The fabulous magazine Left Turn invited me to update my September essay on Sudan, so I totally revamped it in light of the recent peace accords. Below is an early draft. For the final version, get Left Turn!
The crisis in Sudan provides an extraordinary study in hypocrisy.
On November 16, 2004, for example, a story by Alex Kipotrich of the East African Standard, based in Nairobi, reported a claim by Amnesty International’s Arms and Security Director that France, China, the USSR, the United Kingdom and the United States were all breaking the arms embargo on Sudan and supplying the Sudanese regime with weapons (1). Amnesty International’s press conference exposes the hypocrisy of the very United Nations parties that have so strongly condemned the Sudanese regime’s violations of human rights in Darfur helping to supply weapons to fuel the conflict. Amnesty International itself has a bit of a hypocrisy problem – in 1991, for example, it picked up the phony story about Iraqis murdering Kuwaiti babies in incubators, helping the propaganda machine of the first US devastation of Iraq. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, released a report arguing that the UN needs to take urgent action to safeguard those who were displaced by government-sponsored violence as they try to return to their homes (2). Human Rights Watch, like Amnesty International, is an organization that does incredibly important work, of which this latest report is a part. And yet, like AI, HRW has helped some very un-human-rights-friendly interests, notably recently in Venezuela, where its reports have featured exaggerated and inflammatory rhetoric has helped the US campaign against the democratic and popular government of that country.
But AI and HRW are organizations of decent people genuinely concerned about human rights, and their mistakes are very mild hypocrisy compared to others. The United Kingdom, for example, is proposing a 10,000 member force for Sudan. Chris Mullin, Foreign Office Minister for Africa, said publicly on November 16 to the Sudanese government: “We are saying that if you (the Sudanese government) get your act together, to get a stable state and live together then this is what we can contribute – a major peacekeeping operation by the UN, humanitarian relief, law and order, help with infrastructure and establishing the rule of law and democratic structures.” (3) This generous offer to help the beleaguered and battered civilians of Darfur comes from the same United Kingdom whose military engaged in international aggression, invading Iraq in March 2003 – defined as the supreme war crime by the Nuremberg tribunal – and more recently relieved US Marines in Iraq so that they could engage in a variety of war crimes in Fallujah, from defining all men over 15 as combatants to destroying hospitals and mosques to using anti-armor munitions against civilians.
And all of this hypocrisy is minor compared to the remarkable depths reached before the Sudanese government and the rebels signed a peace agreement on November 10, 2004, in Abuja, Nigeria. In that agreement, the Sudanese government agreed to stop military flights over Darfur and to disarm the paramilitaries that used massacres to displace 1.45 million within Sudan and force another 200,000 to flee to Chad, and cause the deaths of some 70,000 over the past year. The government also allowed aid workers free access to Darfur. Prior to the agreement, the United Nations was treated to Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin (who was fresh from sending Canadian troops to help oust democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti and install a regime of paramilitary murderers) exhorting the world to stop “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity”, though only those by Sudan, not by Canada’s friends like the United States and Israel. The world was treated to the likes of (now former) US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Republican Senator Bill Frist, and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, all enthusiastic Iraq invaders, expressing remarkably selective indignation over the situation in Darfur.
Now that an agreement has been reached, there are still very grave concerns. There are many reports of local violations of the ceasefire, particularly by Sudanese police. The day before the agreement, UN Special Representative Jan Pronk expressed worries that both parties were losing control of the situation: “The government does not control its own forces fully. It co-opted paramilitary forces and now it cannot count on their obedience. . . The border lines between the military, the paramilitary and the police are being blurred.” Meanwhile the rebels are in “a leadership crisis…There are splits. Some commanders provoke their adversaries by stealing, hijacking and killing; some seem to have begun acting for their own private gain.” Pronk worried that “they may turn to preying on the civilians in areas they control by force -and we may soon find Darfur is ruled by warlords.” (4)
Should the accords hold, however, it is important to note that it will not have been because of intervention or bluster by imperial powers, but primarily because of pressure and diplomacy by the African Union. Now it should be noted that the AU consists of regimes that have hypocrisy problems of their own (Nigeria – where the accords were signed – has a regime that knows something about hypocrisy (5)). But in the most difficult, and even horrific of circumstances, Africans have managed to at least begin to resolve conflicts that the imperial powers helped to create and to aggravate.
For activists, the key will be what it has been: to avoid falling into false debates about whether we need to “support” imperial interventions in order to help the oppressed victims of regimes that, for whatever reason, happen to be on the imperial target list rather than the imperial client list. Imperial interventions are destructive, leave the world worse off, and need to be challenged and stopped. Our “support” for such adventures can only result in discrediting ourselves and forcing us to join the long list of hypocrites. The alternative challenge is best posed by Egyptian activists Khalid Fishawy and Ahmed Zaki of alternative media site kefaya.org:
“Could we imagine building a front for the potentials of peoples and democratic movements in Sudan, hurt and disaffected by war, with the solidarity of the global antiwar movement, to impose democratic mechanisms caring for the interests of oppressed Sudanese communities, races, cultures and classes, against the rapacity of the interests of US and Western European Imperialists? Could this aim be possible? Is it promising for the global justice and peace movement to regain its momentum, instead of supporting undemocratic authoritarian and fundamentalist forces, this time in Sudan, under the title of allying with whomever is against the American Empire?” (6)
(1) Republished at allafrica.com http://allafrica.com/stories/200411160782.html
(2) Reported by the United Nations and republished at allafrica.com http://allafrica.com/stories/200411160250.html The HRW report itself is http://hrw.org/backgrounder/africa/darfur1104/
(3) From Paul Redfern in the East African, Nairobi, November 15, 2004. Republished in allafrica.com http://allafrica.com/stories/200411160718.html
(4) The source, again, is allafrica.com http://allafrica.com/stories/200411090732.html
(5) See the work of Ike Naijaman on ZNet’s Africa Watch for some colorful examples http://www.zmag.org/racewatch/africawatch.htm
(6) Fishawy and Zaki, “Sudan: Can We Learn?” ZNet August 26, 2004. http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=2&ItemID=6114