Genocides and Government Crimes Need Celebrities to Get Noticed
December 10, 2006
by Joseph P. Tartaro
I happened to be at home a few days ago and caught an afternoon news segment on CNN that my wife was watching. During this segment, actress-celebrity Mia Farrow was being interviewed by one of the cable network’s regulars about a recent trip of hers to the Darfur region of the Sudan.
Needless to say, Farrow, like many other celebrities these days, was trying to organize world public opinion to resolve the human crisis in Darfur. She has every right to promote such a cause, but what really astonished me was a question put to her by the CNN interviewer who asked her “Why do you keep going back to Darfur?”
Her answer was simple and direct; she wanted to see a peaceful resolution of the crisis in that region of Africa.
What she didn’t say, but I thought would make a good answer. “Because, if celebrities didn’t go to such ugly and troubled places, the media, including CNN, would ignore the violent events that are unfolding there daily.”
The conflict in the Darfur region of the Sudan has been going on for years. We have published some related commentaries and reports in Gun Week because what is happening there is related to the long and nefarious history of governments killing, starving and driving away their own people. Some call such conflicts “genocides.” Others use such terms as “ethnic cleansing.” And still others avoid using such labels because of politics.
But whether it is Darfur, Rwanda or any other place were governments starve and kill their own people after first disarming them, it is a form a mass murder by what is supposed to be a legitimate government.
People are being killed almost daily in Darfur; still others are dropping over from hunger and thirst. But because it is not as politically volatile as the war in Iraq, or even Afghanistan, one can go weeks and even months between breathless newscasts from the scene of the action. If a few people are killed in Baghdad, that’s hot news with the networks. However, a few people dropping over from starvation or disease in Darfur would get no brief news segment or even a crawl on CNN news on the average day.
The conflict in Darfur is no small thing, even if the media chooses to ignore it. Depending on which scholars you believe, the “Civil War” in the Sudan has been going on since either 2001 or 2003. In either case, for some years, and it is no small thing.
Darfur covers an area of some 196,555 square miles, about three-quarters the size of Texas, more than half the size of Kenya or slightly smaller than France.
The Darfur conflict is an ongoing armed conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, mainly between the Janjaweed, a militia group recruited from the tribes of the Abbala (camel-herding Arabs), and the non-Baggara people (mostly land-tilling tribes) of the region. The Sudanese government, while publicly denying that it supports the Janjaweed, has provided arms and assistance and has participated in joint attacks with the group, systematically targeting the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit ethnic groups in Darfur.
Unlike in the Second Sudanese Civil War, which was fought between the primarily Muslim north and Christian and Animist south, in Darfur most of the residents are Muslim, as are the Janjaweed.
The estimated number of deaths in the conflict have ranged from 50,000 to 450,000. Most non-government organizations use 400,000, a figure from the Coalition for International Justice that has since been cited by the United Nations (UN). As many as 2.5 million people are thought to have been displaced.
The mass media have described the conflict as both “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.” The US government has described it as genocide, although the UN has declined to do so.
That is part of the politics and the problem with the UN, which I will return to shortly.
Suffice it to say that after fighting worsened in July and August of this year, and, on Aug. 31, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) approved Resolution 1706 which called for a new 20,000-troop UN peacekeeping force to supplant or supplement a poorly funded, ill-equipped 7,000-troop African Union (AU) Mission in Sudan peacekeeping force. Sudan strongly objected to the resolution and said that it would see the UN forces in the region as foreign invaders. As if to underscore the Sudanese government’s position, the next day, the Sudanese military launched a major offensive in the region.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan keeps trying to get the UNSC-approved peacekeeping force organized and into the Darfur area, and there are factions both inside and outside Sudan that keep proposing diplomatic ways to get the peacekeeping mission approved by the very government that is aiding and arming at least one side in the Darfur conflict.
Whether such a peacekeeping force will ever be put on the ground in the Sudan and given the power to do more than monitor who is killing who, remains to be seen. But Gun Week readers are reminded that the people who have not been able to stop the mass murders by government troops or government irregulars in Rwanda, in Kosovo, or Darfur are the same diplomats who want to negotiate and approve a binding international gun control treaty.
Disarming whole populations in countries all around the world would appear to establish the framework for future Darfur disasters, whether the guys and gals in the striped pants want to cal it genocide or ethnic cleansing.
So far, the US government has resisted such moves. But the process is continuing. The UN’s Department of Public Information recently announced that an expert group on illicit small arms and light weapons brokering will be seeking to enhance global cooperation on a brokering treaty at its forthcoming meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.
The official UN announcement said that the Group of Governmental Experts to consider further steps to enhance international cooperation in preventing, combating and eradicating illicit brokering in small arms and light weapons will hold its first session in Geneva, Switzerland, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1. The Group of Experts, which was established by General Assembly resolution 60/81 of Dec. 8 last year, will be chaired by the delegate from the Netherlands.
Illicit brokering is considered to be one of the major obstacles to international efforts to combat the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and to ensure full implementation of UN arms embargoes. Illicit brokers need not be physically close to the shipments they facilitate; they tend to operate from anywhere in the world. Currently, most countries lack adequate legislation to regulate the activities of brokers dealing in small arms and light weapons. The Group of Governmental Experts is thus expected to study the problem and make recommendations that might help Governments to put in place appropriate national regulations and to improve international cooperation to better control such brokering activities.
The Group is composed of 25 experts from the following countries: Argentina; Brazil; Bulgaria; China; Egypt; Finland; France; Israel; Jamaica; Japan; Jordan; Kenya; Lithuania; Netherlands; Nicaragua; Norway; Pakistan; Poland; Republic of Korea; Russian Federation; Romania; Senegal; South Africa; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States.
The Group of Experts will meet again March 19-23 and from June 4-8 at the UN headquarters in New York, and is expected to submit its report to the General Assembly at its sixty-second session in 2007.
When the UN diplomats meet in Geneva or anywhere else to discuss small arms controls, I hope some of them will be haunted by the ghosts of the men, women and children murdered with guns and machetes, or starved to death by their own governments.
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