over the violence in Sudan’s Darfur which they term a ‘great regional instability’. The ongoing Darfur crisis that started in 2003 coincides with record high nominal oil prices, which resulted in record high budget surpluses in Gulf countries. However, their financial, humanitarian and peacekeeping contributions to the troubled region are farcical. The Arab League supported the ill-equipped African Union (AU) forces in Darfur (AMIS) as the only solution for Darfur but contributed only $15 million to AMIS (compared to the EU’s $520 million). Canada alone contributed more than all the Arab countries combined. Of 7,000 troops, only 76 (34 Egyptians, 20 Mauritanians, 13 Algerian and 9 Libyans) come from Arab countries.

However, the Arab countries are very active on Darfur issue-in thwarting international mediations. They justified their rejections by echoing the Sudanese government that even a neutral peacekeeping force will threaten the Sudanese sovereignty. This is double standard since a UN peacekeeping force is already working in the troubled Southern Sudan.

On Arab media–which gleefully glorified suicide bombers from Baghdad to Bethlehem, there are great censorships concerning Darfur. For example, when an Arab League Commission of Inquiry into Darfur (2004) found attacks on civilians as “massive violations of human rights”, the statement was later suppressed and removed from their website. Ironically–but predictably–the Darfur conflict was downplayed by the Arab media, which adores to vividly portray the violence in Israel, Lebanon-Syria and Iraq with morbid accuracy. They even recast the Darfur conflict as a cover for Palestine and Iraq. Hardest to understand is an editorial in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Gomhouriya dated April 20th 2007, which claims that only 200,000 people (instead of 400,000 as noted in the Western Press) are killed in ‘war crimes’ (which is the editorial’s substitute for the word ‘genocide’). Even if it is a civil war with only 200,000 casualties, it is time for international community to act.

In July 2008, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced the court’s decision to seek the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The Arab League has publicly condemned the resolution, and stated with a straight face that the domestic trials followed by justice systems of Arab League and the African Union will be a better substitute. In the case of pot calling kettle black, President Bashir had called Moreno-Ocampo a “terrorist” and suggested that he should be removed from office.

Already, the blood has been spilled and it is on the hands of Russia, China and the Arab countries. A 2006 UN report clearly states that the government supplied weapons to militias. However, Arab League, Russia and China rejected proposals to end the sale of weapons, which the Sudanese government also uses to attack civilian villages.

Hopefully, it will not escalate to a disaster of Rwandan scale. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, but let’s also keep our troops alert. With the horror of Somalia (and American intervention there) hanging above our heads, it will not be rational to green-light a military invasion, but it will be equally irrational to ignore the cries of millions of Sudanese people. Let’s just reflect about it.

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