by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration has done little to follow up its landmark declaration that called human rights abuses in Sudan's Darfur region "genocide," resulting in "100 days of failure," said advocacy group Africa Action as the world marked Human Rights Day on December 10.
Other organizations called on the United States and the United Nations Security Council to take much stronger action to stop the killing by government forces and government-backed militias of tens of thousands of members of several African ethnic groups in the area.
As many as 350,000 Africans are believed to have died or been killed over the past 18 months as a result of raids by Arab militias, called "janjaweed," and a government counter-insurgency campaign that have forced some 1.6 million people to flee their homes.
The United Nations, which months ago labelled the situation the "world's worst humanitarian disaster," estimates that between 10,000 and 30,000 more are dying each month.
The U.S. Congress and the Bush administration have described the situation in even more dire terms. Last July, Congress found it amounted to "genocide," a label formally endorsed in September by Secretary of State Colin Powell and later by President Bush.
Despite the gravity of that assessment, Washington's actions to rally an appropriate international response to the atrocities have been extremely disappointing, according to several groups, including Amnesty International and Africa Action, which called for stronger initiatives.
"The U.S. must do everything necessary to secure a UN. Security Council resolution invoking Chapter 7 (of the UN. Charter), which would authorize a multinational force to stop the genocide in Darfur," according to Salih Booker, the executive director of Africa Action, a grassroots group that played a leading role in the U.S. anti-apartheid movement.
"Anything less will make the U.S. complicit in the genocide, which only the U.S. has rightfully acknowledged," he added, noting that, as early as the end of this month, the total death toll in Darfur could rise to 400,000 "which is already half as many lives as were lost in the Rwandan genocide a decade ago."
Also recalling the Rwanda disaster 10 years ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) also bemoaned the failure of the United States and rest of the world to take stronger action.
"There has been much international hand-writing, many expressions of outrage, but far too little meaningful response," said HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth in a special 'Human Rights Day Statement.'
"The international community has moved from ignorance to concern to feigned action -- but not more. Coming a decade after the Rwandan genocide, this meagre response mocks our vows of "never again," he added.
The basic problem at the United Nations, according to John Prendergast, an Africa specialist at the International Crisis Group (ICG), is that four key Security Council members -- China, Russia, Algeria, and Pakistan -- have opposed stronger measures for a variety of reasons.
Additionally, the Bush administration has been unwilling to push hard enough for a tough resolution, fearing that doing so will make it more difficult to gain the council's co-operation on Iraq and related issues.
Thus, a series of tough resolutions threatening economic and diplomatic sanctions against Khartoum if it does not immediately halt the violence, disarm the janjaweed and hold their leaders accountable, which were brought by the United States and Britain over the past six months, have been watered down in order to obtain easy approval, added Prendergast.
As a result, the Security Council has so far only called on the government to take actions without establishing specific deadlines, after which sanctions would be applied. Instead, it has authorized the deployment by the African Union (AU) of a 3,500-member observation body to monitor a cease-fire between all forces in Darfur.
That body, less than one-third of which has been deployed over the last two months, was given no authority either to enforce the cease-fire, which continues to be violated by all sides, or even to protect unarmed civilians.
Rights groups consider these measures to be completely inadequate given the scope of the disaster, particularly noting the difficulty the AU has had in filling the slots of its monitoring force and the size of the territory that it must monitor.
"The AU forces authorized for Darfur -- a pittance for an area the size of France with few roads or infrastructure -- must be bolstered significantly," HRW's Roth said Friday.
"Their mandate must be expanded to encompass civilian protection. Despite their preoccupations elsewhere, major governmental powers outside of Africa have a duty to protect and assist as well."
In addition to Washington's timidity in pushing for a stronger resolution, activists also criticize what they see as misplaced priorities in Sudan over the past several months.
Instead of trying to keep the spotlight on Darfur, they argue that the international community put more effort into trying to seal -- so far unsuccessfully -- a final peace agreement between the Khartoum government and a 21-year-old insurgency in southern Sudan. The conflict there has been frozen by a cease-fire that has endured for well over a year.
"In recent weeks, we have seen the U.S. engaging with the Khartoum government as a legitimate partner in the north-south peace process," said Booker, "even while this same government continues to wage genocide in western Sudan."
Such a strategy, he added, feeds the notion that Washington places a higher priority on normalising ties with Khartoum -- to deepen its cooperation in the "war on terror" and perhaps to gain access to its oil resources -- than on stopping genocide, permitting the regime to "play the United States."
"We're asking the U.S., which has talked the talk (on genocide), to walk the walk," said Prendergast.
Washington could use the most recent Security Council provision as an important opening to press the Darfur issue effectively, he said. That provision created a UN. Commission of Inquiry to assess the situation in the region to determine whether there is substantial evidence that war crimes, crimes against humanity or even genocide have been committed. It is due to make a preliminary report in early January.
Assuming the commission will find such evidence, Washington should move to force a discussion of how to further probe and prosecute crimes, according to Prendergast, who stressed that "just debating options will send a critical message."
Those talks should also set the groundwork for additional sanctions, including the imposition of an arms embargo against the regime, a travel ban against senior Khartoum officials and a freeze on the foreign assets of companies owned by the ruling National Islamic Front (NIF) and its officers.
"The point of these steps is to pin a scarlet letter on Sudan to isolate it," Prendergast said, adding that China, whose substantial oil investments in Sudan make it reluctant to take punitive action, would "grumble" but would probably abstain on a sanctions vote.
"The UN. Security Council remains the key, and it won't move unless the U.S. steps up," according to Prendergast, who added that the "administration won't move unless the Congress presses (it) harder, and Congress won't move until it gets pressure from its constituents."
December 10, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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