Thursday, April 13, 2006

Arab, Muslim silence on Darfur conflict is deafening

From The Daily Star:

First person Fatema Abdul Rasul

For the entire Muslim and Arab world to remain silent when thousands of people in Darfur continue to be killed is shameful and hypocritical. On March 28, 2006, the Arab League held its annual summit in Khartoum but failed to effectively address the crisis in Darfur.

Earlier in March, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council had extended its mission in Darfur until September 30, and the League has decided to financially support the AU mission from October onward.

Considering the urgency of the situation in the region, the response of the Arab League is inadequate. The
money is needed now.

"This is medicine after death," said Baba Gana Kingibe, the head of the AU mission in Sudan. "We need the assistance now in order to be able to resolve the crisis."

Koran clearly states: "O ye who believe! Remain steadfast for Allah, bearing witness to justice. Do not allow your hatred for others make you swerve to wrongdoing and turn you away from justice. Be just; that is closer to true piety." (5:8)

Yet, the Arab and Muslim world has failed to condemn the violence in Darfur or assist any efforts by the international community to protect the innocent civilians - most of whom are Muslim.

Arab and Muslim leaders have never hesitated to condemn the killing of innocent civilians in Iraq or the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Yet, none of them have spoken out against Khartoum's policies in Darfur even though the number of Darfurians killed surpasses those in the other two conflicts.

During the past two and a half years, over 400,000 people have been killed in Darfur while more than two million people have been uprooted from their
homes. The Sudanese-backed Janjaweed militia has routinely raided villages, executed adult males, raped adult women and girl children, burned homes and crops, stolen livestock, and kidnapped children into slavery.

Although United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has declared the situation in Darfur as the world's worst current humanitarian crisis, the international response to Darfur so far has been half-hearted. Currently, the African Union (AU) has about 7,700 personnel deployed in the region but lacks a robust mandate and adequate resources to protect civilians. This has lead to an escalation of violence and deterioration of the situation in the region.

Recognizing the need for an urgent solution to the crisis,
President Bush along with other world leaders recently agreed that a UN peacekeeping force should replace the fledgling AU mission in order to stop the killings in Darfur. However, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have strongly rejected this proposal hindering efforts to solve the crisis.

Even oil-rich countries in the Persian Gulf have barely reached into their deep pockets. Saudi Arabia has contributed about $3 million while Qatar and the United Arab Emirates combined have contributed less than $1 million to the crisis in Darfur. In contrast, Canada has pledged more aid than all the Arab countries put together.

In fact, the Arab League has consistently supported the Sudanese government. For example, in 2004, the Arab League rejected sanctions and international military involvement regarding Darfur.

The Arab League's indifference over the crisis in Darfur makes it appear that any country can commit gross violations of human rights and still go about business as usual.

However, the international community disagrees. Last September, more than 150 heads of state - including several Arab and Muslim leaders - gathered at the United Nations for an historic summit and endorsed a principle known as the "Responsibility to Protect."

This principle states that no nation can hide behind the veil of sovereignty while it conducts or permits crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. It also implies that other countries cannot turn a blind eye when these events occur beyond their borders just because it does not suit their narrowly defined national interests.

The need to end the crisis in Darfur is a golden opportunity for the international community to mobilize around this principle.

Organizations such as the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conferences should embrace this initiative instead of obstructing action at the United Nations.

In addition, Arab and Muslim leaders should constructively engage in the peace talks between rebel movements in Darfur and the Sudanese government.

For instance, appointing a high-level Arab or Muslim envoy would send Khartoum a clear signal that the Arab and Muslim world is committed to end the violence. This individual should be empowered to meet with all parties, from tribal leaders in Darfur to the heads of strategically important governments.

If Arab and Muslim leaders want to prove to the international community that they are truly committed to respect for human rights, justice and accountability, it is imperative for them to stand up against the genocide in Darfur.

Fatema Abdul Rasul is an Edward Rawson Fellow for the Peace & Security Program at Citizens for Global Solutions, a lobby group in Washington working for improved American foreign policy.