Nov. 27, 2006

Too few doing too little to relieve dire situation in Darfur, former special U.N. adviser Brahimi warns

With 300,000 Sudanese dead, a third of the population displaced and cries of genocide ringing fiercely, the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, has recently come to the forefront of the international political scene.

Yet, even though extensive media coverage and humanitarian involvement have made the situation impossible for the world's most powerful countries to ignore, Lakhdar Brahimi, former special adviser to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, says that they are simply "not doing enough."

Brahimi, delivering the lecture "May We Please Listen to the Darfurians Themselves? Sudan's Lost Voices" to an overflow audience in Cornell's Myron Taylor Hall, Nov. 21, spoke extensively about the problems in the international community's process of addressing the crisis. "I don't have much optimism to share with you," he warned, because "practically nobody is doing what is necessary."

He noted that although many influential countries with resources to help have demanded that the United Nations take action in Darfur, they do little to facilitate such intervention. "What can the U.N. do," Brahimi asked, "with a force of 17,000 to protect 6 million people?" What is needed are troops, he said, but even the wealthiest countries "refuse to send soldiers."

But the world's nations are not the only ones to shy away from the situation; Brahimi also criticized the U.N. Security Council members, saying that they "talk loud, but carry no stick at all." While the council has more than once endorsed calls for deadlines on action in Darfur, it "did nothing when the deadlines were not met."

Brahimi, who also has served as overseer of the U.N. role in Afghanistan and Iraq, said that the interests of the Sudanese people need to be at the heart of all further actions in Darfur. "The interests of the people are completely forgotten," he said. The rebels "are defending only their personal and [clan-like] interests," and the government of Sudan "doesn't mind when the rebels disrupt peace negotiations," leaving Darfurians with no supporters save people hundreds of miles away from the conflict.

However, "There is one hero in this story -- the human rights community," he remarked, citing such organizations as Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), "but along with these uplifting examples of human decency there is also plenty of evil."

He said, "What is needed is a political process that requires a real agreement between countries," including sending troops, coordinating humanitarian assistance and restoring peace by focusing on some of the root causes of the conflict: tribal distinctions, land ownership and the spread of small arms.

With this advice, Brahimi's parting message to the audience was to "understand that a lot of patience and solidarity is needed [in order that] the people of Darfur recover their own voice."

The lecture was part of the Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series led by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies and was co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for International Relations.

Chandni Navalkha '10 is an intern at the Cornell Chronicle.