Celebrating Moral Victory in Sudan

How can anyone be unhappy about the International Criminal Court’s indictment of President Omar al-Bashirs of Sudan?

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has finally earned his day of infamy: On March 4, he became the first sitting head of state to be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the fledgling International Criminal Court . He joins Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, Charles Taylor of Liberia, and Jean Kambanda of Rwanda as heads of state subject to international justice for their international crimes. The fact that al-Bashir – sitting at the apex of a corrupt and brutally repressive state – is being prosecuted internationally is more important than the outcome of any particular charge in the indictment.   [more]

Well, some in the human rights community are not so happy and for good reason:

… at least five of the NGOs asked to leave Sudan have been UNHCR implementing partners carrying out important humanitarian programmes in Darfur but also Blue Nile State and Khartoum State. So it is noteworthy that this could have an impact not only on Darfur, but on vulnerable people elsewhere in the country.

We also have to be concerned at the possible implications this could have more broadly in the region. Our experience shows that when vulnerable populations are unable to get the help they need, they go elsewhere in search of protection and assistance. If food can’t get through to people, for example, then those people will soon suffer and have to look elsewhere.

 With some 4.7 million Sudanese – including 2.7 million internally displaced – already receiving assistance in Darfur, we are very concerned over the prospect of new population movements in the region should the fragile aid lifeline inside Sudan be disrupted. There are also 40,000 Chadian refugees in West Darfur.

Our work for internally displaced people as part of the UN team in Darfur has helped IDPs stay as close to home as possible while also relieving pressure on neighbouring Chad, where UNHCR and its partners are already caring for nearly 250,000 refugees from Darfur in a string of 12 remote camps spread over 600 kms near the Sudan border. These isolated camps and the remote communities surrounding them are already struggling to provide the basics needed to sustain 250,000 refugees. In addition, there are some 180,000 internally displaced persons in eastern Chad.

 Any influx to Chad would be an additional challenge for UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies because of ongoing insecurity and instability in the country, as well as limited resources such as water.

Moral victories can’t be celebrated by people who are starving to death and dying of thirst.

Others think Western support is simply hypocritical:

Criminals, including international ones, must be put behind bars, but the world is known to have put off justice “in the name of peace.” Unfortunately, this tolerance allows many people, in particular in conflict-ridden Africa and Asia, to think they should wait, close their eyes to crimes, unless they want to face difficult “consequences.”

This faulty reasoning is based on confrontation between the ethics of principles and the ethics of consequences. But it cannot be abandoned outright because it developed long ago and has become a fixture in international relations. All major players in the West use it selectively, when and if it suits them, which is unfair.

UPDATE:  Hmmmmmm.  From Rob Crilly at the Al Salaam Camp, North Darfur –

Aid officials warn that a humanitarian emergency is in danger of becoming a disaster. The move has put the supply of food to 1.1 million people in doubt, as the UN’s World Food Programme scrambles to find lorries to deliver sacks of grain. It had been using four of the expelled charities to get food to people in need. Outside the hospital – run by the International Rescue Committee until it was ordered out – a mother brushed flies from the face of her daughter. “My baby is sick,” Fatima Abdulrahmen said. “She has a fever and I brought her here and now I don’t know what to do. Who will help me now?”

The people who should be helping – the staff of 13 international charities including Oxfam, Médicins sans Frontières and Care – were boarding flights to the capital, Khartoum.

[..]

In El Fasher, capital of North Darfur, government officials began the process of seizing millions of pounds in assets belonging to the charities. Men with dark glasses and clipboards arrived at the Oxfam office to begin itemising equipment. They left with laptops, desktop computers and satellite phones, choking off communication. There was a similar scene at the French agency Action Contre La Faim. “We are due to start distributing food to the camps in a fortnight,” one worker said. “Who else is going to do this and stop people starving? Words cannot describe what is happening.”

Charities reported that their bank accounts were being frozen. Doctors with Médicins sans Frontières were trying to contain two deadly outbreaks of meningitis before being expelled. Their clinics have closed.

It’s all here

Afghanistan: We’ve Got ADD

From Martin Regg Cohn at The Star:

It took a milestone to remind Canadians of the millstone around our necks:

Three soldiers died in Afghanistan last week, pushing the death toll to the symbolically important benchmark of 100. That was the cue for newspapers to publish photo montages of the fallen soldiers, triggering more public grief and questioning of the mission.

Until then, Canadians had seemed blissfully oblivious to our biggest overseas military operation since the Korean War.

Canada’s political leadership has long been disengaged from this deployment. Afghanistan was conspicuously absent from the coalition accord signed last week by the opposition parties. And the war against the Taliban was missing in action from the fall campaign.

The debate – or lack of it – has slipped into a predictable pattern: When the mission is going smoothly, the less said the better. When soldiers die, there is much hand-wringing about how we got there – and wishful thinking about how we get out of there.

There’s plenty of second-guessing the mission, but relatively little forethought about the deadly serious consequences of the Taliban’s rebirth. Now, President-elect Barack Obama’s unequivocal commitment to bolster America’s presence in Afghanistan will force Canada to resolve its conflicted view of the conflict.

Obama ran on this issue. Canadian politicians have run away from it. Americans are likely to act on their words. Canadians are destined to talk around it, while our soldiers just get on with it.

Canadians wax nostalgic about the golden age of peacekeeping. But this conveniently ignores the diminishing returns of our most recent deployments to the Balkans, Haiti and Somalia, where we were sitting ducks.

We pay lip service to the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine advanced by Canada at the United Nations, which commits us to intervene when lives are at stake. And we make the right noises about rushing to Darfur to stamp out genocide – as if that would be any less bloody and costly than our commitment to Afghanistan.

Read the rest here

US, Sudan & Zimbabwe

There’s no defense for the ugliness in Sudan and Zimbabwe. But US policy in connection with those two problematic nations is running into a buzzsaw. In both cases, the United States is acting clumsily, and it is facing stiff opposition from Russia, China, and many African nations.

Two obvious conclusions: the Bush Administration’s muddled pursuit of democracy-by-force has made the entire world suspicious of America’s motives in world crises, especially when they’re tied to possible armed intervention. And confronting nations’ real-world strategic interests, such as China’s interest in Sudan, under the guise of humanitarian concerns won’t fly, after Iraq.

The Ugliness in Sudan and Zimbabwe

Robert Dreyfuss

Bad Times

The decision of Canada’s Federal Court today to stay the deportation order for Corey Glass was the only good news I got.  Here’s the rest of it [depression warning]:

Democratic led Congress – with the support of those clones, John McCain and Barack Obama – voted to violate the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution and cover up the surveillance crimes of the George W. Bush administration – a day that will live in infamy

Barack Obama was a complete sell-out on the FISA bill, voting in favour of it as well as for “cloture” which prevented the filibustre he wasn’t intending to undertake in any case; but Obama’s hypocrisy isn’t really news any more

Glenn Greenwald says:

What is most striking is that when the Congress was controlled by the GOP — when the Senate was run by Bill Frist and the House by Denny Hastert — the Bush administration attempted to have a bill passed very similar to the one that just passed today. But they were unable to do so. The administration had to wait until Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats took over Congress before being able to put a corrupt end to the scandal that began when, in December of 2005, the New York Times revealed that the President had been breaking the law for years by spying on Americans without the warrants required by law.

Iran conducted a missile test in response to Israel’s test attack fighter jet flight several weeks ago; and, answering to increasingly hostile rhetoric in the US and UK, Iran promised to retaliate if attacked;  in unison, and without substantial disagreement, John McCain and Barack Obama behaved as though the US was under immediate threat of attack and promised to fight back – whah?

The G8 completely failed the world on making carbon cuts that might, just might, save the planet

Barbara Boxer exposed a cover-up orchestrated by Dick Cheney to prevent the EPA from tackling greenhouse emissions

Japan used repressive tactics against protesters at the G8 summit

Barack Obama assured people who are concerned about his shift to the center that the problem is them – they’re just not listening, he says:  “I believe in a whole lot of things that make me progressive…”   Ahh, I feel so much better

The Royal Court of Justice in UK considered whether or not “the sounds of slapping and thwacking” at a Chelsea sex party hosted by Max Mosley accompanied a Nazi concentration camp motif or was an occasion on which  “the use of guttural commands in German, an old Luftwaffe jacket and military-style caps and boots had nothing at all to do with Nazi fantasies”.

The Caucus Blog at NYT proclaimed:  “A Trailer Woman Beseeches Obama”

Seven UN-AU peacekeepers were slain in Darfur

The Canadian government knew that child soldier Omar Khadr was being tortured at Guantanamo Bay and did absolutely fuck all about it

In an outburst of road rage, a Toronto man ran a fellow motorist off the road on the Queen Elizabeth Way and killed him

Jon Benet Ramsay’s parents didn’t kill her.  Of course, her mother, Patsy, died before she could be told of her innocence

The trouble with this is, I could go on.

UPDATE:  The ACLU is going to mount a court challenge to the FISA Bill as soon as the Shrub signs it

UPDATE II:  Here’s what PM Stephen Harper had to say about the G8 carbon emission … gee, what are they calling what they did anyway?  Never mind, here’s what Harper said:

The argument that we should do more is an interesting argument, but it can’t be made by those who aren’t doing anything, so I think the pressure will be on them to do something,” the prime minister told reporters …

I’m not kidding.  Look here

UN’s Corrosive Neglect of Women

Most people seemed to be suitably impressed when, on June 19, the US got its ducks in a row and convinced all the members of the UN Security Council to pass a resolution aimed at doing “something” about women who are raped and otherwise abused during armed conflict.  I expressed scepticism, given at least in part because the US, the UN and the world have sat idly by for years while atrocities were committed against women and girls in Darfur and Congo.

At The Nation, Barbara Crossette expresses similar scepticism, pointing out that, while the UN resolution has been widely touted as establishing the principle that rape is a tactical war crime, this is not so. 

War crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the Balkans have convicted men for rape. Sexual abuse is enshrined as a war crime in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

This new resolution, as I think could be expected, has no teeth.  It sets out no sanctions for countries which ignore it, saying only that the UN may

“adopt appropriate steps to address widespread or systematic sexual violence.” But only “where necessary,” whatever that means.

And as Stephen Lewis has pointed out, the UN resolution that renewed its peacekeeping mandate with the Democratic Republic of Congo

… contained some of the strongest language condemning rape and sexual violence ever to appear in a Security Council resolution, and obliged MONUC, in no uncertain terms, to protect the women of the Congo. The resolution was passed at the end of December last year.

In January of this year, scarce one month later, there was an “Act of Engagement”–a so-called peace commitment signed amongst the warring parties. I use “so-called” advisedly because evidence of peace is hard to find. But that’s not the point: the point is much more revelatory and much more damning.

The peace commitment is a fairly lengthy document. Unbelievably, from beginning to end, the word “rape” never appears. Unbelievably, from beginning to end, the phrase “sexual violence” never appears. Unbelievably, “women” are mentioned but once, lumped in with children, the elderly and the disabled. It’s as if the organizers of the peace conference had never heard of the Security Council resolution.

But it gets worse. The peace document actually grants amnesty–I repeat, amnesty–to those who have participated in the fighting. To be sure, it makes a deliberate legal distinction, stating that war crimes or crimes against humanity will not be excused. But who’s kidding whom? This arcane legal dancing on the head of a pin is not likely to weigh heavily on the troops in the field, who have now been given every reason to believe that since the rapes they committed up to now have been officially forgiven and forgotten, they can rape with impunity again. And indeed, as Dr. Mukwege testified before Congress just last week, the raping and sexual violence continues.

The war may stutter; the raping is unabated.

I pointed out in my previous post that, if the UN was serious, it would at least include women in the debate, since the women of Congo and Darfur and Rwanda and the Balkans are, unfortunately, the experts.  However, even when it has committed itself to doing so, the UN seems happy to ignore its committments to including women in these kinds of processes.  The “peace process” in Congo was essentially orchestrated by the UN.  Despite its own Resolution 1325, passed nearly eight years ago, which called for the active participation of women in all stages of peace negotiations, Lewis points out

… there was no one at that peace table directly representing the women, the more than 200,000 women, whose lives and anatomies were torn to shreds by the very war that the peace talks were meant to resolve.

Thus does the United Nations violate its own principles.

From a bureaucratic point of view, and the UN might stun Kafka for the complexity and irrationality of its bureacracy, it is the UN’s Population Fund which provides money to care for women and girls who have been physically and sexually violated.  Of course, the Population Fund is chronically underfunded and “pathetically weak on the ground.” [Lewis]  Crossette points out that

… the administration in Washington … has cut off aid – now totaling nearly $300 million over seven years, with the latest installment axed on June 27 – to the United Nations Population Fund, which tries to help sexually violated women meet their most urgent and intimate needs, including safe abortions and “morning after” contraceptives. A woman in a besieged refugee camp is not terribly interested in lectures about abstinence, either.

[emphasis mine]

Further, rather than upsetting everyone by resolving to impose any form of sanction against countries in violation of the various resolutions,

… the resolution calls for another report by the Secretary General, due next June. The mandate for the report is peppered with words such as analysis, benchmarks and proposals. In the intervening year, countless women will die, and girls will become sex slaves to brutal armies and pick-up militias – the Burmese military and the warlords of Congo come to mind.

In Congo, the brutalizing of women and girls has been going on for eight years and has been all too well documented.  It’s very difficult to see what another report could contribute in any case and quite unbearable to know that so many more women will be added to the already mindnumbing numbers of the maimed and permanently injured.

In his cry of outrage about the “criminal international misogyny” currently ignored by the world and dealt with completely ineffectually by the UN, Stephen Lewis set out exactly what needed to happen.  And it wasn’t yet another resolution and another report:

 The Secretary-General should summon the heads of the twelve UN agencies allegedly involved in “UN Action” on violence against women and read the riot act. He should explain to them that press releases do not prevent rape, and he should demand a plan of action on the ground, with dollars and deadlines. He should equally summon the heads of the ten agencies that comprise UNAIDS and demand a plan of implementation for testing, treatment, prevention and care for women who have been sexually assaulted, again with deadlines. I’m prepared to bet that UNAIDS has never convened such a meeting, despite the fact that the violence of the sexual assaults in the Congo creates avenues in the reproductive tract through which the AIDS virus passes. Dr. Mukwege talks of increased numbers of HIV-positive women turning up at Panzi.

The Secretary-General, taking a leaf from Eve Ensler, should insist on a network of rape crisis centers, rape clinics in all hospitals, sexual violence counsellors, and Cities of Joy right across the Eastern Congo… indeed, across the entire country. The Secretary-General should demand a roll call, an accounting of which countries have contributed financially to ending the violence, and in what amounts, plus those who have not, and then publish the results for the world to see so that the recalcitrants can be brought to the bar of public opinion (How’s this for a juxtaposition by way of example: over the course of over a decade? The UN Trust Fund to end Violence Against Women has triumphantly reached $130 million. The United States spends more than $3 billion/week on the war in Iraq).

But there’s more. The Secretary-General should launch a personal crusade to double the troop complement–that is, MONUC–in the Congo. The protection provisions in the new so-called peace accord, for women, cannot be implemented with the current troop numbers, large though they may seem.

And finally, the Secretary-General should pull out all the stops in getting the United Nations to agree that the Congo is the best test case for the principle of the “Responsibility to Protect.” This principle was universally endorsed by heads of state at the United Nations in September of 2005. It’s the first major contemporary international challenge to the sanctity of sovereignty. It simply asserts that where a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own people from gross violations of human rights, then the international community has the responsibility to intervene. That responsibility can be diplomatic negotiation, or economic sanctions, or political pressure or military intervention–whatever it takes to restore justice to the oppressed. Responsibility to Protect was originally drafted with Darfur in mind–it’s equally applicable to the Congo. We have to start somewhere.

But the UN hasn’t.  It hasn’t started.  We are less than naive if we settle for what the UN has offered.  One more resolution, lots of media attention, a visit from Condoleeza Rice and then all falls quiet for a year until a silly report tells us what we have known for far too long.  I’m not sure who, now, will take responsibility for the women of Congo and Darfur and Burma.  It’s unlikely to be the UN.  And we truly can’t blame countries other than our own:

.. there is an underlying, more corrosive reluctance among member nations of the UN to confront the issue of abuses against women generally. UN documents, mission statements, guidelines, how-not-to books and years of speeches have paid lip service to ending the routine abasement of women in many places, in peace as well as war. In the UN there are slogans about how “women’s rights are human rights” and commitments to gender mainstreaming and statements about the empowerment of women as the key to ending poverty. Yet UN statistics on the lives of the majority of the world’s women, particularly in Africa and South Asia, tell a different story–a story of absent rights, the denial of schooling, the lack of control over their own bodies. Meanwhile, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) is lining up a hoped-for 1 million signers of a petition against violence, to add to the archive of ringing declarations from international conferences and exhortations by UN officials. Governments are asked to make a public pledge: “Say no to violence against women.”

Pledges? Why not just do something.

Our Sisters

In Sunday’s New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote about the use of rape as a strategy of war in countries such as Serbia, Darfur and most particularly, the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Condoleeza Rice is coming to the UN Security Council special session this Thursday to lead a debate on the use of sexual violence.

I’m glad Kristol wrote about it and glad that it’s coming the the attention of the Security Council but I’m not throwing a party, for many reasons.

First, it has taken an unconscionable and egregious amount of time to begin discussing the wholesale sexual torture and rape of hundreds of thousands of women and girls in these countries.  Anyone who has done even fifteen minutes of research can attest to the numbers, the almost unspeakable, nightmarish horrors and permanent injuries inflicted and the ringing silence of the UN Security Council and member countries in response to the massive violation of women’s personal security.  I just can’t thank them for finally noticing.  Cynically, perhaps, I wonder why they have chosen to notice even now and I’m sorry to say that I can’t rid myself of the notion that it is only because the numbers of these violations and their consequences has begun to compromise the possibility of the resumption of any kind of civil society in these countries, ever.  Perhaps the threat of ongoing instability and upheaval is what finally raises the terrible suffering of women to the level where Ms Rice et al simply must begin to respond whether they care about the multiplied individual suffering or not. 

As well, I won’t believe that the Security Council will do anything substantive to alleviate this suffering until I see it.  And I doubt that they know how, even if their intentions are positive.  For one thing, a fundamental precept of this particular kind of work with women is that they be empowered and engaged, in whatever ways possible, in the process of their own recovery and in devising ways to change the conditions in which they are made so vulnerable to these abuses.  It would be good to see women’s groups from these countries (and there ARE women activist groups), including women living with the results of sexual violence, being consulted by the Council and in fact, leading the debate.  Rather than Condoleeza Rice.  Of all the women in the world, she might be my last choice.

Finally, for now anyway, a statement in Kristof’s article disturbs me greatly.  Here are his first two paragraphs:

World leaders fight terrorism all the time, with summit meetings and sound bites and security initiatives. But they have studiously ignored one of the most common and brutal varieties of terrorism in the world today.

This is a kind of terrorism that disproportionately targets children. It involves not W.M.D. but simply AK-47s, machetes and pointed sticks. It is mass rape – and it will be elevated, belatedly, to a spot on the international agenda this week.

Let me repeat the first sentence of that second paragraph:  “This is a kind of terrorism that disproportionately targets children.”

Say what?  NOT “children”.  FEMALE children.  And WOMEN for god sakes.  Kristof manages to “disappear” adult women and gender simultaneously.  Obviously, I have no way of knowing if this choice was conscious or unconscious and it really doesn’t matter because it isn’t about Kristof in the end.  Rather, it is about the stubborn resistance of systemic sexism to efforts at transformation. 

Kristof’s “error” in characterizing the problem is neither incidental nor insignificant.  If we cannot define the problem and its causes accurately, we will swim upstream forever in our efforts to find its solution.  Indeed, the problem is embedded in the language Kristof uses to describe it.

Violence in Darfur and the DNC is out of control and effects all of its citizens; men and women, girls and boys.  But the problem of sexual violence, torture and rape is SPECIFIC to females.  There is no evidence that sexual violence is used against males in great numbers.  Since it is a specific problem, it is amenable only to a specific solution, one that must, therefore, take account of the reasons that women are being targetted for this form of abuse and that keeps women’s needs and abilities clearly in focus in formulating practical responses that have any hope at all of being successful.

What’s happening in Darfur and DNC (and Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan etc) is the wholesale sexual torture, rape and maiming of women; wives, daughters and mothers.  Sisters.  OUR sisters.

UPDATE:  While the numbers on sexual assaults in war-torn countries confirm what we know about these crimes in western countries, we also know that the sexual violence of men is not completely confined to female targets.  In The Star today, Rick Westhead reports on Canadian soldiers who witnessed the brutal rapes of several young boys by Afghan soldiers. 

Myanmar. And Congo. And Darfur …

My evening news channel, CanWest Global, says that 22,500 people are reported dead and 44,000 missing after a cyclone hit Myanmar.  These numbers have more than doubled each day since the deadly storm.  From the Guardian/UK

The dramatically escalating toll of dead and missing four days after Cyclone Nargis slammed into the south and centre of the country reflects the degree of devastation and remoteness of the worst-affected areas along the coast.

The military regime in Burma, known for the brutal repression of its people, has said it would accept international help, and teams of specialists are making their way to the affected areas.

Noppadol Pattama, Thailand’s foreign minister, said the Burmese ambassador to Bangkok, Ye Win, told him that 30,000 were missing. Asia’s worst cyclone hit Bangladesh in 1991, killing 143,000.

In the delta area to the south and south-west of Rangoon, witnesses described how 16 villages along the coast near another devastated town, Laputta, had simply vanished in the flood surge.

Aid agencies have estimated that as many as 1 million people may be without shelter after their flimsy bamboo homes were torn down by the winds or washed away in the flooding that left a carpet of mud when it receded.

“We have a major humanitarian catastrophe on our hands,” said Chris Kaye, Burma country director for the UN’s World Food Programme.

“The numbers are harrowing. Certainly, we know that in areas in the southern delta – towns like Bogalay and Laputta – were very, very badly affected by the storm surge. A surge in low-lying areas coupled with high winds served to flatten areas, taking villages and villagers with it. It’s a tragic and serious situation,” he said.

I want to know why the world rushes to the assistance of this country and these people while at the same time virtually ignoring the crises in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo; why thus far we have done little to deal with rising food prices causing malnutrition in developing countries such as Haiti; and on and on.  I am certainly not suggesting that we ignore Mynamar’s people.  But we do need to check our arrogance about humanitarianism.  We help where we want to help. 

Some analysts of the situation in the DRC note that the instability and permanent state of war in that country for the last ten years, now marked by atrocities against tens of thousands of women and children, is actually rather convenient for Western countries such as the US and, no doubt, Canada and other countries who can pillage the country’s natural resources with impunity.  For instance, it is estimated that one million dollars worth of coltan  (a mineral used to produce cell phones, computer chips, laptops and other electronics) is removed from the DRC EACH DAY.  And unknown quantities of diamonds, gold and other precious stones and minerals.  If action in Iraq is to some degree about oil, is inaction in the DRC about plundering this resource-rich country?  In Darfur, China has already staked out much of the oil produced by Sudan.  If Western countries responded to the crisis there, what would they get in return?  Is this how we decide who deserves our help?  I’m not saying I know the answer.  But I think the question is important.  With respect to the mineral resources being plundered in Congo, see   this  and   this   and   this

The relationship between the pillaging of natural resources and the tragic violence against women in Congo is also documented in the compelling documentary The Greatest Silence : Rape in the Congo  by Lisa Jackson.

China, Darfur and the “Apolitical” Olympics

In Darfur, the Chinese are covering for or inspiring a situation I wrote about a year ago in an article published by Le Monde and reprinted in the American and European press. Entire regions of the country have been reduced to scorched earth: zones where one can drive for hundreds of miles without seeing a living soul, where there are refugee areas to which survivors have been herded like cattle, where the rape of women and girls has been raised to a military strategy. Even today, at the very moment I write this, air attacks are likely taking place in the western part of the province, and at least 20,000 newly displaced people have been cut off from all humanitarian aid in the region of Jebel Moon alone.  Bernard-Henri Levy, TNR,  more here  

Mia Farrow  has travelled to Darfur seven times in her efforts to spur the international community into action in Darfur.  Up to date UN information on the situation there can be found at her website:

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The conflict in Darfur is deteriorating, with full deployment of a new peacekeeping force delayed until 2009 and no prospect of a political settlement for a war that has killed perhaps 300,000 people in five years, U.N. officials said Tuesday.

In grim reports to the Security Council, the United Nations aid chief and the representative of the peacekeeping mission said suffering in the Sudanese region is worsening. Tens of thousands more have been uprooted from their homes and food rations to the needy are about to be cut in half, they said.

“We continue to see the goal posts receding, to the point where peace in Darfur seems further away today than ever,” said John Holmes, undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

more here

Comment on a Comment

My friend, Liz Leroux, left a comment after reading the poem Psalm for Distribution” :

There was an article in the Globe this morning echoing the same sentiment expressed in this poem. Daoud Hari who is from Darfur, currently living in the US, has written a book on the suffering in his country. The article reflects his bewilderment with the abundance in our societies and lack thereof in Darfur. How long do we have to hear this message before something is done? That bewilders me.
Comment by Liz Leroux — April 7, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

Well, many of us have heard the message and, like Liz, wish someone would do something.  But our wishes don’t get translated into political action very often.  Certainly the genocide has been allowed to go on in Darfur for years and it’s not clear that “the powers-that-be” are even wringing their hands.  You see, the Chinese have already contracted for much of the oil in Sudan …  And the Chinese don’t seem any more inclined to attend to the war going on under their noses than are we.

I’m inclined to think that our economic and political forms of governance (and China’s) are not likely to respond in any situation that doesn’t fundamentally effect “the bottom line”.  Joel Bakan talks about this in his book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power”  (also a documentary).  Bakan said:

The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause to others.

I suspect we all know how much power corporations have at the government level.  I think that, for all the touting of democracy in “The West”, we have undergone and are still undergoing a radical process of “un-democratization”.  Our media is more and more concentrated in the hands of rich and powerful corporations, leaving us hostage to their decisions about the dissemination of information; corporate farmers search for ever more ways to make us dependent on “value-added” (READ: processed) foods that make us sick; the planet is in jeopardy from toxic waste, greenhouse gases etc.; an apparently endless war rages in Iraq – a war that many people think is illegal and immoral and many others think cannot be won; and so on ad nausem, literally.  I think many of us care deeply and feel increasingly powerless at the same time.

Bakan says, among other things, that we need to redemocratize the government in such a way as to control the destructive behaviour of corporations.  That would be a revolution.  Bloodless, I hope.  A revolution I have often despaired will ever come.  Yet, when I read the alternative press and see how many others do as well and when I watch this evening’s news showing large and deep protests against China’s human rights policy in Tibet, my hope is renewed.

Bakan’s work is necessarily narrowly focused, but the implications and consequences of the changes he thinks necessary are not.  In any case, he gives us something to think about rather than just wringing our hands and perhaps he maps a new direction.  The “Angel of Distribution” also points the way, and that is one small reason that I love poetry:

It’s not really important
whether poetry is red
or blue — I do it for fun.
Or because it doesn’t hurt.
Or really because I’m scared
about nothing being done.

Dan Machlin
Dear Body
Ugly Duckling Press