Thursday, 17 February 2005

Taboo topics

Nearly two years after the Sudan government began massacring its own citizens in Darfur, the United Nations at last seems to be moving – albeit slowly – towards action. Iraq has put military ventures out of fashion and many have used this as an excuse for not getting together a peacekeeping force to protect Darfur’s beleaguered civilians.

On 14 February, though, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made his strongest speech yet, calling on both the European Union and the NATO to consider what they might do. Such a move was unthinkable only weeks ago but Annan has drawn strength from a devastating UN human rights report that details one atrocity after another – and names the Khartoum regime and its Janjaweed militias as the only people systematically attacking ordinary villagers.

Sanctions and prosecutions have long been taboo topics at the UN Security Council, especially among governments with big commercial interests in Sudan – China and Russia and, to a lesser extent, Britain and France. Suddenly, the goal posts have shifted and sanctions, prosecutions and peacekeepers are being discussed as possible options.

Suddenly, the National Islamic Front regime has lost much of the diplomatic shield it had so carefully fashioned. ‘Sudan cannot be trusted to tackle Darfur war crimes, UN human rights chief tells Security Council’. This is an unusually undiplomatic headline to find on the Council’s own website.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour told the UNSC on 16 February that the International Commission of Inquiry findings meant the ‘only credible way’ to bring the perpetrators to justice was to prosecute them at the International Criminal Court. Any initiative by the Khartoum government to deal with the atrocities ‘should be dismissed given the extent of the Government’s officials in the crimes’, the UN quoted her as saying. These are precisely the same officials who are supposed to bring peace to the South.

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