March 24th, 2009


Darfur: NGOs, Governments, ICC, Intervention, where do we start?

Well that was an interesting experience.

Today I had my 3-hour course Civilian Protection in International Humanitarian Law and the focus was on Darfur.  I think most people probably know a little about it, but if not Darfur is a province of the African country Sudan.  The current government of Sudan, headed by president Omar Al-Bashir consists mostly of Sudanese Arabs and has marginalized a lot of the other ethnic groups in Sudan, including those in Darfur.  In 2003 three of the main ethnic groups in Darfur banned together and blew up Sudanese government air force base which has resulted in retaliations from the Sudanese military and from the Janjaweed, a government-supported militia consisting of mostly Sudanese Arabs.

So there's been vast numbers of evidences showing human rights violations and abuses in Darfur, lots of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and on March 4th of 2009 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on the grounds that he has committed massive crimes against humanity and a bunch of other legal grounds.  Following this Sudan has expelled all foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Sudan who were providing much-needed humanitarian aid and assistance in Darfur both in the refugee camps and in the area in general.  Now all the people that depended on the NGOs to survive are left with literally nothing.

So that's a brief, brief, brief, brief and extremely watered-down version of events, it's immensely complicated with all sorts of actors being involved.  What we did today in class was we split up into 5 groups each representing a different actor, presented our case to one another and had a debate over the issue.  It went as follows:

Oxfam - Oxfam is a neutral party in the conflict and only wishes to regain entry into Darfur to deliver humanitarian assistance.
Human Rights Watch - The government of Sudan as committed mass atrocities and international intervention in the region is needed to stop this.
Government of Sudan - Darfur is an internal issue which the international community has no business dealing in.  NGOs were expelled for their own safety, Sudan will supply Sudanese aid personnel to take over their roles.  The call of the ICC for the arrest of President Al-Bashir is nonsense.  Sudan is not a signatory of the Roman Statutes (sp?) and therefore is not obligated to adhere to the rulings of the ICC.  The ICC is a creation of Western countries as are the NGOs in question and promote an agenda of Western imperialism.
Government of China - China's foreign policy has long been respect for national sovereignty above intervention.  The government of Sudan as a legitimate sovereign country has demanded for the international community to not get involved in Darfur and therefore the international community should respect that.  Any intervention in Sudan will cause economic instability in the country and since China has economic interests in Sudan (oil) and is an important trading partner of the country we are not supportive of an intervention in Sudan.  We agree that the ICC is politically driven and not based on justice and therefore its rulings are not legitimate.  The Sudanese government has stated that it recognizes the humanitarian issue in Darfur and will is seeking a solution to the problem on their own and therefore they should be given the opportunity to do so.
Government of Canada - We support the ICC and its work in Sudan and encourage the Sudanese government to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1485 (not sure if that's the right number) to cooperate with the ICC.  We support continued international scrutiny of the situation in Sudan and believe that humanitarian efforts should be allowed to continue.  We condemn any actions that cause mass human sufferings and urge all parties to find a long-term peaceful solution to the situation in Darfur. 

So there's the positions of all the parties.  The debate was very interesting.  I know probably 99% if not everyone else in the class supports intervention in Darfur and the ICC's decision and cursing the Government of Sudan and China for being so stubborn and, probably in their views, cold, cruel and uncaring for human life.  Personally, I was in the group for Government of Canada, so it was easy spewing off the government rhetoric and pretty words, but while listening to the debate I found myself mentally questioning every supporting argument for pro-intervention.  I wasn't expecting that.  I mean clearly I'm a bit biased where China's concerned, but I also know the government of Sudan's not the government of China, so my usualy stance has been that I think a bit of a foreign push to get the Sudanese government to straighten its act is a good thing.  To my surprise I found myself highly paranoid during the debate over suggestions of intervention.  If I was a government leader of a country I wouldn't want foreign troops marching in either, especially with the haughtiness and arrogance of certain countries (not to mention NGOs).  Oxfam and HRW also asked Gov't of China a lot of questions which I was so, so tempted to jump in but couldn't >___<  I found myself much less enthused for Canada's pro-intervention stance (albeit we didn't say it outloud, had to word it more...un-offendingly) because honestly I didn't believe it was purely altruistic either (not Canada per-say, but just the whole pro-intervention side). 

I don't know, it's food for thought though, and it was definitely a very interesting activity.  I know to some of my classmates Sudan's and China's positions were a bit ridiculous as was evident by the sarcastic way some statements from those two groups were made and the laughter that followed (admittedly I laughed too, just to see these usually gun-ho development humanitarians spewing Sudanese and Chinese government rhetoric was hilarious) but truth be told I can sympathize where they're both coming from.  I think something needs to be done about Darfur, but I think the only one with the ability and capacity to do anything will be Sudan itself.  People lay the blame on China because China's a permamnent member on the Security Council and can therefore veto any attempts at intervention in the region, but China needs Sudan's oil to develop its own country.  They're not going to put another country ahead of their own people, that's stupid and not something any responsible government would do.  If the current level of development in China decreases dramatically or stops entirely the Chinese people themselves would be royally pissed off and the entire society would destabilize, which means it would be undemocratic of the CCP to choose this path.  Plus all the Western countries would be on China like white on rice proclaiming how AH-HA! they KNEW a Communist government couldn't successfully develop a country.  None of the Western countries thought about the people in developing countries that we exploited when we were developing our countries (and we weren't just being trading partners with them, we were actually exploiting them directly ourselves), first develop yourself then play the humanitarian and take the moral high-ground with other countries, that's how the game goes.  The Sudanese government's said outright that they're not complying with the ICC.  I think we're at another stalemate...seems to happen a lot in international politics.