Sunday, 19 January 2014

South Sudan Must Not Deflect from the Invisible Genocide in Darfur

* The below was published in today's Independent on Sunday under a different title.

Remember Darfur? It’s a country the size of France in the Western region of Sudan. In the last decade an estimated 500,000 civilians have been slaughtered with some 4 million forced into refugee camps.

Despite Sudan’s President, Al Bashir, being indicted by The Hague for crimes against humanity, the UN continues to treat this despot with deference. Despite their strategy of appeasement being proven to prolong the agony of Darfuri and Southerners alike, there has been no change in tack at UN HQ.

Those of us who have been involved in Sudan for a number of years will know that the ongoing violence in the South (it never stopped, the media just got bored) is the legacy of the botched Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. After 20 years and an estimated 2 million killed, President Bashir was forced to concede the South’s right to self rule. The cost of so called peace in the South though, was silence on the oil rich region of Darfur.

This theory was confirmed by an Amnesty International representative. When I asked why Darfur seemed to be absent from their agenda, I was told that the UN had issued warnings to NGOs to be silent on Darfur. Why? So as not to upset Bashir, therein risking the derailment of the CPA. To which I replied, “How can a human rights organisation agree to turn a blind eye to genocide in one part of the country in order to secure a band aid peace agreement in another”? I never did get a reply.

The strategy was fundamentally, and fatally, flawed from the start. History tells us that you don’t do deals with despots. The cessation of the genocidal campaign in Darfur should have been one of the conditions of the CPA.

The truth is that the CPA was ill conceived and bereft of detail (in terms of land ownership involving coveted oil, infrastructure and constitution). Alas, as everyone (except UN diplomats) knows, the devil is in the detail and the devil has been reeking havoc in the region ever since.

Last month Aicha Elbasri, a former spokesperson for the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) told the Dutch Newspaper Trouw of her dismay at the “lies” UNAMID tells about itself. She expressed frustration at the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon’s, willingness to perpetuate what she described as an inherent misrepresentation of the reality on the ground.

According to the renowned US academic Eric Reeves, who has spent 14 years as a Sudan researcher and analyst and has testified before congress, from the beginning of 2011 to May 2012, there were 100 eye witness accounts of aerial attacks on civilians in Darfur. Ban Ki-Moon’s UNAMID report documented 2. Despite rape and sexual violence against girls and women being systematically used as a weapon of war in Darfur, the epidemic is air brushed out of Ban Ki-moon’s report. Car jacking and kidnapping is diligently recorded but rape, known to be a sensitive issue with Bashir, is shamefully ignored.

In 2005 I attended a cross party International Development Committee hearing on Darfur. Listening to Dr Kapila, a previous UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in the region, give evidence, I was moved to tears.

Despite his position of power, Dr Kapila’s absolute impotence resonated with me when he said, To me, the greatest regret to my dying day will be that we failed in Darfur. He told the committee that UN member states, including Britain, had exerted pressure on him to downplay the severity of the Darfur crisis, which he believed (since proven) amounted to genocide. When he refused to be silent, he was forced out of his job.

In order to understand the current crisis in the South, we must consider Sudan as a whole, as opposed to isolated regions and “complex ethnic tensions”. The elephant in the room, that the UN (which some Sudanese officials believe to be controlled by the US) refuses to address, is President Bashir. President Obama’s political sensitivity at being seen as anti- Muslim in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, takes precedence, it seems, over any moral obligation to the black African victims of genocide.

Before Salva Kiir took over as (democratically elected) President of South Sudan almost 3 years ago, the country had been pulverised by 2 decades of war. It bore the scars, physical and psychological, of its brutal battles. The task ahead of Kiir was mammoth and in order to succeed he needed as much support from the International Community as possible. Since secession Kiir has been plagued by attacks from his neighbouring tyrant, Bashir. None of which have been condemned by the UN.

My contacts on the ground, one of whom was involved in all the previous peace talks in Darfur are certain that Bashir is one of the architects behind rebel leader (previously Kiir’s Vice President) Machar's attempted coup. Yet another bid to destabilise the South whilst publicly claiming to support Kiir.

Having briefed David Cameron’s office ahead of a visit to Darfur in 2006, he returned protesting, This is ethnic cleansing and we cannot remain silent in the face of this horror.

Yet, with the reins of power firmly in his grip, Cameron’s righteous words evaporated into the ether, obliterating any vestiges of hope that sustained the souls of the persecuted. Not only had they been abandoned by those who promised to protect them, their cowardice has fuelled the genocidal campaign.

While the media, rightly documents the spiralling events in South Sudan, the world’s eyes are diverted, yet again from the very same, and worse, suffering, in Darfur.

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