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Darfur Waits: U.N. Deliberates

Donald Paneth Sep 22, 2004

By Donald Paneth

United Nations, N.Y. – The extraordinary crisis of violence, displacement of people, burning of villages, rape and murder in the Darfur region of Sudan is producing still another go-slow response in the United Nations Security Council.

The Council, which has been deliberating the Darfur crisis since May, adopted a resolution on Sept. 18 calling for the appointment of a commission to determine “whether or not acts of genocide have occurred” and declaring that the Council would later consider “taking additional measures.”

The vote was 11 in favor, none opposed, four abstentions. China, Russia, Algeria and Pakistan abstained, indicating a continuing division in the Council that goes beyond differences on this particular resolution.

Sponsoring the resolution were the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Romania and Spain. The U.S. representative, John C. Danforth, summarized the situation in Darfur. It is the largest humanitarian disaster in the world today, he said. Fifty thousand people have already died, with an estimated 8,000 deaths taking place monthly. Some 1.2 million persons have fled their homes, with about 100,000 refugees flowing into neighboring Chad. Four hundred villages have been destroyed.

Sudanese government helicopters, bombers and soldiers, backed up by Arab “Janjaweed” horsemen, attack and destroy the villages, raping, killing and putting their inhabitants to flight, he said.

A World Health Organization survey reported Sept. 13 that displaced people in north and west Darfur “are dying at between three and six times the expected rate.”

The victims are black farmers, whose land is apparently coveted by the Sudanese central government in Khartoum.

Those countries abstaining on the resolution declared that the Sudanese authorities have been taking action in accordance with previous U.N. resolutions of June 11 and July 30, that the threat of sanctions – referred to in the resolution as “additional measures”—would do more harm than good, and that more humanitarian assistance was reaching the displaced population.

Word had been received here earlier in the week that the first convoy of trucks carrying U.N. World Food Programme aid across the Sahara desert had arrived at a refugee camp in eastern Chad on Sept. 9, completing a 2,800-kilometer journey from Libya’s Mediterranean coast.

Twenty trucks loaded with 440 metric tons of wheat flour had arrived in the town of Bahai after a 12-day drive. The wheat flour would feed some 30,000 people for one month.

At one time, Danforth’s American accent might have been heartening, perhaps reassuring, but in the Council chamber on Saturday it seemed suspect, even threatening. Passage of the Darfur resolution enables President Bush to address the opening of the annual General Assembly Sept. 21 from a positive viewpoint –the United States acting through the United Nations in an emergency situation. And yet Bush will still be able to criticize the Security Council for its lack of unity.

The Bush administration is extremely adept at playing a situation from every conceivable angle, partly because they have the manpower and money to do it.

In the resolution’s background is Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s Sept. 9 characterization of the Darfur events as genocide in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Following that, Fred Eckhard, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said that Powell’s declaration could be viewed as tantamount to invoking Article 8 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

Article 8 provides that any adherent to the Convention may call upon the U.N. to suppress acts of genocide.

The latest U.N. resolution comes nowhere close to that. Rather, it stirs memories of previous U.N. failures for which Annan shared responsibility in Srebrenica, the former Yugoslavia in 1995 and Rwanda in 1994. Instead of giving the reason for its weakness, however, both Annan and Danforth left the Council meeting before it was over. Correspondents did not get an opportunity to question them, as they had expected to.