Darfur – Arab Racism & Islamist Oppression.
Peter Tatchell says the key to lasting peace in Darfur is the overthrow of the Islamist dictatorship in Khartoum.
Tribune – Labour’s left-wing weekly
London – 13 October 2006
The Sudan government last week refused to accept UN peacekeepers in Darfur. It denounced the global protests calling for peace in the region as a “Zionist, Jewish” conspiracy; and threatened war if the UN intervened to stop the genocide and deliver humanitarian aid.
If the Khartoum regime gets its way, the killing in Darfur will continue. Despite the peace agreement signed in May, the regime and its Janjaweed proxies have launched fresh military offensives. Although on a lesser scale than two years ago, these attacks follow the same pattern of burning, rape, looting and slaughter.
To date, between 200,000 and 400,000 people in Darfur have been killed and two million others displaced. Three million Darfurians now live a knife-edge existence, with many dependent on international aid for their survival.
The genocide in Darfur is not separate from the many other conflicts and brutalities in Sudan. It is one aspect of Khartoum’s generalised oppression of all Sudanese people.
Sudan is ruled by a harsh Islamist dictatorship. Human rights abuses are widespread. This is the elephant in the room that most people ignore when they discuss Darfur .
The mass murder of black Africans in Darfur is directly related to the fact that the government of Sudan is an Arab-dominated Islamist dictatorship. It is led by President Omar al-Bashir. He seized power in a military coup in 1989; dissolving parliament and suppressing political parties, trade unions, women’s groups and the media. His regime has a long history of persecuting socialists, communists, human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and students.
Al-Bashir enforces Sharia law, which stipulates the death penalty for so-called moral crimes, like adultery and homosexuality. Muslims who give up their faith or convert to another religion also face execution. Slavery still exists in parts of Sudan. Female genital mutilation is widespread. It used to be illegal but the ban was lifted after al-Bashir came to power. Women’s freedom of dress, movement and employment is severely restricted.
The Khartoum regime is guilty of detention without trial, disappearances, rape, torture and execution, according to human rights groups like the Sudan Organisation Against Torture and the Sudan Human Rights Organisation.
It is also stained by Arab supremacism and racism. Black Sudanese are often treated as inferior and denigrated as sub-human. This prejudice is reflected in the slaughter of black Africans in Darfur by Janjaweed Arab militias – a slaughter that bears all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.
Viewed from these perspectives, the terror in Darfur is merely a particularly savage example of the brutality of the dictatorship in Khartoum. The long-term solution, for the benefit of Darfurians and all Sudanese, is a democratic government that respects the human rights of all its citizens.
In the meantime, the immediate priority is UN peacekeepers and humanitarian aid. According to the 1948 Genocide Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the nations of the world have a collective responsibility to act to halt genocide and war crimes. The UN, as the guardian of universally-agreed international human rights laws, is duty-bound to take effective action in Sudan – preferably with Khartoum’s agreement but, if necessary, despite its objections.
The Darfur killing fields are a litmus test of the UN’s willingness to enforce international law and challenge murderous regimes. So far, the UN has failed the test. It has allowed the killing to continue. The signal to tyrants everywhere is that they can get away with mass murder. On this form, there will be many more Darfurs in the future.
The people of Darfur see the UN’s complacency and rightly accuse the world community of double standards. They ask: Why can’t the butchers in Khartoum be arrested and put on trial in The Hague, like Slobodan Milosevic?
Despite the failings of the past, the UN is now belatedly committed to stop the massacres. The Security Council passed Resolution 1706 at the end of August. It authorises the sending to Darfur of around 20,000 UN peacekeepers, to augment the existing undermanned, underfunded and outgunned AU troops.
Despite Sudan’s refusal to accept UN peacekeepers, the UN must not be deterred. Stopping genocide trumps state sovereignty. Sudan has broken the international human rights conventions it has signed. The UN should get tough now – not to change the regime, but to protect the people of Darfur :
* Enforce a no-fly zone to halt the Sudanese bombing of Darfurian villages
* Fund the enlargement of the African Union peacekeeping force and augment it with UN peacekeepers from African, Asian and Latin American countries (not from the west, as this could be construed as neo-colonialism). The peacekeepers remit would be to keep the warring factions apart, disarm the militias and protect the civilian population and aid workers
* Increase humanitarian aid – food, clothing, shelter and medical care – to the victims of the conflict, and assist the rebuilding of shattered towns and villages
* Impose sanctions against the leaders of the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militia, including an arms embargo, an assets freeze and a travel ban
* Prosecute President al-Bashir and his henchmen at the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, genocide, torture and crimes against humanity.
Calling for UN action to save lives in Darfur isn’t neo-imperialism, as some on the left allege. It is international solidarity to secure justice – the liberation of the oppressed – in the same tradition as the global movements against apartheid South Africa. Doing nothing, which is what sections of left would prefer, is collision with the oppressors in Khartoum. How can it be right for the supposedly ‘anti-imperialist left’ to leave black Africans to die in their hundreds of thousands?
At last month’s Global Day for Darfur protest in London, there was not a single left-wing group or banner. Why? For some on the left, apparently the killers were the wrong colour and nationality. If the slaughter was being perpetrated by white Americans, instead of Arab Islamists, the Stop the War Coalition would have doubtless called a mass demonstration. But war crimes by Arab and Islamist dictatorships do not concern the StWC.
Ultimately, the best hope for Darfur – and for all the people of Sudan – is an end to the tyranny in Khartoum. This liberation has to come from within – by and for the people of Sudan. Western intervention to impose regime change would be both ethically wrong and disastrous in practice.
Without a government committed to democracy and human rights, there can be no ethnic equality and social justice. All Sudanese – Arabs and black Africans, northerners and southerners – have a common interest in working together to overthrow the al-Bashir regime and to establish a democratic, secular, non-racial and federal Sudan.