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

Congo Falls Apart (More)

Congo Update:

Congo rebels agreed Thursday to open humanitarian corridors near besieged Goma, but aid agencies warned of a “catastrophe” as terrified residents recounted tales of rape, looting and murder.

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, whose forces are on the edge of the eastern city, vowed in a letter to the United Nations mission in Kinshasa to allow “humanitarian organisations access to those in need who are behind our lines.”

Few people remained on the streets of Goma, where shops, schools and offices were closed as residents lived in fear of out-of-control remnants of the Congolese army, many of them drunk.

An AFP reporter was shown the bodies of seven civilians, including two women. All were killed overnight by Congolese soldiers on a looting binge, said landlord Jospeh Ndakola.

“Soldiers burst in here in the evening and stayed until four o’clock in the morning,” he said. “They looted all my tenants’ belongings, making them carry their things to their vehicles, and then they came back in to murder them.”

There were also reports from local residents that two women had been raped overnight on the outskirts of Goma in an area called Mosho.

“There is firing here, there are soldiers who are going from door to door to pillage our possessions,” resident Janine Kanyere told AFP by telephone from Goma’s Birere district.

“They are four homes away from me, I am frightened, I do not know what I am going to do,” she said.

Nkunda’s forces have captured several key towns in eastern Congo, sparking a mass exodus from the countryside and risking what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called a humanitarian crisis of “catastrophic dimensions.”

Aid agencies said at least 30,000 internal refugees were trapped between the rebels and UN forces blocking their access to Goma.

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said thousands of people in Nord-Kivu were streaming into neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.

Around 8,000 people have crossed into Uganda, where they were being housed in schools, churches and other public buildings, while about 1,200 people have entered Rwanda.

The UN refugee agency said Wednesday 45,000 had fled a camp outside the city, panicked by a rushed withdrawal of government forces.

Most headed towards Goma, where officials said the population was fleeing amid scenes of chaos, alarmed by the influx of refugees.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) described the situation as “catastrophic”, while Human Rights Watch called on international leaders to respond before it was too late.

“International leaders who successfully intervened before should act quickly to prevent the crisis in North Kivu from reaching catastrophic proportions,” said senior Congo researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg.

Earlier, Nkunda warned UN forces blocking the way to the refugee-swollen city that they would open fire if the UN tried to halt their advance.

Around 800 peacekeepers from the UN’s MONUC force are the only obstacle to a complete rebel takeover of the city.

Agence France Presse

Ah, sorry Congo, the world is too busy watching America make a President.

What About Congo?

While the United States, Canada and NATO pour money into fighting apparently endless and likely useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Democratic [sic] Republic of Congo goes up in flames again.  UN troops are clearly helpless to prevent the fighting which has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and women raped and maimed.  They don’t have the support they need to be effective which begs the question, who are the people the world will protect?  Why not these people?  Or are we really into protecting people at all?

One of the arguments used by George W. Bush et al for going to war with Iraq was to stop the murderous dictator Sadaam Hussein from killing his fellow citizens.  I never believed that was the reason but some people did.  The reason I didn’t believe it was that the US has never seen fit to save the citizens of any country but its own from cruelty.  What I want to know is, why aren’t people howling about the cost being paid by the citizens of Congo and demanding that the world intervene to protect them from atrocities, if they were so upset about Sadaam Hussein?

Rebels vowing to take Congo’s eastern provincial capital of 600,000 people advanced toward Goma on Tuesday as Congolese troops and UN tanks retreated in a haze of fumes.

Adding to the melee, tens of thousands of civilians jammed the roads. Many were carrying huge bundles of clothes, pots and bedding on their heads. Even young children balanced sacks of food on their heads, walking along rutted roads in bare feet.

The United Nations refugee agency said it was struggling to prepare for the arrival of an estimated 30,000 civilians fleeing the fighting between rebels and government forces.

Some refugees, who had spent the night sleeping on ground muddy from tropical showers, lobbed rocks Tuesday at UN tanks with Uruguayan troops also heading away from the battlefield.

“What are they doing? They are supposed to protect us,” complained Jean-Paul Maombi, a 31-year-old nurse from Kibumba.

As some tanks fled the fighting, UN officials ordered staff to stay home Tuesday and away from rock-throwing mobs. The commander of the embattled Congo peacekeeping force resigned Monday after just a month on the job, and officials were hastily trying to find a permanent successor.

Peacekeepers fired into the air at one UN compound that came under a hail of rocks Monday, and city leaders said three people were killed. Mobs hurled the stones to protest the UN’s failure to protect them from the rebels, despite having 17,000 peacekeepers in its Congo mission.

Renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda has vowed to seize Goma, a lakeside city of 600,000 on the border with Rwanda in Central Africa.

Mr. Nkunda signed a cease-fire with the government in January, but defected because he said the government showed no interest in protecting his Tutsi people — a tiny minority of 3 per cent in east Congo — from Rwandan Hutu militiamen who escaped to Congo after helping perpetrate Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Some half a million Rwandan Tutsis were slaughtered in that genocide.

But Mr. Nkunda’s ambitions have expanded since he launched a fresh onslaught on Aug. 28 — he now declares he will “liberate” all of Congo, a country the size of Western Europe with vast reserves of diamonds, gold and other resources. Congo’s vast mineral wealth helped fuel back-to-back wars from 1997-2003.

More than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes in the last two months, the UN says, joining 1.2 million displaced in previous conflicts in the east. Outbreaks of cholera and diarrhea have killed dozens in camps, compounding the misery.

UN efforts to halt Mr. Nkunda’s rebellion are complicated by the country’s rugged terrain, dense tropical forests that roll over hills and mountains with few roads. UN provincial chief Hiroute Guebre Selassie told angry civil leaders on Monday that Mr. Nkunda’s fighters also were using guerrilla tactics.

“We cannot use the helicopters to prevent them advancing, because they hide in the bush, they fight on many fronts, and they hide themselves among the population,” she said. “(That) strategy makes it very difficult for us to master the situation.”

On Monday, peacekeepers in attack helicopters fired at the rebels trying to stop them taking Kibumba, a village on the main road 50 km. north of Goma. But fleeing civilians say the fighters overran Kibumba anyway.

A UN helicopter gunship patrolled the sky Tuesday in Kilimanyoka, 10 km. north of Goma. Rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said he expected the helicopters to soon attack their front line, which he said is within 20 km. of Goma.

The chief UN mandate is to protect the population. But since the peace deal it also is helping the Congolese army disarm and repatriate Hutu militiamen — by force if necessary.

Yet Mr. Bisimwa, the rebel spokesman, claimed Tuesday the Congolese army has abandoned dozens of its positions to Hutu militiamen.

“It’s the Hutus who are on the front line and whom we are fighting, not the army,” he said. UN peacekeepers “leave us no choice but to fight on.”

Mr. Nkunda long has charged that Congolese soldiers fight alongside the militia of Hutus, an ethnic majority of about 40 per cent in the region.

Some 800 Hutu militiamen have voluntarily returned to Rwanda, the UN says, but the fighters recruit and coerce Congolese Hutu children and young men into their ranks daily — far outnumbering those who have returned home.

Civil leaders led by Jason Luneno said if UN peacekeepers cannot halt the rebel advance, the peacekeepers should leave Congo and “the people will descend into the streets to demand the government resign.”

Tensions also are high on the diplomatic front. Congo this week repeated charges that Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government is sending troops across the border to reinforce Mr. Nkunda. Rwanda denies the charges and the U.N. says they are unfounded.

The UN refugee agency said a team under “tight security” was heading to the village of Kibati to prepare for an influx of refugees. Wailing babies and children with worried frowns were among the thousands there who had no idea where they were headed.

“What can we do? We have nothing,” said Mr. Maombi, the nurse.

From The Globe and Mail

Women Cops in Iraq

Via the Women’s Media Center, from UPI:

An unprecedented number of Iraqi women have started training to become police officers at the Kirkuk Police Academy, officials say. 

The 37 female recruits who began their training Saturday are the first women at the academy in a year and their numbers are unprecedented, the American Forces Press Service reported Monday.

An academy officer said female officers are badly needed because Muslim customs do not allow men to touch women. The female officers will allow searches of women at checkpoints and government buildings, he said.

In addition, the academy officer said, “women think differently than men. They will bring fresh ideas to how we conduct business.”

For the recruits, becoming a police officer is both a chance to earn a good wage and to serve their country. They hold no truck with terrorists.

“Terrorists are not welcome in the province of Kirkuk,” said one 29-year-old recruit who goes by the name Intesar. “They are not Iraqis; they are not Muslim. It is not our way. They are mad.”

An Iraqi police recruit earns about 185,000 Iraqi dinars monthly — about $81 in U.S. currency — and after graduating will make 500,000 dinar — about $360.

The female recruits must meet the same standards as men to graduate.

I’m trying to figure out whether this is a “good” story or a “bad” story.

The amount of money being paid to these cops is paltry, male or female.  Better than nothing I suppose.  But paltry, considering the risks involved.  But yup, you can get people to work for very little when there are no options.

And speaking of options, what options do these women have?  Aaron Brown’s excellent documentary on Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan played on PBS tonight and he noted that many Iraqi women and girls have been virtually forced into prostitution and other forms of sex trade work in Syria and Jordan because they have either lost husbands and fathers to death or kidnapping in Iraq or because they’ve been abandoned after having been raped.  Hard to believe that some of those female cops aren’t in similar positions and have just as little choice about taking on this equally high-risk work.

I’d hate to think that some of these women could end up doing prostitution work themselves someday.  To say nothing of what it does to women (and men) to do work that puts them in a position of having to harass their fellow Iraqis on behalf of the Bush administration.

Is Afghanistan Burning?

More bad news from Afghanistan:

KABUL – A car bomb ripped through the front wall of the Indian Embassy in central Kabul on Monday, killing 40 people in the deadliest attack in Afghanistan’s capital since the fall of the Taliban, officials said.

The massive explosion detonated by a suicide bomber damaged two embassy vehicles entering the compound, near where dozens of Afghan men line up every morning to apply for visas.

The embassy is located on a busy, tree-lined street near Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry in the city centre. Several nearby shops were damaged or destroyed in the blast, and smouldering ruins covered the street. The explosion rattled much of the Afghan capital.

Shortly after the attack, a woman ran out of a Kabul hospital screaming, crying and hitting her face with both of her hands. Her two children, a girl named Lima and a boy named Mirwais, had been killed.

“Oh my God!” the woman screamed. “They are both dead.”

Najib Nikzad, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said the blast killed 40 people. Earlier, Abdullah Fahim, the spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, said the explosion killed at least 28 people and wounded 141, but an update of the number of injured was not immediately available.

And Mike Whitney’s updated analysis on the situation in Afghanistan:

Far from being the “good war”, Afghanistan has turned out to be a brutal war of revenge. Three decades of fighting has left the country in ruins and the violence is only getting worse. As victory becomes more elusive, the US has stepped up its bombing campaign making 2008 the most deadly year on record. Civilian casualties have skyrocketed and millions of Afghans have become refugees. At the same time, the Taliban have regrouped and taken over strategically vital areas in the south disrupting US supply lines from Pakistan. Khost has fallen into the hands of the Afghan resistance just as it did before the Soviet Army was defeated in the 1980s. The Taliban are moving inexorably towards Kabul and a battle for the capital now seems unavoidable.For the second month in a row, the number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan has exceeded Iraq. The fighting has intensified while security has steadily deteriorated. The Taliban’s numbers are growing, but the total allied commitment is still under 60,000 troops for a country of 32 million. This makes it impossible to capture and hold territory. The military is limited to “hit and run” operations. The ground belongs to the Taliban.

Michael Scheuer, former CIA chief of the Bin Laden Issue Station, made this statement at a recent conference at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC: “Afghanistan is lost for the United States and its allies. To use Kipling’s term, ‘We are watching NATO bleed to death on the Afghan plains.’ But what are we going to do. There are 20 million Pashtuns; are we going to invade? We don’t have enough troops to even form a constabulary that would control the country. The disaster occurred at the beginning. The fools that run our country thought that a few hundreds CIA officers and a few hundred special forces officers could take a country the size of Texas and hold it, were quite literally fools. And now we are paying the price.”

 

 

More at counterpunch

Via wood s lot

Occupied Gaza

Jimmy Carter says:

The world is witnessing a terrible human rights crime in Gaza, where a million and a half human beings are being imprisoned with almost no access to the outside world. An entire population is being brutally punished.

This gross mistreatment of the Palestinians in Gaza was escalated dramatically by Israel, with United States backing, after political candidates representing Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority parliament in 2006. The election was unanimously judged to be honest and fair by all international observers.

Israel and the US refused to accept the right of Palestinians to form a unity government with Hamas and Fatah and now, after internal strife, Hamas alone controls Gaza. Forty-one of the 43 victorious Hamas candidates who lived in the West Bank have been imprisoned by Israel, plus an additional 10 who assumed positions in the short-lived coalition cabinet.

Regardless of one’s choice in the partisan struggle between Fatah and Hamas within occupied Palestine, we must remember that economic sanctions and restrictions on the supply of water, food, electricity and fuel are causing extreme hardship among the innocent people in Gaza, about one million of whom are refugees.

Israeli bombs and missiles periodically strike the area, causing high casualties among both militants and innocent women and children. Prior to the highly publicised killing of a woman and her four children last week, this pattern had been illustrated by a report from B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights organisation, which stated that 106 Palestinians were killed between February 27 and March 3. Fifty-four of them were civilians, and 25 were under 18 years of age.

[…]

… despite the brief fanfare and positive statements at the peace conference last November in Annapolis, the process has gone backwards. Nine thousand new Israeli housing units have been announced in Palestine; the number of roadblocks within the West Bank has increased; and the stranglehold on Gaza has been tightened.   Alternet

Iraqi Refugees

Adam Doster writes about the Iraqi refugee/humanitarian crisis and the US’ ineffective response:

Rising violence and growing attention to the emergency forced President Bush’s hand in early 2007. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice created a high-level State Department task force on the refugee issue and promised to resettle 25,000 Iraqis. But over the course of the year, that target dropped to 7,000, and later to 2,000. By year’s end, only 1,608 Iraqis had been admitted.

The number of refugees processed each month would have to triple for the administration to meet its new 2008 goal of resettling 12,000 refugees. And on March 11, the State Department’s Senior Coordinator of Iraqi Refugee Issues James B. Foley told the House subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia that reaching that number is “not guaranteed.”

By contrast, Sweden, a nation of 9 million people, has resettled more than 90,000 Iraqis, in spite of its opposition to the invasion. The Center for American Progress’ Katulis and his colleagues have advocated that the United States should take in at least 100,000 refugees annually, based on UNHCR estimates of Iraqi citizens facing extreme vulnerability.

Why does America keep missing its targets? The State Department points to bureaucratic snafus, ranging from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) stringent security review of each applicant, to jurisdictional confusion between the State Department and DHS, to a lack of interviewers in the field. Kurtzer says the fault lies with the White House, where officials refuse to take the problem seriously.

“There’s been a lack of political will from the senior levels of the administration to respond to this crisis in a way that we know the government is capable of responding,” he says. “When the White House is interested in putting resources and finding solutions to a problem, they are clearly capable of doing it.”   alternet.org