The UN’s Moral Rehabilitation of the Khartoum Regime
Eric Reeves / August 31, 2012
The summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Iran has provided no “meet and greet” photographs of talks between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and indicted génocidaire Omar al-Bashir, President of the Khartoum regime. Perhaps this is because considerable attention has been given to the question of whether or not the UN Secretary-General should even be present in Iran, a presence that has inevitably conferred greater legitimacy on Iran’s nuclear-minded and harshly repressive leaders. Notably, Iran today slammed the recent findings of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and in particular its finding that “Iran has doubled the number of uranium enrichment machines it has in an underground bunker” at the Fordow site (Reuters, August 31, 2012). The UN’s IAEA also found that Iran “had produced nearly 190 kg (418 pounds) of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010, up from 145 kg in May.” It would seem tactless of a UN agency to release such information while the titular leader of the world body is in Teheran, but since Ban Ki-moon is beyond shame, there isn’t much problem on this score.
We have no photograph from Iran, but we do have a photograph of Ban and al-Bashir from 2007 (in Addis Ababa), as the new Secretary-General was declaring that Darfur would be a “signature issue” for him. The broad smiles would seem to be differently motivated in the two men:
These were the heady days well before Ban was informed that al-Bashir had said of UN Security Council resolutions that “the UN can shove the new resolutions” (October 2011)—the regime president having previously offered various other creative and colorful suggestions for use of these documents. It’s fair to imagine some reprise of that earlier photographed meeting has occurred in Iran, although to be sure in 2007 al-Bashir had not yet been indicted on multiple counts of genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court—this on the basis of a March 2005 referral to the ICC by the UN Security Council. Although al-Bashir’s role in the Darfur genocide had been well-established even in 2007, perhaps Ban’s grin was a bit less broad yesterday in Teheran than it was five years ago in Addis Ababa.
What’s perhaps most remarkable is that all this occurs as al-Bashir’s regime is set to take its place on the UN’s Human Rights Council, charged with monitoring human rights abuses around the world. Word of this travesty has spread quickly and there is now a serious campaign to halt Khartoum’s ascension to the UN’s Human Rights Commission, although it may be too late, in light of the support given to Khartoum by African nations.
Of course al-Bashir is not alone in having been indicted by the ICC on the basis of the UN Security Council referral: Defense Minister and former Interior Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein has been indicted on multiple counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes; so too has Ahmed Haroun, presently governor of the ravaged South Kordofan region that includes the Nuba Mountains, where Haroun appears to be doing his best to replicates “successes” in Darfur. A number of other senior regime officials—military and political—have been named in various confidential lists, including UN lists, identifying those responsible for atrocity crimes in Darfur. The list is implicit as well in an authoritative Human Rights Watch report, “Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur” (December 2005).
These are the men who will be charged with helping the UN Human Rights Council fulfill its mandate, established in the authorizing resolution of March 2006: “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Integrity is not the word that comes first to mind when thinking of the United Nations, and on human rights issues it has proved consistently hypocritical and cynical, whether in the Security Council (where Russia and China, no friends of human rights, hold veto-wielding permanent membership) or in the General Assembly. Ban Ki-moon has done nothing to change this culture of contempt.
Indeed, in dutifully relying on reports from UNAMID in preparing its own quarterly reports on Darfur, the UN Secretariat relies on a “hybrid” (UN and African Union) mission that has become notorious for its willingness to distort realities—including atrocity crimes—in Darfur as a means of creating some sort of African Union peacekeeping success story. No matter that there has been over the past month an avalanche of violence against civilians, that more than a million people have been newly displaced since UNAMID took on its mandate of civilian protection, or that the people of Darfur universally speak with vehement contempt of UNAMID. Various UNAMID spokespersons have dutifully and regularly told us the situation on the ground is improving, violence is down, the security situation is calm, and the time is right to begin drawing down the force.
All this mendacity is certainly good news for Khartoum, which has been saying as much for even longer than UNAMID. Indeed, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the tenor of UNAMID’s assessments has increasingly come to reflect the claims of a regime that has turned Darfur into a “black box,” where the only reliable information comes not from the UN but Radio Dabanga and Darfuris on the ground speaking to the diaspora.
Perhaps, though, it is a good thing that génocidaire al-Bashir and his brutal cronies are ascending to the UN Human Rights Council. The organization has already become as corrupt as the old UN Commission on Human Rights, which was thoroughly notorious by the time of its demise (June 2006). The Commission had been allowed to degenerate for almost 60 years. We must hope that the UN Human Rights Council will have considerably shorter duration, and that Khartoum plays a role in assisting its collapse into absurdity.
[ Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012 (September 2012) ]