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By William Fisher
In a move that may be near-incomprehensible to most of the world, the US State Department this week removed Sudan from its blacklist of countries it says are uncooperative in its war on terrorism, at the same time leaving in place sanctions it imposed because Sudan has not severed all links with anti-Israeli groups such as Hamas – and both at a time when Khartoum’s stonewalling of distribution of food and medical supplies to desperate Christian and animist refugees in the western province of Darfur has created Africa’s most serious humanitarian crisis in decades.
The State Department said the reward was a gesture to the Islamic nation, which it said is close to signing a peace deal long sought by Washington. The peace deal would end Africa's longest-running civil war. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Sudan has "remarkably" improved the information it shares with Washington on militants. In 1998, it was considered a haven for terror groups and the United States fired missiles at a factory suspected of housing chemical arms.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "We have told the government of Sudan we will not normalize relations even with (a peace) agreement unless the crisis in Darfur is addressed."
According to Amnesty International, “Over the past few years hundreds of civilians, mostly from sedentary agricultural groups like the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa, have been killed or wounded, homes have been destroyed and herds looted by nomadic groups. Sometimes dozens of civilians have been killed in a single raid… Those who commit crimes, must be brought to justice, but international human rights standards of fair trial must be respected".
An Amnesty delegation was allowed to visit the area last January for the first time in 13 years. They found that Government forces had failed to protect Darfur’s local population and that its attacks were an attempt to drive them from their lands. Amnesty found that local leaders had been “arbitrarily thrown into prison without charge or trial and denied communication with the outside world for up to seven months. Leaders of nomad groups had been similarly treated. Special Courts…sentenced people to death without the presence of a lawyer.”
Human Rights Watch spent 25 days in West Darfur and the vicinity, documenting abuses in rural areas that were previously populated by Masalit and Fur communities. The organization charges that the Sudanese government is responsible for “ethnic cleansing” and crimes against humanity in the western region of Darfur. " There can be no doubt about the Sudanese government’s culpability in crimes against humanity in Darfur", said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. A Human Rights Watch report also documents how “Janjaweed” Arab militias—whose members are Muslim—have destroyed mosques, killed Muslim religious leaders and desecrated Korans belonging to their enemies. Since August, wide swathes of farmlands, among the most fertile in the region, have been burned and depopulated. With rare exceptions, the countryside has now been emptied of its original Masalit and Fur inhabitants. Villages have been torched not randomly, but systematically – often not once, but twice. Livestock, food stores, wells and pumps, blankets and clothing have all been looted or destroyed.
This is not the first time the US has ‘rewarded’ states that commit severe and consistent violations of human rights. These nations are eligible for US aid; countries that fail to cooperate in the ‘war on terror’, or those that sponsor terrorist organizations, are not. The result is that US aid recipients include many of the most authoritarian nations of the Middle East. Thus far, there is little evidence that US diplomacy has brought about much more than cosmetic change in the human rights area. Now that US diplomats are struggling with their own country’s human rights abuses, political dialogue may achieve even less.
The message from the Bush Administration seems to be: ‘Not to worry. As long as you’re tough on terror, you’re OK with us.’
About the writer: William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and in many other areas for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration