TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Darfur: the Practical Questionof a Universal Theory

“Sudan’s president, Omar Al-Bashir, has vowed to fight off UN troops himself, and warned that Sudan would take on international soldiers ‘as Hizbullah beat Israeli forces.'”

—Rob Crilly, reporting for the Christian Science Monitor

The genocide in Darfur is a tragedy of enormous proportions. At the same time it raises fundamental questions about the very character of world opinion and international organizations. The whole world is watching—and just watches. The one international institution established in response to genocide and constitutively committed to human rights—to rights that humans can claim as humans, and not as citizens of particular states—the United Nations, has shown itself to be troublesomely incapable of acting, even in the most dire of circumstances.

At its core, the UN is hampered by a conflict between the ideal commitment to universal values (human rights) and the real obligation to the sovereignty of nation states, no matter how heinous. Perhaps the answer is simply sad realism: the UN is not a panacea, it cannot alleviate suffering generally, but it can ameliorate conditions marginally. The way for the UN to succeed is to lower the expectations. That line of thought is, however, quite grim for the victims of genocide.

If the killing proceeds in Darfur and no strong international force is introduced to halt it—because the UN processes prevent such a force—the UN will lose whatever remaining credibility it may still have, and with it a bevy of internationalist principles and beliefs. If the UN cannot succeed here, then its mission, truly, becomes marginal, and not universal. Its inability to realize ideals in the world is an object lesson in the limitations of ideals.

Sudanese government forces are attacking villages with Russian-made weapons, the civilian population is the target, and the United Nations cannot manage to insert itself into the conflict. And, as Rob Crilly reports in the Christian Science Monitor:

Government planes have embarked on a wave of indiscriminate bombings in Darfur, killing civilians in Sudan’s war-torn western region, according to human rights campaigners.

Witness statements collected by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International detail deaths and injuries to women and children as Russian-made Antonov planes deliver their deadly payload. “Government forces are bombing villages with blatant disregard for civilian lives,” says Peter Takirambudde, HRW’s Africa director.

The fresh government onslaught against rebel-held villages is being played out against a backdrop of diplomatic uncertainty, as Khartoum rejects outside peacekeeping efforts amid its push to establish full sovereignty over the area.

[ . . . ]

Government figures also continued to voice strident opposition to the deployment of a proposed force of more than 20,000 UN peacekeepers – seen by many analysts as the only way to rein in combatants in a war that has killed more than 200,000 people and forced some 2.5 million to flee to squalid aid camps.

[ . . . ]

Residents of El Fasher, the regional capital of North Darfur, report the daily arrival of planes delivering troops and arms. HRW reports that one woman was killed and seven children injured near Kulkul, when a bomb was rolled from the back of an Antonov cargo plane. Amnesty International has accounts of government planes bombing Kulkul to prepare for ground troops and their Janjaweed allies.

[ . . . ]

Last week, the UN Security Council voted to take over and expand the peacekeeping effort. But the plan has been rejected repeatedly by the Sudanese government.

Sudan’s president, Omar Al-Bashir, has vowed to fight off UN troops himself, and warned that Sudan would take on international soldiers “as Hizbullah beat Israeli forces.” His ministers have also stepped up pressure on the AU, warning that AU troops can stay beyond September only if they drop plans to hand over their operation to the UN.

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