About The Arab Stance Vis-à-vis Darfur
About The Arab Stance Vis-à-vis Darfur
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Op-Ed / Africa 5 minutes

About The Arab Stance Vis-à-vis Darfur

The Arab League has expressed concern over the violence in Sudan's Darfur, but, like individual Arab member states, it has failed to support international action to protect the Sudanese citizens of Darfur. Their inaction in the face of mass killings edges closer and closer to complicity every day.

Despite heavy-handed censorship on Arab media covering Darfur, knowledge of the massacres started reaching the Arab public by the end of 2003. In 2004, an Arab League Commission of Inquiry into Darfur publicly condemned the attacks on civilians as "massive violations of human rights". Yet the statement was later suppressed and removed from the Arab League website, after a negative reaction from the Sudanese government. Since that moment, the Arab League has consistently counseled international patience in dealing with Khartoum, despite more than 200,000 civilian deaths in Darfur as a result of the Sudanese government's military strategy of targeting of the civilian population.

The Arab League and Arab countries have supported - at least verbally - the under equipped African Union (AU) force deployed in Darfur (AMIS), which they regularly describe as the only viable security solution for the Darfur crisis. But practically, and for years, the Arab League's policy has been completely in line with the official Sudanese position rejecting any other international force to help stop the massacres of Muslim civilians in Darfur.

Two years later, in an unprecedented step and under heavy criticism for its lack of action, Arab League states used the opportunity of their March 2006 Khartoum summit to pledge a much needed $150 million to AMIS. One year on, however, Arab countries have contributed only $15m - just ten percent of their pledge.

It is worth mentioning here that the ongoing Darfur crisis that started in 2003 coincides with record high nominal oil prices that peaked at $74/barrel in July 2006 resulting in record high budget surpluses in Gulf countries. Unfortunately, transfers from the Gulf to help the Muslim civilian population of Darfur have been minimal.

Nor have Arab members of the African Union, like Egypt and Algeria, provided much support to AMIS. Though they continue to vocally support the African body in the international arena, there is no concrete action that follows, a position that comforts the Sudanese regime and helps it deflect international pressure for a more robust force that could more effectively protect civilian populations.

Thus AMIS remains today an overwhelmingly EU funded force. Since 2004, the EU and its member states have supported AMIS with more than $520 million. Canada alone has paid more in both humanitarian aid to Darfur and financial support to AMIS than all the Arab countries combined.

On the ground, Arab countries together have sent only 76 personnel out of the 7,000 troops constituting AMIS. Egypt was generous enough to send 34 military observers, while Algeria sent 13, Libya 9 and Mauritania 20 - this to monitor a territory the size of France.

At the UN, Arab countries have been active, though all their activity seems to be directed at obstructing Security Council resolutions that could have helped end the suffering of Sudan's Darfur population. Since 2004, the last two Arab non-permanent members at the Security Council - Algeria and Qatar - speaking and voting in the name of all Arab countries, either toned down resolutions in Khartoum's favour or abstained from voting in a clear message of non-support for the civilian victims.

The current Arab representative on the Security Council, Qatar, abstained from voting on an August 2006 resolution (1706) calling for the deployment of UN troops in Darfur. Arab countries said that more efforts should have been made to secure Sudan's "consent". At the UN General Assembly in September 2006, and in support of Khartoum's policies, its representative called on the international community to support "fraternal Sudan" in its efforts. The reference to Sudan as a "fraternal" neighbour is fair, but it is hard to understand why Arab solidarity should extend as far as defending a regime in its campaign of mass killing against its own citizens.

Arab countries supports the Sudanese government's rejection of a neutral UN peacekeeping force for Darfur, justifying their position by repeating, like Khartoum, that a UN force in Darfur represents a threat to the Sudanese sovereignty. Strangely, no Arab government has noticed the contradiction of this common position given that the same regime in Khartoum that is rejecting the UN peacekeepers in west Sudan welcomes a 10,000-strong UN force in south Sudan and views them as a vital component of preserving a freshly signed peace in this region. Why does no one ask why sovereignty is only an issue in the west of the country and not in the south?

Ignoring the UN mission in the south of the country, President Bashir has said Sudan is so opposed to UN peacekeeping in Darfur that he has called for "resistance and jihad" if the second UN force steps one foot into the country. The Arab world's acceptance of Khartoum's double standard does not do service to their well-placed critique of U.S. double standards in the Middle East. Furthermore, supporting Sudan's opposition to the UN and relaying accusations of the UN's alleged lack of neutrality will prove short-sighted: supporting the description of UN troops as "invaders" can only undermine the efforts of thousands of UN troops in Syria's occupied Golan Heights, Egypt's Sinai and Lebanon's south that are monitoring peace treaties and fragile cessations of hostilities.

When American actor George Clooney went to Darfur to raise public awareness of the dire situation of raped Muslim women and suffering children living in fetid refugee camps, one Arab member chastised Clooney for misdiagnosing the Sudan conflict, dismissing the idea of an actor advising what to do in Darfur: "We must go to an excellent physician and not an outstanding actor so that this physician can prescribe to us the appropriate treatment" he said.

Paradoxically, when a good physician diagnosed Darfur wounds, Arab countries rejected him, too. In 2005, then-UN Security General Kofi Annan appointed a panel of experts to assess the situation in Sudan's Darfur region. The experts wrote in early 2006 a confidential report that identified 17 Sudanese as having committed crimes against humanity in Darfur. Their report said that all sides in Darfur had violated an arms embargo, with the government supplying weapons to militias and with rebels escalating the fighting. However, Arab countries blocked proposals to impose sanctions on both Sudanese officials and militia leaders singled out by the report.

When Algeria was representing Arab countries at the Security Council, it had even opposed the creation of the UN International Commission of Inquiry charged with determining whether genocide has been committed in Darfur. Algeria, justified its position "for the sake of effectiveness and in order to address the urgency and gravity of the crisis". Not that the urgency and gravity of the situation has moved the Arab world at all in the intervening years.

As the Ambassador of a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for two years, Abdallah Baali tirelessly reiterated, in the name of Arab countries, the Sudanese government's murderous positions on Darfur. In a September 2004 letter to the Council, Mr. Baali wrote that, the "the draft of UN resolution 1556 before us today (calling for the disarmament of the Janjaweed militia) poses problems (...) in our view, it does not really do justice to the Government of the Sudan - which has taken initiatives and carried out actions that go in the right direction".

Indeed, since resolution 1556, the Sudanese government's "right direction" has only led to an increase in the number of innocent deaths in Darfur, partly at the hands of its air force, which bombarded civilian villages. And Arab governments continue to support the massacres perpetrator rather than the civilian victims.

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