On the eve of the Africa – European Union (EU) summit this weekend in Lisbon, leaders face a looming December 31 timetable for implementation of an international hybrid peacekeeping force for Sudan’s Darfur region. Beyond Britain’s absence from the gathering to protest the attendance of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, one of the most urgent summit challenges will be for the 80 participating countries to win a commitment from Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to let foreign troops be stationed in Darfur. Executive Director Gerald LeMelle of the advocacy group Africa Action says that most African countries support the principle of a UN mission in Darfur and do not share President Bashir’s objections to the introduction of non-African soldiers on Sudanese soil.
“That has never been an issue for the African people. The African Union tries to do what it can. But it knows it doesn’t have the capacity to be a significant player in providing a peacekeeping operation, particularly in a conflict on the scale of Darfur. What the African people do not want is the sort of unilateral placement of troops on the ground, particularly under a mandate where they are going to stay. And despite all the suggestions that they would stay, under the authority of African governments, we all know that is not true,” he said.
LeMelle says that with the tremendous growth of China’s trade with African countries, Africa’s European trading partners may be eager to place economic priorities above human rights concerns during the weekend summit, which will be the first Euro-African delegation faceoff in seven years. He cautions leaders not to put profits over people in this bid to match the Chinese expansion “because this will backfire. It has backfired everywhere else, and it will backfire here.” LeMelle points out that Sudan’s valuable natural resource, its energy supplies, have enabled the Khartoum regime to drag its feet to obstruct bringing an end to the violence in Darfur.
“The truth of the matter is if the Khartoum government didn’t have oil, you wouldn’t see all of the baby steps and tip-toeing around putting a stronger and more direct pressure on Khartoum. They have a natural resource that the rest of the world needs, and we’re putting profits and oil above the lives of people,” he notes.
The absence of Britain from the Lisbon summit because of its opposition to the Mugabe regime’s abuse of power and disregard for human rights in Zimbabwe may help advance negotiation on other African conflict issues according to the Africa Action director, since it might lessen feelings of tension and resentment between African delegates and their European former colonial rulers. However, LeMelle says that unless Darfur receives top priority consideration on the summit’s agenda, there could be serious repercussions for the international community’s ability to resolve other dangerous internal African conflicts.
“The world community has got to reevaluate very quickly what the meaning of the UN Charter is. There is no question the UN was put together to help solve inter-country conflicts – not intra. But that has to change because the overwhelming majority of conflicts today are inside countries, and if we are going to allow governments to prevent international intervention, particularly when they are committing egregious human rights violations, because we have to respect the borders, then I think that we are going to watch more and more human rights disasters occurring around the world. And that’s unacceptable,” he said.