|The United Nations has
become a largely irrelevant, if not
positively destructive institution, and the just-released U.N. report
on the atrocities in Darfur, Sudan, proves the point.
Obstacles in Darfur
Peacekeeping, and more obstacles
By LYDIA POLGREEN March 24, 2008
As Darfur smolders in the aftermath of a new government offensive, a long-sought peacekeeping force, expected to be the world’s largest, is in danger of failing even as it begins its mission because of bureaucratic delays, stonewalling by Sudan’s government and reluctance from troop-contributing countries to send peacekeeping forces into an active conflict.
The force, a joint mission of the African Union and the United Nations, officially took over from an overstretched and exhausted African Union force in Darfur on Jan. 1. It now has just over 9,000 of an expected 26,000 soldiers and police officers and will not fully deploy until the end of the year, United Nations officials said.
Even the troops that are in place, the old African Union force and two new battalions, lack essential equipment, like sufficient armored personnel carriers and helicopters, to carry out even the most rudimentary of peacekeeping tasks. Some even had to buy their own paint to turn their green helmets United Nations blue, peacekeepers here said.
The peacekeepers’ work is more essential than ever. At least 30,000 people were displaced last month as the government and its allied militias fought to retake territory held by rebel groups fighting in the region, according to United Nations human rights officials.
For weeks after the attacks, many of the displaced were hiding in the bush nearby or living in the open along the volatile border between Sudan and Chad, inaccessible to aid workers. Most wanted to return to their scorched villages and rebuild but did not feel safe from roaming bandits and militias.
A week spent this month with the peacekeeping troops based here at the headquarters of Sector West, a wind-blown outpost at the heart of the recent violence, revealed a force struggling mightily to do better than its much-maligned predecessor, but with little new manpower or equipment.
Despite this, the force is managing to project a greater sense of security for the tens of thousands of vulnerable civilians in the vast territory it covers, mounting night patrols in displaced people’s camps and sending long-range patrols to the areas hardest hit by fighting. But these small gains are fragile, and if more troops do not arrive soon, the force will be written off as being as ineffective and compromised as the one before.
“We really don’t have much time to prove we can do better,” said Brig. Gen. Balla Keita, the Senegalese commander of the roughly 2,000 troops in West Darfur, just one-third of the expected total for the area.
“God gave the prophets the ability to achieve miracles so that people would believe. So people here will believe when they see improvements on the ground. And that cannot wait for more troops. We need to do better with what we have.”
The deployment of the biggest peacekeeping force in modern history in one of the most remote, hostile and forbidding corners of the globe was bound to be a logistical nightmare. Darfur is landlocked, water is scarce, the roads are rutted tracks crossed by the mud and sand traps of dry riverbeds.
A Troubled Mission
But those problems pale in comparison with the diplomatic and political struggles the mission faces.
When previous large missions were organized in Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the central governments in those countries had collapsed or were so weak that they had little choice but to accept peacekeepers. The government of Sudan agreed to accept United Nations-led peacekeepers in Darfur only after a long diplomatic tussle and under a great deal of pressure.
The progress to get the mission in place has been slow, and much of the blame for this has been placed at the feet of the Sudanese government. For months after the United Nations Security Council approved the force, Sudan insisted on limits on its makeup and independence, demanding the power to dictate which countries contributed troops, to shut down its communication systems when the government carried out offensives and to restrict the movement of peacekeepers at night.
Ultimately, the government signed a compromise agreement with the United Nations allowing the force to operate, but Sudan was successful in insisting that the vast majority of troops come from African countries, and will be supplemented by soldiers from other regions only if suitable African troops cannot be found.
This has delayed the force’s mission, because African armies are not usually able to deploy quickly with equipment and training to meet stringent United Nations standards, United Nations officials and Western diplomats said. Sudanese government officials have argued that African troops are up to the job, and that non-African troops would be seen as neocolonial interlopers.
These problems have raised fears that the United Nations force would suffer the same fate as the African Union force, which was hobbled from the start by a weak mandate, which was to observe a cease-fire, not protect civilians. The thousands of troops deployed by Rwanda, Nigeria, Senegal and other nations were mainly there to protect the military observers, who were unarmed, and the unarmed civilian police, whose job it was to guard the camps for the internally displaced people.
But the original cease-fire was quickly violated, and later agreements failed to bring peace. The African troops soon were seen, perhaps unfairly, as useless note-takers who visited the scene of atrocities long after the evidence had been carried off and the dead buried, gathering testimony that seemed to disappear into a bureaucratic black hole.
A Town in Ruins
All of that has changed with the new hybrid mission. The force has a robust mandate to protect civilians. But that is easier said than done, said Maj. Sani Abdullahi, the man in charge of the single company charged with fending off roaming militias and rebels to protect tens of thousands of displaced villagers in a handful of camps and thousands more vulnerable residents of remote villages.
One Sunday morning, Major Abdullahi, 34, a wiry Nigerian officer who served in peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia, led a few truckloads of troops to visit Abu Sorouj, one of the towns flattened by a recent government offensive in West Darfur.
The town is just a few dozen miles away, but the drive took three bone-crunching hours. Abu Sorouj was attacked nearly a month earlier, and most of the villagers had fled, some to Chad. They said they were blocked by the Chadian authorities from reaching refugee camps. So within days, some were returning, afraid of losing their land if they became long-term displaced people living in camps.
Before the attack, Abu Sorouj was a bustling town of hundreds of mud-brick huts roofed with thatch, clumped together in sprawling family compounds. It had a cinder-block school and clinic supported by a nongovernmental aid agency.
Today, it is an apocalyptic scene of ashy ruin. The residents who have returned salvaged what they could, sifting through the blackened rubble to find cooking pots, bedsteads and buried troves of grain.
Fadila Ahmed Mahamat, a great-grandmother whose legs are withered stalks, sat amid the charred ruins of her home, digging holes in the sand with bare, gnarled hands to construct the frame of a makeshift dwelling out of branches from a pen that had been used to keep sheep.
“Everything is gone,” she said. “I have nothing.”
Surveying the scene, Major Abdullahi let out a low whistle.
“My God,” he said. “Look at this.”
A few of the town’s sheiks remained, and they clamored to tell him their complaints. Arab gunmen, whom the villagers here call janjaweed, roam the edge of town, they told Major Abdullahi, coming at dawn and dusk to steal what little remained here. The women could not go to the river to collect water. The men could not leave the town to find big branches to build shelters.
“We need security,” one said.
“Why don’t you patrol more often?” another asked. “When you come, the janjaweed stay away for two or three days.”
Major Abdullahi told them: “We don’t have the number of troops on ground we need. As soon as we do, we will spread out. We are doing everything we can to make you feel more secure.”
All talk ceased as a pickup truck loaded with government soldiers drove up. An officer jumped out, smiling with an outstretched hand. But his smile was tense, and after some pleasantries he asked why the peacekeepers had come.
“The place is secure,” said the officer, Maj. Amar Ibrahim. “Even the Arabs who ride on camels and horses and harass people, we have patrols to chase them away.”
Major Abdullahi smiled and nodded.
“We really appreciate that and commend your efforts,” he said through an interpreter. “But we really need to ask you to do more. People still do not feel safe.”
Despite the agreement giving the peacekeepers free rein, government troops complain about their presence. Major Abdullahi said he must be careful not to alienate these troops because he must rely on them to help provide security. “The reality is we need to work with them,” he said. “It does no good to antagonize them.”
Major Abdullahi checked his watch. It was noon, and already he had to think about heading back. The armored personnel carriers, which had been provided to the African Union by the Canadian government and had been battered by years of abuse in Darfur’s harsh conditions, were already acting up. Two flat tires and engine trouble had made the journey to Abu Sorouj slow. But he could not risk being stuck on the way back.
He promised the sheiks that he would return soon, but he could not say for sure how soon that might be.
The Task Ahead
It is unclear how exactly the deployment of troops in Darfur can be speeded up, give the built-in constraint that African troops be used first. Western activists concerned about Darfur say the Sudanese government is primarily responsible and have demanded that China, Sudan’s main trading partner and one of its suppliers of weapons, join other countries to press Sudan to allow troops of any origin the troops to deploy quickly.
While the Sudanese government has been blamed for some of the delay, United Nations requirements have also slowed the force, some diplomats and political analysts say.
The deployment “is not principally being delayed by the Sudanese government,” said a senior Western diplomat in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, who is not authorized to speak publicly. Other problems, like the United Nations bureaucracy and the reluctance of troop-contributing countries, were as much to blame, the diplomat said.
There is certainly no lack of money. Rodolphe Adada, of the Congo Republic, the mission’s civilian chief, said the force had a budget of $1.7 billion. What it needs is troops and equipment, and neither has been easy to get. More pressure on the Sudanese government, he said, would not help matters. “What more pressure can be put on the Sudanese government,” he said. “All the decisions have been taken. There is nothing left to say. What we need to do is act.”
Some countries are reluctant to commit troops in an active conflict with no peace agreement or even a working cease-fire.
“The international community had two choices — get a peace accord and deploy the mission after, or send the mission anyway,” Mr. Adada said. “It chose the latter. But how do you keep the peace when there is no peace to keep?”
Calev Ben-David , THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 23, 2008
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent a clear message to the security forces on Sunday: Make a more concerted effort to locate African "infiltrators" crossing the border from Egypt, and stop them, using "reasonable force" if necessary.
This is the government's immediate strategy to deal with what the PM calls a "tsunami" of African refugees streaming into Israel, an estimated 7,000 in the past year, accelerating to some 2,400 in just the past three months.
If only it was that simple. To start with, one has to wonder what constitutes "reasonable force" in dealing with African refugees comprised in large part of women and children. After demanding of Cairo for more than a year to do a better job of policing their side of the border, the Egyptians have indeed responded of late with their version of reasonable force - with the result being some half-dozen shot dead in the desert the last few months.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter wants to grant our army "authorization to send the infiltrators back at the Egyptian border," even if this requires changing existing Israeli law. Perhaps he should be equally concerned with international law, which rightly says that distinctions must be made between migrants simply seeking better economic conditions, and political refugees whose lives might be risk if they are not granted at least temporary asylum.
The Africans crossing from Sinai include both categories, with the latter being refugees from the genocidal terror now under way in Sudan's Darfur region. The Israeli government has already recognized this distinction, granting temporary resident status to some 500 Africans recognized as Darfur refugees. It is hard to see though how IDF troops stationed at the Sinai border will be able to make this distinction on the spot.
And even if the border could be hermetically sealed, that wouldn't be the end of the problem.
"If they can't come by land, it's likely the Africans will start arriving by boat," says Yonatan Glaser of B'Tzedek, a non-governmental organization whose social justice agenda includes the African refugee issue.
"Some 300,000 Africans crossed into Europe by boats last year, and Israel is deluding itself if it thinks it's immune to that problem."
Glaser isn't against closing the Egyptian border route; in fact, he welcomes the long-delayed plan to build a Sinai fence, which would "help on other social issues, such as the traffic in drugs and women." But he adds that the refugee issue can only be handled effectively by a "comprehensive, coherent, and sustainable policy" that involves more than just turning away people at the border.
Glaser welcomed Olmert's call yesterday for the Foreign Ministry and other official bodies to start looking for help in placing some of the refugees here in third-party nations, preferably in Africa, and points out that some local NGOs working in this field have already begun making such contacts abroad.
He points out though that this policy would be easier to implement if Israel would also show more of a willingness to absorb at least some of the refugees.
"If we're going to shut the door at the border, we should also at least open a window elsewhere," says Glaser. "We should not be asked to take in more than is our responsibility, but neither should we be unwilling to take in less."
The government has already taken a small step in this direction, by identifying some 500 of the Africans as genuine refugees from Darfur and granting them temporary resident status, while giving another 2,000 Africans temporary work permits. Glaser suggests that if the government were to show a willingness to accept somewhere in the area of 5,000 African refugees on a semi-permanent basis, "then we could prioritize among those already here, or who come in, as to which are the really deserving ones, and develop a coherent policy on their status." Such a stance would provide this country with a greater moral authority in dealing with this problem - which could prove helpful in seeking solutions that involve the international community, including assistance from relevant refugee-assistance agencies.
Beyond the practical considerations, there are also ethical values at stake. That's especially so when it involves those Darfurians who made their way here fleeing, first, the genocidal wrath of the Sudanese Janjaweed militia, and then the onerous conditions they subsequently encountered in Egypt.
Among them is Ismail Ahmed, who fled from Sudan to Egypt in 2002, after his adolescent daughter was wounded in a Janjaweed raid on their Darfur village. Educated and fluent in English, Ahmed's situation in Egypt became problematic when he started to speak out on the treatment of Sudanese refugees there.
Last summer Ahmed and his family crossed into Israel from Sinai with the aid of Beduin smugglers. His story made the local media after they were subsequently "adopted" by a Jewish family in Jerusalem, although Ahmed's identity remained anonymous then due to his uncertain status.
No longer. As one of the Darfur refugees given temporary residency, he and his family today live in Tel Aviv, where he works for an animation and design company. He also helped start a local group called Bnai Darfur, which works with the authorities and international organizations to identify and assist other such Sudanese among the African refugees.
Although he says only about half of the Darfurians have thus far been given resident status, Ahmed credits the government for what it has done for him and others.
"I fully understand the concerns the government has about the African refugees," he says. "Rather than criticizing Israel, the international community, especially the UN, should be doing more to help it deal with the situation." He warns though that more will come, especially from Darfur. "The situation in Egypt is very bad, and people will risk death rather than continue to live in the conditions they are put in there." As for his own future, Ahmed admits that if he could be permitted to make his life here, he would.
"I was raised in Sudan to believe that Israelis are devils. Instead, I found a people are who open, tolerant and generous, in a way I never knew."
How generous? In the coming months Israel may indeed have to "shut the door" on the African exodus at the Sinai border, as the PM insists. But if at the same time it cannot open a window to at least some of those who risked their lives in coming here - such as Ahmed Ismail - then the failure of this country's refugee policy will surely be far deeper than just on the practical level.
By Ellen Nakashima and Colum Lynch March 21, 2008
The FBI has opened a preliminary investigation of a report that China-based hackers have penetrated the e-mail accounts of leaders and members of the Save Darfur Coalition, a national advocacy group pushing to end the six-year-old conflict in Sudan.
The accounts of 10 members were hacked into between early February and last week, and the intruders also gained access to the group's Web server and viewed pages from the inside, the group said yesterday.
The intruders, said coalition spokesman M. Allyn Brooks-LaSure, "seemed intent on subversively monitoring, probing and disrupting coalition activities." He said Web site logs and e-mails showed Internet protocol addresses that were traced to China.
The allegation fits a near decade-old pattern of cyber-espionage and cyber-intimidation by the Chinese government against critics of its human rights practices, experts said. It comes as calls for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics have been mounting since China's crackdown on Tibetan protesters last week.
The coalition, headquartered in Washington, has been a vocal critic of China's support for the Sudanese government and its refusal to allow anyone to pressure Khartoum to end the conflict. The group has urged China -- Sudan's chief diplomatic sponsor, major weapons provider and largest foreign investor and trade partner -- to use its position as a member of the U.N. Security Council to bring peace to the region.
"Someone in Beijing is clearly trying to send us a message," coalition President Jerry Fowler said. "But they're mistaken if they think these attacks will end efforts to bring peace to Darfur."
A senior Chinese official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the allegation is false.
secondsupper.com 24 March 2008
WHOOO!!! I'm so psyched for next week, dude. This spring break is gonna totally kick ass. I've been waiting for this all year. I've definitely earned it; being Kenya's Interior Minister is a lot of work, you know. Keeping the peace in an east African nation is a lot harder than it might look. It's a lot of work. Sometimes I just want to cut loose and exterminate a few ethnic tribes causing trouble. That would certainly make things a lot easier. But, lord knows you can't get away with that sort of thing around here, what with all the open U.N. relations and exemplary diplomatic agendas.
That's why I'm due for a little fun north of the border, in the beautiful, carefree country of Sudan. It's totally gonna rock. Have you ever heard of this little area called Darfur? Yeah, I hadn't either until I looked it up on Orbitz.com, but it's this quaint little region in the west of Sudan. There's no tourists or anything--totally laid back. You can get away with practically anything there, hundreds of thousands of times over again. Just remember, what happens in Darfur stays in Darfur baby.
My friend Achak told me he'd been there over summer a few years back, when he was on military leave. It's totally the place to go if you want to sow some wild oats--you know, live it up. You could get in touch with the local scene and formulate your own lawless militias. It's totally easy; you don’t need a permit or anything, you can just offer any random group of people a free syphilis vaccination and they'll do practically anything for you—take you sight seeing, help you rape and pillage; they'll even point you toward some really tasty restaurants around town.
They can be a real help, but if you prefer to be more of an adventurer and find stuff out on your own, you can always just go clubbing... just make sure to bring your own night stick. In Darfur, clubbing is the best way to meet the ladies.
AWWW HELL YEAH! Just talking about it's really getting me excited. You don't even know, man. My job is so frustrating some times. You wouldn't believe all the bullshit Kenya's department of Interior deals with every day!
It's never anything exciting like putting down rebel factions or forcibly nationalizing and assimilating local businesses. It's always something boring like budgeting subsidy money or entertaining foreign investors and dignitaries—just a bunch of everyday horseshit. It's enough to make a guy want to grab the nearest peasant and erratically accuse him of conspiring with some arbitrary rebel faction no one's ever heard of, beat him to death with a hook-tipped flail and leave him to rot in the nearest bone field. Fuck yeah! Sudan here I come!
Nothing like a good ethnic cleansing to soothe the nerves. WHOOO HOO! It’ll be so nice to get away from all the worries of a responsible government that answers for its activities! You have no idea. I mean, I love my career and everything. It’s just sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on so much.
It’s good to get out and explore the depths of human depravity once and a while. No one else really understands that—especially my three wives. They seem to automatically have a problem with anything I do that might be fun. I tell you, a guy could go crazy. They have this whole hang-up with anything even remotely associated with maniacal politics and selective genocide. It’s like they think I’m gonna leave and never come back or something. Of course, they way they act about it makes me actually consider that sometimes. I’m just kidding—what happens in Darfur stays in Darfur.
Seth Freedman March 24, 2008Hundreds of Muslims who have fled Darfur are rebuilding their lives in Israel
"Even though we're Muslim, the Islamic world has done nothing to protect us", said Yassin, a refugee whose tortured flight from Darfur finally brought him to Israel three years ago. He was one of the first Darfurians to make it into Israel across the border from Egypt, and has dedicated his life to helping hundreds of his fellow countrymen who have made the same perilous journey.
Yassin, a genial 30-year-old former architect, is now director of Bnei Darfur [Sons of Darfur], an organisation which assists Sudanese refugees to integrate into Israeli society, and which last week was finally granted non-profit status by the Israeli government. Sitting in his office in downtown Tel Aviv, Yassin painted a harrowing picture of the way in which Darfurian refugees are mistreated by the uncaring and unsympathetic authorities in Egypt, which is the first port of call of many fleeing the violence in Sudan.
Darfuri children are scared to set foot outside in Egypt for fear of attack, Yassin said, citing the slaying of dozens of refugees after a protest outside the UNHCR headquarters in 2005. "It's not that Egypt doesn't look after refugees in general," he said, "after all, they treat the Somalians very well. However, when it comes to us, they are different. It's racism [that motivates the Egyptian mistreatment]."
It doesn't help that the Darfurians are accusing fellow Muslims of genocide, said Yassin, noting that the Muslim states who support the Sudanese government in turn claim that the refugees are collaborating with enemy states in the West. "All of the Arab countries support the government of Sudan - our problem is with the Arab League," Yassin stated with a shake of his head at his people's plight. Having watched most of his family slaughtered in a militia attack on his village, he fled the region hoping to find shelter in Egypt, but was soon forced to move on.
After the cold and often violent reception the refugees received at the hands of the Egyptians, Yassin decided that things couldn't be worse on the Israeli side of the border - despite the anti-Israeli indoctrination he'd been spoon-fed when growing up in Sudan. "The government controlled all of the media back home," he said. "The television stations, the radio, the newspapers... and all of them were very hostile towards Israel. They described it as an enemy state full of killers, and the cause of all of the world's problems."
He smiled at the irony of Israel turning out to be the first country where he and his fellow refugees could finally find sanctuary - although it was hardly plain sailing at first. "When the army picked me up, I spent five days on their base in a tiny room with five Egyptian men. The conditions were awful, and one of the judges was very cruel, threatening to deport me back to Egypt. She told me that I was I wasn't welcome in Israel because I was from an 'enemy country' - but in the end I was transferred to a larger prison in the south."
He spent 14 months in jail, where he banded together with other Darfurian refugees and founded an informal support group to assist one another, teaching English, Arabic and Hebrew to those who required educating. After a few months, the Israeli press started picking up the story of the refugee crisis, and soon several NGOs and welfare organisations began campaigning for their release. The UN got involved, and eventually many of the refugees were let out of jail and sent to work on local kibbutzim.
However, once free they faced large-scale exploitation by employers who took advantage of their lack of proper permits and rights, forcing them to work for a pittance and in dreadful conditions. Again, intervention from the UN and local NGOs caused a change of heart on the part of the government, who granted 600 of the 750 refugees with 'A5' temporary residency status, with the remainder receiving protection as asylum seekers.
And the rest is recent history. Yassin and his friends formed Bnei Darfur, and have been stunningly successful in their mission to create a self-sufficient community "that isn't a drain on Israeli society". Every one of the refugees has a job, a house, and access to medical care - "the only ones without jobs are the ones who've just arrived, and we soon take care of them", he said. The children have been found places at Israeli schools, where they learn Hebrew and befriend their locally-born peers, and the future appears bright for those who have managed to make it into Israel.
Many Israelis took up the Darfurians' cause on the basis that Jews have been denied refuge by indifferent countries throughout history, and that Israeli Jews should remember their own troubled past when dealing with the victims of today. However, whilst the way in which Israel (eventually) received the refugees is to be admired, there is of course the accusation of double standards to be dealt with regarding Palestinian refugees being denied the chance to relocate to the Promised Land.
But the unresolved issue of the Palestinian right of return is not something Yassin wished to be drawn on. As far as he's concerned, Israel has provided for his people in a way that no Arab country would - and for that he's eternally grateful. And in terms of Israel's image in the eyes of the refugees as well as the outside world, accepting the unwanted Darfurians was both an astute and an admirable move to make.
Standing back from Darfur
Turning the screw in Sudan
Darfur Diplomatic paralysis
Barack Obama's 'day that would never come'
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