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Ignoring the Genocide in Darfur By: René Wadlow and David G. Littman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, December 09, 2005


Faced with the challenge of massive displacement of people in Darfur, Sudan, a destabilizing flow of refugees to Chad, the systematic and multiple rape of women, and the wide-spread destruction of villages, the United Nations General Assembly voted on November 23 to take "No Action".  A "No Action" motion, systematically practiced by China in the Commission on Human Rights, is rarely used in the General Assembly. A "No Action" motion prevents a vote on a resolution and cuts off any debate.

A resolution on Sudan, following the resolution in April by the Commission on Human Rights, was introduced in the General Assembly's Third Committee, which deals with human rights, by Britain's UN Ambassador Sir Emyr Jones Parry on behalf of the European Union – Britain currently holding the presidency of the EU.  In introducing the resolution, Sir Emyr confirmed that "civilians are still being killed, rape is still widespread, and the situation of hundreds of thousands of displaced people remains dire." The resolution stressed "the continuing climate of impunity in the Darfur region, particularly in the area of violence against women and girls."  Ms. Sima Samar, the Special Rapporteur on Sudan of the Commission on Human Rights, had presented a very complete report highlighting the increasingly dangerous situation and the growing danger to humanitarian workers in the Darfur area.  She noted that not much had been done (which is diplomatic style for saying that nothing had been done) in terms of disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation of the Janjaweed militia and other military groups.

Despite the fact that there are Nigerian military among the African Union's Mission in Sudan (AMIS) who know that the AU forces are unable to protect  civilians, particularly those in internally displaced-persons camps, it was the Nigerian representative which moved the "No Action" motion which passed by 84 votes in favour, 79 against and 12 abstentions. Nigeria currently holds the presidency of the African Union, and Sudan is proposed for that post in 2006.

There was a specifically African aspect to the vote. Partly, this is a reflection of bloc voting.  No matter what the situation, States in the UN vote to protect their neighbors from criticism.  Thus both the African and the Arab states voted to protect
Sudan.  The Chinese representatives helped behind the scenes in structuring support for the vote and in explaining the "No Action" procedure. China buys nearly all of Sudan's oil and the Chinese government-owned oil company is the producer/refiner of Sudan
oil.

The other aspect concerns the current discussion in the General Assembly on improving the UN structures for dealing with human rights.  The September Summit had agreed that the UN Commission on Human Rights should be replaced by a smaller, but more competent UN Human Rights Council, leaving the details for the General Assembly to work out. States that do not wish to see stronger and more effective structures had to fire a warning shot without having to put it into obvious words.  The success of the "No Action" motion is a sign to all that any resolution from a human rights body can be shot down in the General Assembly no matter what the facts are 'on the ground'.

"No Action" has been the response of many countries to serious accusations of genocide in the past, but never before have they flown a white flag with "No Action" so boldly printed in large black letters.

With bloc voting in the UN General Assembly, is there any other avenue based on universally-recognized international law?  A major possibility is the use of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – commonly called the 1948 Genocide Convention – whose 57th commemoration falls on
9 December 2005.

The 1948 Genocide Convention followed the declaration made by the General Assembly in its resolution of 11 December 1946 “that genocide is a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world.”

The Genocide Convention, in its Article III, states that "the following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide."

Article IV states that: "Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rules, public officials or private individuals" The fact that private individuals can be punished is relevant in the Darfur case as the Sudanese government claims it does not have control over the Janjaweed militias.

Article VIII of the Convention states: "Any Contracting Party [
Member State] may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III.


The Special Rapporteurs of the UN Commission on Human Rights, staff of UN Agencies, as well as field workers of Non-Governmental Humanitarian Organizations have all reported the massive displacement of people; the refugee flows to neighbouring Chad, systematic and multiple rapes of women and girls, and other forms of torture; and the wide-spread destruction of the agricultural infrastructure of wells, livestock, and grain-storage buildings in Darfur. All observers have repeatedly reported that this destruction and rape are accompanied by verbal threats to destroy whole peoples such as the Fur, Massaliet, and Zaghawa tribal groups, among others.

The evidence of systematic actions – to quote from Article II of the Genocide Convention – "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such" is clear. What is less clear is the determination of the Member States of the United Nations to act to end this violence. Until now the efforts of governments in
Darfur have been inadequate as reliable reports indicate that human rights violations have grown far worse in October and November 2005.  The Genocide Convention provides an adequate framework for urgent action. Only one State needs to call on the United Nations to act under Article VIII.

One should not forget the unity of purpose of the 1948 Genocide Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on consecutive days (December 9 and 10). Urgent action is required to stop genocidal practices currently being carried out in the
Darfur provinces of Sudan. These two anniversaries should provide the political will for rapid UN action to stop genocide in Darfur now – and not after it is all over, when that cry will go up, as in the past, “Never Again!”

René Wadlow and David G. Littman are the representatives of the Association for World Education to the United Nations in Geneva. This text is based on their AWE Press Release of December 7 (“Human Rights Day & Genocide Day: Stop Torture and Genocidal crimes in Darfur-Sudan / Urgent Appeal to States”) and their letter of December 2, signed by 22 NGOs and conveyed to High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour by the President of CONGO (the NGO community at the UN, Geneva).

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