"UN Collaboration in the Silencing of Darfur"

by Eric Reeves Editor's Note: The following is a selection from a recent article by Eric Reeves, who has chronicled the genocide in Darfur while maintaining a high level of journalistic integrity. You can follow Reeve's articles at www.sudanreeves.org.

Despite its ongoing agony, Darfur is slowly disappearing from international sight. An absence of data, reports, and news dispatches has created what Human Rights Watch has recently called an “information vacuum” and moral energy and political focus have inevitably begun to dissipate. Diplomatic efforts—nominally under the auspices of the Qatari government—have degenerated into ugly turf wars involving various actors from the Arab League, the African Union, and the UN. Darfur’s fractious rebel groups are hopelessly divided, and incapable of representing the region’s civil society. And President Obama’s envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, has successfully argued for a US Sudan policy that “de-emphasizes” Darfur.

But let us be clear: the Darfur genocide is disappearing not because ethnically-targeted killing has been halted. Indeed, on September 2 a particularly brutal attack on Fur villagers in Tabarat (southwest of Tawilla, North Darfur) left 58 civilians dead and 86 wounded. According to a confidential UNAMID document leaked to me, the force—based only 15 miles away in Tawilla—awaited orders from higher-ups in the North Darfur capital of el-Fasher, who would in turn have to secure permission from the very regime that was ultimately responsible for this attack.

But of course humanitarian need is greater than ever: according to UN figures, some 4.7 million conflict-affected Darfuris are in need of assistance; 4 million people are food insecure, almost half of them “highly food insecure”; and humanitarian access continues to be denied to some of the most desperate populations, including the more than 100,000 civilians in eastern Jebel Marra who have been without aid since February.

Such indicators as we have—and they are far too few—are of the deepest concern, especially concerning food security, clean water, and primary medical care. The absence of information about humanitarian conditions reflects a calculation by UN officials that accommodating the Khartoum regime holds out the best chance for sustaining a deeply threatened operation. But this is a calculation that is ultimately based on cynicism and a failure of nerve; it is thoroughly belied by recent history; and it is now working to diminish international awareness of what is occurring in Darfur, as well as to attenuate the possibilities for political advocacy and diplomatic pressure.

There are many to blame for this absence of information, but the most egregious example of UN acquiescence is Georg Charpentier, since January the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan. While the job is primarily humanitarian, its political dimensions are significant in a country where the President faces indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity, crimes committed in the very region where humanitarian operations are centered.

In short, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan is allowing those responsible for the vast human catastrophe in Darfur to decide what the UN says to the world about the present nature of that catastrophe. The génocidaires are being allowed to control communication about the victims of genocide.

Historically, genocides have ended in various ways, even if we look only at the examples of the past 100 years. Sometimes military realities end the reign of génocidaires, as was the case for the Holocaust, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia. Sometimes genocidal goals are largely achieved, as in the al-Anfal campaign against Iraqi Kurds during in the late 1980s under the regime of Saddam Hussein. During the Armenian genocide (1914 – 1918), the Ottoman Empire was even more successful in its ghastly ambitions.

But genocide in Darfur is coming to a very different sort of “end,” and we should attend to the details of its particular demise. Some, of course, have denied that genocide ever occurred in Darfur—Khartoum most prominently, but with considerable assistance from some on the Western political left, as well as the African Union, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and key Security Council members Russia and China. Others have argued that what was once genocide is genocide no longer. But whatever we call the past years of deliberate human destruction, it is highly unlikely that the killing will end, including large-scale, ethnically-targeted killing of the sort we saw on a massive scale in 2003-2005. There may be fewer targets of opportunity, but as the September 2 attack on Tabarat shows, they still exist, and victims are completely vulnerable.