Articles and Analysies
Lies, Damned Lies and the Darfur Crisis by Anne Bartlett is a Director of the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development
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May 2, 2007 - 8:50:55 PM

Lies, Damned Lies and the Darfur Crisis


It was at the end of 2002 that I first encountered a refugee from the Fur tribe in London touting some faded pictures of the atrocities that had occurred in Shoba, Northern Darfur . “My village has been destroyed”, he told me, “Seventy-three people have been killed. My brother was killed. Our life has been destroyed. We need help”.  By any reasonable standards he had a right to expect help. Yet what has prevailed in the Darfur Crisis has been nothing short of a spectacle of misrepresentation and inaction.


I use the term “spectacle” in all seriousness here. For had I explained to anyone in 2003 that four years would pass with nothing but rhetoric, fumbling and politicking while a regime of thugs and murderers continued to annihilate thousands of its people, it would beggar belief. But that is exactly what has happened and shame on us for not preventing it. 400,000 dead, women raped, babies thrown into fires, and elders - who should have been enjoying their twilight years - hacked down with machetes. Could this have been any more graphic or disgusting a spectacle?

Last weekend we witnessed yet another gathering of the impotent in Libya , spearheaded by the king of disingenuousness, Muammar Gadaafi. New found friend of the West, friend of Sudan , Arab nationalist and African nationalist all rolled into one, no-one ever seems to question his motives, suitability or earnestness to resolve this crisis. No-one seems to ask about his interest in perpetuating instability in the region, his attempts to divide and buy off the rebel factions throughout the Abuja peace process (thus causing many of the problems we see now), his involvement in arming or training militia groups, his interests in the resources of Chad and Darfur, or indeed any of the other questions that need to be asked.

 Instead we are faced with another talking shop designed to cajole the hesitant Government of Sudan into action. What action? The goal this time is to revive the political process that died a death after the fiasco in Abuja . The same political process that the Government of Sudan has steadfastly refused to implement seriously in the South with the CPA; the same political process that they have desperately tried to stall last week by bombing the rebel factions north of Kutum, Darfur; the same political process that has been strikingly absent from Sudan ever since this regime came to power in 1989.

And still we talk about action, deterrence and diplomacy as if this actually means something. Well, Mr. Natsios, here is the non sugar-coated version from the ground:

The people of Darfur feel they’ve been abandoned. They feel unable to believe the International Community, the UN or the AU who have been spectacularly unsuccessful in providing any semblance of comfort or relief. This is no reflection on the efforts of the international aid workers who have risked life and limb, but people in the camps are desperate, depressed and have lost hope for the future. The rebel groups - who started out with the intention of protecting their people – are in similar disarray, yet now they also have the added responsibility of being cast as the bogeymen in this crisis.


No-one is denying the shambles of Abuja , the lack of discipline in the rebel ranks, the lack of knowledge about how to negotiate, or a number of difficult personalities. But we need a reality check here. Did the rebels marginalize Darfur for decades? Did they mutilate the corpses of the dead and parade body parts around the local markets? Did they maliciously burn the cars of local people? Did they systematize the rape and humiliation of local women? Did they arm and encourage local tribes to annihilate one another? Did they perpetrate an economic war on local farmers by destroying their crops? Did they operate a systematic scorched earth policy with the resources of a nation-state? Did they bring criminals in from Mali and Niger as guns for hire? Did they murder 400,000 people? The answer is no.

While the talks have been going on in Libya , parallel talks were scheduled to take place north of Kutum, Darfur by some of the non-signing rebel groups. The aim of these talks was reunification: an attempt to try to establish a united front from which to start negotiating with the Government of Sudan. However, before any talks could even start, helicopter gunships and Antinov aircraft appeared. A bombardment around the villages of Girya and Hamraya went on for more than a week. Finally exasperated, one of rebel commanders shot down a government of Sudan helicopter. The bombardment was so bad, the situation so precarious, that once more, talks had to be postponed.  

Yet in Libya the talks continued apace. Gadaafi blamed the rebels; the Government of Sudan played their usual game of prevarication and the international community fumbled around trying to find a credible threat. The threat du jour now appears to be sanctions. Yet if the past history of sanctions is anything to go by, they are more likely to hurt the already vulnerable people of Sudan , rather than fat cat politicians. The Khartoum regime won’t take them seriously, since their money is in un-numbered Swiss bank accounts.  The imposition of a trade ban in dollars will be met by a switch to another currency – the Chinese have already said as much. And travel bans? Are these the same travel bans that allowed Salah Ghosh to fly the world for medical treatment and cozy up with the US , while continuing to engage in the murder of his countrymen?

The Government of Sudan has succeeded in running rings round the international community because diplomacy has become a byword for inaction. The only way to stop the Government of Sudan is to get tough. Really tough. This includes: 1) A serious review of the NCP’s finances outside Sudan with a view to confiscating the personal assets of all those involved in the command and control structure of genocide 2) A sustained effort to re-engage parties that have fallen by the wayside in the stalled peace process 3) Increased support for the ICC process 4) Action against those supporting or doing business with the arms trade in Sudan 5) Increased support for the Government of Southern Sudan to make them a more credible partner for peace in Darfur and 6) An engagement with the Government of Sudan’s decades long record of lies, deceit and murder.

Rhetoric is nowhere near good enough. Following the meeting in Libya this week, Mr. Natsios claimed that steady progress had been made. Yet “progress” has become an increasingly slippery word. For the people of Darfur , progress will have occurred when they no longer feel that they have been abandoned; when the Government of Sudan is no longer able to talk peace while bombing its citizens; when dialogue means that those without power get a chance to speak. And unfortunately, Mr. Natsios, despite your reassurances that progress has been made, all evidence still points to the contrary.

Anne Bartlett is a Director of the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development, London . She can be reached at: [email protected]

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