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September 17, 2004

UN Reluctant to Push Sanctions for Sudan

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations is reluctant to impose punitive economic sanctions on Sudan – accused of genocide in the politically troubled province of Darfur – because embargoes have a relatively poor track record, according to senior UN officials and diplomats.

"If the Security Council wants to punish Sudan," says one Third World diplomat, "it may not resort to economic sanctions – particularly after what happened in Iraq, where the unintended victims were mostly women and children, not the country's political leaders."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has long criticized sanctions as "a blunt instrument," has urged the 15-member Security Council to take "urgent action" to stop the killings in Darfur and asked Western nations to provide funds and logistical support for a 3,000-strong African peacekeeping force in the area.

Asked whether his call for action by the Security Council also includes sanctions, Annan told reporters Thursday: "I have indicated that the Security Council has not imposed sanctions. It has told the Sudanese authorities that they have to perform and keep the promises they made to the international community, or they would face further consequences, including sanctions."

Last month Annan cautioned the United States against the imposition of sanctions on Syria, a country designated by the U.S. State Department as "a terrorist state."

U.S. Ambassador John Danforth told reporters last week that sanctions "was not the be-all and end-all" of Sudan. "The threat of sanctions," he said, was merely a tool to exert pressure on the government in Khartoum.

The move to impose sanctions on Sudan has also generated reservations from at least four members of the Security Council: China, Russia, Pakistan and Algeria.

Both China and Russia have strong economic and military interests in Sudan. Sudan, which produces about 250,000 barrels of oil per day, has contracted to sell some of it to China. Both China and Russia, on the other hand, are also major arms suppliers to Sudan.

The frontline fighter planes in the Sudanese air force include Russian MiG-23s and Chinese Shenyang MiG-17s. Sudan also has Chinese-made Silkworm missiles and battle tanks, along with Russian-made armored combat vehicles.

Faced with the threat of a Chinese veto last week, the United States has watered down its draft resolution, which demands that the Sudanese government rein in the Arab militias accused of genocide.

If the government fails to comply, the Security Council "shall take" action for noncompliance, according to the original draft resolution proposed last week.

But with increasing pressure, mostly from China, the United States revised its draft resolution this week to read "shall consider" taking action – particularly against its petroleum sector. The new revised resolution is expected to go before the Council for a vote early next week.

But still, Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya has expressed reservations even on the new draft because of the implied threat of sanctions. China's opposition is primarily against singling out Sudan's oil industry for possible sanctions.

The atrocities in Darfur – where an estimated 30,000 black Africans have been killed and over 1.5 million displaced – have been committed by a marauding Arab militia called the Janjaweed ("men on horseback"). The Sudanese government has not only been accused of creating the militia but also turning a blind eye to its continued killings.

Rev. Gabriel Odima, president of the Africa Center for Peace and Democracy, said that Darfur has become a household name around the world. "The only images beaming on the world's television screen are the hunger-stricken skeletons in Darfur. It is almost too late to change the situation," he said.

"But the change in the draft resolution on Sudan to please China will not help the people of Darfur. Instead Washington should build a new consensus of support in the U.S. Congress and among American people for a responsible foreign policy that will bring China, Russia, Algeria and Pakistan on board," Odima told IPS.

He also said that the Sudanese military, the rebel groups, the politicians and the international community have all failed the people of Darfur.

"Likewise today China, Russia, Pakistan and Algeria are overlooking the real tragedy facing the people of Darfur. A strong UN resolution on Sudan will help contain the situation in Darfur," he added.

Joan Russow, of the Global Compliance Research Project, said the international community must resist both "humanitarian" military intervention or the imposition of sanctions – which often affect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

"Year after year, serious conflicts emerge over resources, territory, ethnicity and religion and the UN Security Council is called upon to act. But because of the vested interests of its five permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – the Security Council has demonstrated that it is incapable of preventing the scourge of war," Russow told IPS.

She said that the 191-member General Assembly, which reflects the sovereign equality of all states, should be given the mandate to strive to prevent war through addressing the fundamental inequities in the global community, and the disquieting increase in global militarism which foster conflict.

Annan told reporters Thursday the Security Council is discussing a draft resolution "which may require me to appoint an international commission to decide whether acts of genocide have been committed."

"If this resolution is adopted, I shall of course do so with all speed, and we are making preliminary preparations. But I want to make it clear that, no matter how the crimes that are being committed against civilians in Darfur are characterized or legally defined, it is urgent to take action now," he added.

"I have urged the Security Council to act on the draft resolution without delay, and to be as united as possible in the face of this crisis," he said.

Annan also pointed out that this is the first time in the Council's history that it will be acting under the provisions of the Genocide Convention, which calls for the protection of civilians who are victims of mass killings.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Thalif Deen has been Inter Press Service's U.N. Bureau Chief since 1992. A
    former Information Officer at the U.N. Secretariat and a one-time member of
    the Sri Lanka delegation to the General Assembly sessions, he is currently
    editor of the Journal of the Group of 77, published in collaboration with
    IPS. A Fulbright-Hayes scholar, he holds a Master's degree in Journalism
    from Columbia University in New York.

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