Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Sudan: The chips are down

Carmen Moreno, director of the United Nation’s international institute for training and research for the advancement of women (Instraw) describes the appalling levels of insecurity and violence which shape women’s lives as a ‘Russian roulette’.

Reports of sexual violence on all sides of the Darfur conflict continue. Women may be victims in this game but not always passive. “Women go out of the camps to get firewood. They say that if their men went, they’d be killed and that’s why the women choose to expose themselves to being raped instead.’ Subsequently, many of the victims then bear and bring up the nameless children of this aggression. (Louise Arbour on international women’s day)

Systematic use of rape was highlighted in the controversial report prepared for the current session of the Human Rights Council. The team of investigators led by Jodi Williams claim the Sudanese government has failed to protect the population of Darfur from large-scale international crimes and has itself orchestrated and participated in these. In fact, it is estimated that women comprise 90% of the of the victims of the conflict.

A hard-hitting report specifically on sexual violence in Darfur was published by AllianceDarc in December 2006. To coincide with publication on the global day for Darfur a letter signed by an international group of stateswomen was circulated calling for a robust and effective peacekeeping force.

Instraw, a tiny member of the UN family, has carried out research on integrating a gender dimension into the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) framework. Endorsed by the UN Reform Summit in 2005, the R2P doctrine requires the international community to prevent conflict, react to humanitarian crises and help rebuild societies - in situations where national government fails to do so.

The fourth session of the Human Rights Council met 12th to 30th March 2007

Responsibility to protect?

While Angela Merkel, guest of honour at the 24th France-Afrique summit in Cannes spoke on the theme of ‘joint responsibility for peace and security’ with specific reference to Sudan, we haven’t seen too much R2P from G8 countries.

Current and recent political activity revolves around the call for economic sanctions against the Sudanese government. To be fair, the US government took a lead last decade on banning US business involvement, although according to Drumbeat for Darfur US financial institutions are still investing in third country foreign companies operating in Sudan. And as always, there are questions over the effectiveness of the sanctions approach.

There has been condemnation of China’s role in Sudan from both western governments and African civil society : the displacement of people in order to develop the oil-fields has contributed to, if not created, the current crisis, while government revenues from the partnership with China are said to finance the janjawid militias. China has been called on to exert influence on the Sudanese government and France’s latest ploy is to suggest boycotting the next Olympic games in Beijing if China doesn’t help out. However, it is important to note that not only the US but Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, have all had petroleum interests in Sudan; African commentators see western business interests as the root cause of the conflict - and Khartoum is a new boom town.

The Darfur Consortium an African / international civil society action group has consistently lobbied African governments for continued commitment to AMIS (the African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan). They have also petitioned the Arab governments of north Africa in particular to take a more pro-active role vis-à-vis the Sudanese government.

I spoke last year in Mali to Commandante Nema Sagará– one of the few trained African women peace-keepers –about the development of the AU peace-keeping force. She told me then that it doesn’t have sufficient capacity (including funding) to mount, execute and maintain missions effectively – although a range of military training for African peacekeepers and observer missions has been provided by western governments (US, Canada, France, Germany) clearly with the intention that Africa will be left to sort out her own problems.

While the potential of AMIS (and more generally, the AU as a continental peacekeeper) is recognised and promoted, there is no budget support from the international community. And, since the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, G8 and other bilateral donors continue to lay down conditions for debt repayments, cuts in public expenditure, financial sector reform, privatisation of basic services and unfavourable trade agreements, African governments are a little strapped for cash.

Despite this, tiny landlocked Rwanda has sent 2,000 soldiers to AMIS. However President Paul Kagamé has expressed frustration that “our presence there hasn’t brought about any change on the ground” and Foreign Affairs Minister Charles Murgandé goes further: “We ask ourselves if we should maintain our soldiers for a mission which is not supported by the international community.”

In response to Jacques Chirac’s recent call for sanctions, the leader of one of Darfur’s rebel movements Abdul Wahid Al-Nour challenges France and the EU to make a choice: “Either you send an international force or you give us weapons to defend ourselves.”

One financial solution reported in Jeune Afrique (19-25 November 2006) comes from the US company Blackwater offering mercenaries to fight under the UN flag. This would work out cheaper than the going price of $1000 per solider per month paid to governments. Apparently Kofi Annan had even thought about using South Africa’s Executive Outcome in Rwanda during the genocide there (for similar reasons) but concluded “the world’s not yet ready to privatise peace”. Then again, everything else in Africa is being privatised.

Prevention is better

Not everyone is convinced a military solution is appropriate. Humanitarian workers on the ground in Darfur highlight the complexity of the situation, suggesting that the EU and China focus on support for reopening negotiations. Only one of the three main rebel movements signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in December. It’s not certain that a political solution can be found for Sudan either, given the fragmentation of opposing groups and the fact that just a handful of (male) leaders are involved in such discussions.

As Roselynn Musa reports on the ‘comprehensive’ peace agreement for southern Sudan signed in 2005, this excludes consideration of women’s specific contributions and concerns in peace negotiations and rehabilitation processes.

Surely, for the future, we have to do better. Above all, this requires sound investment in conflict prevention. Instraw has a new guide to policy and planning for women peace and security (UN SCR 1325). Bring together the whole range of stakeholders - including women and women’s organisations – to develop a joint strategy which represents and addresses the different needs and interests of all. However, there’s the usual caveat: ‘a dedicated budget is essential to ensuring the concrete and sustainable implementation of even the most modest action plan.’

In her speech at Cannes, Merkel claimed that Germany was “monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe with great concern.” Meanwhile Condaleeza Rice inaugurated awards for international women of courage. One of the recipients was Jennifer Williams founder of Woza (Women of Zimbabwe Arise)who accepted the award on behalf of the movement’s 45,000 members and took the opportunity to emphasise that “it’s important for the diplomatic community to play a role in helping us to achieve our struggle.”

“Women of courage are standing up for freedom and human dignity and the United States stands with them,” announced Rice .
Events in Zimbabwe have now moved on. The breath-taking gap between what western politicians say and what they do (or not) - to prevent conflict or protect civilians - remains. Are they really cynical and self-serving or do they speak in good faith? Is it a compulsive habit? Close your eyes when placing the chips and then cross your fingers. That’s how to gamble away other people’s security - when those with a real stake in peace are never called to the table.

Patricia Daniel
March 2007

Read more

Sexual violence in Darfur

Save Darfur petition

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