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Darfur: A sad reality of a failing UN

Posted by Stephen on March 24, 2007

The siege and blatant massacre of people in Darfur, Sudan, has been taking place for years while the United Nations remains conflicted on how best to respond. In Kuteri, a village in Darfur, exists an example that represents a consistent picture of a nation shrouded in terrorist activity that is used to control a defenseless people.

Since arriving four years ago, the militiamen known as Janjaweed have killed several of the 500 people who live there, beaten and raped many others and generally menaced the population into believing that their village could be destroyed at any moment, like hundreds of others across this region of western Sudan.

The people of this small village, led by their leader Sheik Ibrahim Ahmed, hide in their huts, and try their best to avoid contact with the thugs that have taken their village hostage. Ahmed told the Washington Post that he has adopted a strategy to preserve his people and his village. They welcome their attackers with open arms.

“We told them, ‘This is your home, and you can come anytime,’” said Ahmed, explaining that he and his people had decided four years ago to remain in their village. The Janjaweed beat, rape, and murder them, but the people of the village treat them like family.

The story of Kuteri is in danger of deteriorating from a crisis to a state of permanent dysfunction. For the past five years the Sudanese government has supported an all out attempt to crush a rebel movement in Darfur. The government efforts have almost completely reordered the region’s demographics. The conflict is complex but comes down to one in which the government has armed and supported certain nomadic Arab tribesmen against the region’s farming villagers, who are predominantly black Africans who rebel as a way of fighting for freedom and preservation.

At least 450,000 people have died from disease and violence in the conflict, and more than 2.5 million, which is around half the area’s entire population, have fled to large displacement camps whose numbers continue to grow exponentially.

Yet there remains a relatively small number of farming villages such as Kuteri where people are struggling to maintain dignity under the pressure of the government-backed Arab militiamen, who eat their food, drink their water, rape their women, and kill their citizens.

While the camps seem to provide an alternative to living in fear, the tradeoff is too great for some. To leave would be to lose their homes, their village, and perhaps their country. What the people of Kuteri fight for is their dignity, their land and homes, and most importantly, their freedom.

“In Islam, it says that you defend your dignity,” Abdulmalik Ismail, friend to Ahmed, said. “Here we have land. Here we have family. Here we have a house. We have these things to keep us.”

Perhaps the lack of response by the UN stems from a lack of understanding of people’s desire for freedom. The UN has maintained criticism of American policy in Iraq on the basis that human desire for freedom is not a reason for military action. While that remains a debatable issue, the UN policy of advocating support for those who cannot defend themselves should not be.

Recently, the UN condemned the actions of Israel for their heavy handed response to Palestinian aggression stating that the use of force by Israel was disproportionate. Yet, in Darfur, the UN has done little. However, some feel a proposed UN peacekeeping force could make things worse.

Ahmed has heard about a U.N. proposal to send in a peacekeeping force, a plan he supports in theory but fears in reality. He is afraid, he said, that if the troops come, the militiamen will start killing everyone in his village. Making things more difficult is the reality that necessities like food and water are running out and little in the way of long term relief exists.

According to a failing peace agreement reached last year between the government and one Darfur rebel group, the militiamen were supposed to be disarmed. Ahmed said the men now wearing government uniforms and driving trucks are the same ones who at first came in civilian clothes, riding camels and horses. The villagers know them by name.

Darfur is a hot bed for terrorism. The government of the Sudan has a long history of supporting terrorism and terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda. The 9/11 Commission Report discussed Sudanese support for those involved in the tragic attacks on American soil. There is an opportunity for the UN to impose itself as legitimate leaders who say they are concerned about terrorism worldwide.

The solution may not be obvious, and certainly is complex, but it requires a fully vested body like the UN to engage in the types of work they proclaim to stand for.

There are important questions to be answered regarding the lack of aggressive response to the crisis in Darfur. For example, while the UN criticizes U.S. foreign policy for being agenda related, could the same be said about UN policy? If Sudan was a major trade partner of Russia would they maintain their silence? If China were being supplied large oil resources from this country would they stay on the sidelines? If terrorists from Sudan flew planes into Paris, France, and killed 3,000 Frenchmen would that pacifist nation be calling for support in an invasion to stop widespread killing of innocent people in the region?

If anything comes out of the lessons of Darfur, maybe it will be that the bulk of the nations making up the UN are no different than the United States, with one exception. When the U.S. states and supports a policy and that policy has consequences attached to it, the U.S. acts when that policy is violated. The U.S. does not act because they enjoy war, but because credibility, freedom, and lives depend on that action. If the UN maintained the same policy perhaps half a million people would not have been ruthlessly murdered under their watch.

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

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