Universe Column for August 28th 2005
by David Alton
Just before Parliament rose for the summer recess I took a letter to Downing Street to protest about the international community’s inadequate response to the carnage in Darfur. I was accompanied by Roman Halter, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, and by Abdellatife Ismael, who is a survivor of the atrocities in Darfur. Their message to the PM was “it’s ‘never again’ all over again.”
We handed in our letter of protest on the first anniversary of the American decision to officially designate events in Darfur as genocide – a decision replicated by Germany and Canada. I have never understood why, on the basis of exactly the same evidence being available to Britain, we have refused to describe events in Darfur as genocide (and accept the requirement that goes with such a declaration to prevent, protect and to prosecute).
It is estimated that as many as 400,000 civilians have died in the last two years in the remote western region of Sudan. 90% of their villages have been wiped out.
For the last two years Britain has downplayed the mass murder, rape and ethnic cleansing there, so the least we can do now is to help the people who survived.
More help should be given to the African Union troops trying protect nearly three million internal refugees. They’ve lost everything, and they still face attack and terror. We tell the world we care about making poverty history in Africa, while ignoring the scale of a deadly conflict at the same time.
A year ago America recognised that the Sudan armed forces’ huge military operation against the black African population of Darfur was genocide. The United Kingdom chose not to confront the Sudanese regime, the architects of the genocide. This is the same regime that killed two million Christians and animists in south Sudan over two decades, so we should have known better.
Abdellatife Ismael, whose village in Darfur was wiped out paid tribute to the generosity of the British public in their humanitarian aid to Sudan. He said: “People in Darfur are grateful for the food aid, but mostly they want someone to take the guns away from the militias who are terrorising them.”
At an All Party Africa Group meeting in July, Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for Overseas Development, reflected on the reaction of the international community to events in Darfur and said, “We haven’t, frankly, done very well.”
Anyone concerned about Darfur rightly credits his department with a generous and prompt humanitarian response to internally displaced people; and for giving the African Union forces all they have requested. However, it is clear that even with troop levels increased from their current 2,900 to 7,700 by the end of September, it will give inadequate protection for displaced civilians who are still under attack by militia, rebels and Sudanese security forces. There are also too few troops to enable the survivors to return to their villages and resume their lives.
Britain gets an “A” for our humanitarian aid to Darfur, but our foreign policy rates “F” for failure. History should have told us we always regret appeasing dictators. When we recently commemorated both the genocide in Bosnia and the Second World War our leaders said we would never let genocide happen again. But we keep turning the other way, in Cambodia, in Burma, in Rwanda and Bosnia, and now in Darfur. It’s ‘never again’ all over again.