26 March 2007

Tom Stoppard on Darfur

Last week the Independent carried a letter signed by ten leading European writers (including Nobel laureates Dario Fo, Seamus Heaney and Harold Pinter) urging the European Union to take action on Darfur. Today it carries this piece by playwright Tom Stoppard entitled “We must speak up for the dead and dispossessed in an epidemic of rage”

If not now, when? If not we, who? News of murder, rape, arson and dispossession in Darfur has been coming in for something like four years, stopping and starting and stuttering, scaling up into horrifying film footage that blanks out the political story, and also down into declarations, resolutions and soundbites that veil the horror of what's really happening in a war so remote and so obscured that the numbers of dead arrive rounded to the nearest hundred thousand.

Is it 200,000 or 300,000? Both figures keep popping up in the Darfur story in reproachable documentation and all you can think is that the sub-text "enough is enough" of Tony Blair's reported message to Angela Merkel the other day had an even darker meaning than the phrase was intended to carry.

But, yes, enough is indeed enough. And one of the things you'd think the UN would have had enough of is being treated with casual disdain by the Sudanese regime, whose latest gesture was to use troops to deny the UN's humanitarian delegation access to a refugee camp in the Darfur region.

A peacekeeping mission would be more to the point, and here again the UN is as helpless against its own vetoes as against President Omar al-Bashir's soldiers. If the United Nations could die of shame it would have been dead years ago.

How can the EU do better? Can it be effective at all? Yesterday, the British Prime Minister and the German Chancellor were making the right noises. Stringent sanctions. No-fly zones. But the unpalatable truth is that sanctions require a degree of collective determination, of which the UN appears constitutionally incapable. A no-fly zone over that vast remote area represents an enormous challenge. And would freezing Sudanese assets abroad, one of the suggestions in the "writers' letter", in itself turn the situation around?

Bob Geldof, who orchestrated the letter, said yesterday: "It's code to get the UN behind us." Well, maybe. But the point about Geldof is that he is a populist. What is needed is to make rage and shame contagious, an epidemic. The situation will be turned by numbers, vast numbers of the living outraged, to speak up for the 200,000, or was it 300,000, dead.


elasticwaistbandlady said...

I heard a statistical fact the other day that said that more people are killed in the Sudan over a month's period than all the people killed during the entirety of the Israel-Palestine conflict. And yet, the U.N. continues to go on condemning Israel while turning a blind eye and lame hand towards the real trouble and atrocities going on in the world.

Bob Geldof? Poo. I don't know what to make of a man that allows his daughters to be named Fifi, Peaches, and Trixiebelle.

Anonymous said...

Gee, you mean Europe might actually grow some cajones and join the WoT?

Not likely.

jams o donnell said...

The action over Darfur has been a disgrace. There was an African Union force in place but only a few thousand to cover the whole of a region the size of France.

It is yet another disaster where a blind eye is being turned, ewbl.

beakerkin said...

sudan was a colonial creation that never made any sense.

Roland Dodds said...

“Out of sight, out of mind” unfortunately.

It is truly a travesty that so little has been done in Sudan. I fear that the aftermath of the war in Iraq is going to be this type of ambivalence to foreign problems. I pray that internationalism and human rights don’t stay down for long…

jams o donnell said...

Sadly there are many of those Beakerkin.. Iraq is another example. It stil does not condone the behaviour. It's like the Hutu/Tutsi thing. THat may have been artificial construct of colonialism but it did not mean that it was a reason or an excuse for butchery.

I Agree wholeheartedly Roland. I hope that action is taken to releive the plight of the people of Darfur.

Anonymous said...

Darfur was a problem long before Iraq. Sudan has been a problem for over fifty years now.

The existence of the UN has made it possible for the world to ignore the problem. "It's their job," everyone says. And so nobody does anything.

jams o donnell said...

THere's been severe problems in Sudan for years, that is true - the North/South divide and the unrest.

The UN has failed many times again that is true What's the answer? Even without teh UN I daresay the atitude of most countries would be the same, sadly.