The big Sudan slip

P.M. all fire and brimstone but what is he doing to stop genocide?


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The temperature is dropping as clouds cover the afternoon sun, but still, handfuls of people roll up like waves on Queen’s Park’s shore. It’s a demo to call attention to the genocide in Sudan, and the Canadian Jewish Congress is here along with the Muslim Canadian Congress. Armenian youth, Holocaust survivors and a large Sudanese contingent mingle, a polyglot crowd bonded by close-up knowledge of international negligence.

The crowd on this November afternoon swells in front of a banner, “Canadians for action on Darfur,” a sail at the mercy of failing diplomacy. The tragic conflict in the western part of Sudan continues to kill an estimated 35,000 ethnic African Sudanese each month.

“Where is the Canadian voice?” Darfuri-born Ameera Abbo shouts out into the throng of more than 500.

“Where is the Canadian voice?” the crowd hollers back.

Well, actually, there is one. Our global fixer of a prime minister certainly has been busy on the Sudan file. But Africa-watchers horrified by the continued violence are asking whether any of the feds’ own actions are matching their lofty appeals.

It’s true that Foreign Affairs has allocated $25.9 million for humanitarian aid and peace-building and earmarked another $20 million for an African Union monitoring mission – one enthusiastically lauded by the PM.

On the diplomacy front, Martin has taken his stop-the-violence message to President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir in Khartoum and stepped up the rhetoric, coming down hard on the United Nations for failing to act. Last month he told the media, “People are not going to put up with” the fact that the UN Security Council “is prepared to debate for months whether what’s happening in Darfur is a genocide.”

To get around this definitional morass, Martin is shopping around the responsibility-to-protect proposal, an attempt to reform the UN’s inflexible rule that allows international intervention only in countries where genocide is being committed.

But is all this enough? Not for many observers, who charge that the feds’ Sudan policy is the stuff of fine gestures and moral high-grounding but not much else.

“If you actually look at what he’s doing, there’s almost a complete absence of real action,” says Michael Byers, Canada research chair in global politics and international law at the University of British Columbia. “I’m not sure we’re doing all we can. But we’re certainly doing all we can do easily. If we had more robust peacekeeping capability, then we could perhaps contemplate doing a humanitarian intervention in a way that didn’t involve the consent of Khartoum.”

We’ve certainly done that kind of thing before, he reminds us. “We sent Canadian F-18 fighters to drop bombs on the Yugoslav forces in Kosovo and Serbia without UN authorization, against the opposition of Russia and China, because of the humanitarian situation,” he says, adding that the situation in Darfur is much worse.

“If Paul Martin, given the very strong things he has said, were sincere, the logical follow-up would be to send troops,” he says. For Byers, that means more than our current tiny deployment. Canada has provided two Canadian Forces personnel to Sudan to the multinational Standby High Readiness Brigade for United Nations Operations, a 5,000-person force ready to undertake peacekeeping in Sudan if the UN mandates it.

But even this has nothing to do with protecting civilians in the western region of Darfur, but, rather, with future monitoring of the conflict between Khartoum and the south.

Says Byers, “The prime minister’s making a big deal about the responsibility to protect, but given the opportunity to actually stop or prevent a genocide, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of political will.”

Instead, the West has sunk its hopes in the African Union’s mission – a bad idea according to Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College in Massachusetts and a leading expert on Sudan. The AU response is “woefully inadequate given the security needs in Darfur,” all the more so since Khartoum has agreed to a mere 3,300 AU troops, of which only about 700 have been deployed. “You need more than 10 times the contemplated force,” says Reeves, pointing out that military experts including General Roméo Dallaire say 44,000 troops of NATO quality are required.

Not to mention the AU’s lack of expertise and equipment (one aid worker passed a hat to raise money for the troops’ boots) and their feeble mandate. “The AU can prevent killings that are happening right before their eyes if they’re able,” says Reeves. “That’s the extent of the mandate beyond monitoring.”

Reeves doesn’t think much of the UN’s plan to wait until a north/south accord is accomplished before sending forces. “You may be waiting till a year from now, with 30,000 people dying every month.”

But even if the feds developed strong interventionist ambitions, they would have trouble confronting their own personnel deficit. David Rudd, executive director of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies (CISS), calls it the “rhetoric-resources gap.” The military’s been run down in the last decade, with former PM Jean Chrétien at the helm, says Rudd – especially human resources.

“Look upon it as a car you drive all the time, but at the same time you’re not keeping up on repairs or filling the gas tank,” says Rudd.

Last August, Martin announced that he would up troop numbers by 5,000 to 65,000 over the next five years. Commentators now doubt he will be able to accomplish this.

But David B. Carment, director of the Centre for Security and Defence Studies at Carleton University, says the problem isn’t just financial. It’s direction – or rather the lack of one. “Canada, unlike the European Union and the United States, does not have a coherent strategic action plan that clearly identifies our interests outside the North American security perimeter,” he says.

“Canada cannot be everywhere, all the time, all over the world,” says Carment. “We have yet to prioritize which regions of the world really matter to us.”

At one time, Sudan clearly did, given the presence of Canuck firm Talisman Energy Inc. in southern Sudan between 1998 and 2002. Back then, Ottawa held that the company’s presence helped ease the ravages of civil war between the mostly Christian southerners seeking autonomy from the Islamist government in the north.

That is, until the damning evidence started piling up, beginning with the Harker report (Human Security In Sudan: The Report Of A Canadian Assessment Mission, 2000), an independent investigation commissioned by former Foreign Affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy. A raft of other reports, including a giant one by Human Rights Watch, drew similar conclusions: Talisman’s presence was exacerbating the war.

Many tie the current tragedy in Darfur to Talisman’s legacy. “Darfur would not have been possible if it had not been for Talisman,” says Freedom Quest International ‘s Mel Middleton. It was Canadian technology, he says, that allowed a 1,600-kilometre pipeline to be built so oil could be exported to the tune of about $2 million a day. And that provides Khartoum with dollars and equipment for waging war today in Darfur, he says.

As for diplomacy, well, it’s a nice idea, say many, but what’s really needed is economic muscle. Ottawa U. law professor Errol Mendes wants Martin to use his influence at the World Bank, IMF and G20 to urge an offer of debt relief for Sudan if it agrees to stop the atrocities.

That’s the kind of focused thinking that appeals to Liberal MP David Kilgour, the former secretary of state for Latin America and Africa. “Our official policy is to yak at Khartoum, telling them they’ve got to stop this,” he says. “That’s the substance of our policy: talk, make speeches at the UN, send diplomatic notes. But that’s the same as having a non-policy. It’s all just wringing of hands.”

Some observers back the idea of UN sanctions, though Russian and Chinese investment in the oil and military industries in Sudan could nix that. They’re both veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, with their own bleak human rights records.

As for Canada, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Reynald Doiron says sanctions would only be considered “once the international community within the UN framework has determined that it has become necessary.”

Reeves believes the one solution that might finally reign in the terror, barring all-out regime change, is the “roaring divestment campaign” he’s been working on. Its main targets are the biggies on the New York Stock Exchange – Petro-China, Switzerland’s ABB, Germany’s Seimens, French telecommunications giant Alcatel and a Russian company called Tatneff – all of them heavy investors in Sudan.

“Petro-China can ignore world opinion, but it can’t ignore the fact that it’s got 90 per cent of its shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange and everybody is selling it,” he says. “That will be a signal to China that there are economic consequences to its continued intransigence in responding to genocide in Darfur.”

Whatever strategy is used, says Reeves, Canada’s got some karmic reasons to take the lead. “No one can look at oil development and not conclude that Talisman was clearly, deeply complicit in massive human destruction,” he says. “Canada as a whole should feel some responsibility, and that can best be shouldered by responding to Darfur in the present.”

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