Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Disasters of All Kinds

Harlan Ullman makes some thought-provoking points in his column in the Washington Times today. He writes,

Last week's devastation and suffering in South Asia, with a loss of life that could extend well into the hundreds of thousands, should give us pause to think about disasters of all kinds, both natural and manmade, and what we should be doing about them that we are not.

He states that while we can't predict or prevent natural disasters, the international community must have better procedures in place to finance and deal with them immediately; however, "only disasters and direct threats to sovereignty or nationhood freely open national treasuries irrespective of the level of carnage or destruction."

He continues,

...beyond the fury of nature there are man-made disasters. Consider genocide. Hitler's extermination of millions of Jews and East Europeans was no secret. The allies could have taken some form of action to save lives. They did not. In the 1970s, the international community stood idly by while the Khmer Rouge slaughtered a million or so Cambodians in the infamous "killing fields." Rwanda in the 1990s and Sudan today are grim evidence of human cruelty and the reluctance and inability of either the global community or individual nations to take decisive action to prevent mass murder.

...once the water and television crews recede and the dead are buried [in Asia], almost certainly the urgency of thinking about disasters will dissipate until the next one strikes.

There is, however, one form of disaster where we can and should act preemptively. That pertains to genocide. It is about time to take seriously the laws and declarations made to oppose mass murder. Conventions will not prevent future tsunamis and hurricanes from wreaking great damage as coastal residents understand. When it comes to humans killing other humans in significant numbers, blind eyes are no longer conscionable. We can only grieve and offer aid and succor to the victims of this latest disaster. We can, however, do something about Sudan and other places where death and violence are preventable.

He's right. The tsunami disaster in Asia is terrible, there's no doubt about that, and a worldwide humanitarian response is absolutely justified. But what about the ongoing genocide in Darfur (Sudan)? More have already died in that man-made disaster than were killed by the tsunamis, by all reports, and many more will die in the near future. And their deaths are slower, more agonizing, more unspeakably horrible. Are these deaths less worthy of attention than those inflicted by the tsunamis?

Two of the basic responsibilities of the United Nations are to maintain peace and security and to protect human rights. Yet, the UN failed miserably in Rwanda and elsewhere, and it's in the process of failing to prevent genocide in Darfur. If the UN can't or won't act, and the nations of the region, acting through the African Union, can't or won't act, what should be done? Anything?

A relevant footnote: CNN has carried an excellent report on the disaster response in Arab countries by Octavia Nasr, Senior Editor for Arab Affairs. Her report includes the fact that Saudi Arabia has pledged $30 million to tsunami disaster relief. She contrasts that with a 2002 telethon in Saudi Arabia to raise funds for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. That appeal brought in $155 million. Enough said.


Blogger carla said...

Ugh..more UN bashing.

I can't offer informed comment on the Darfur situation..because shamefully I just don't know enough about what's gone on.

In Rwanda tho...the UN didn't exactly have a choice. The US (and several other nations) had tied the UN's hands. The UN was specifically told NOT to interfere in the conflicts of Rwanda.

5:24 PM, January 05, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Carla, there's no question that the UN failed miserably in Rwanda. This has been most painfully and thoroughly documented by Canadian Major General Romeo Dallaire, who was the commander of UNAMIR, the UN force in Rwanda, in the period leading up to the genocide. Dallaire's boss was a fellow named Kofi Annan, who was then the head of the UN's Peacekeeping Department.

Dallaire repeatedly asked, begged, for the authority, support, and resources necessary to keep things under control. In fact, he could have prevented innumerable deaths if he had been allowed to. Instead, the UN pulled the rug out from under him. By dragging his feet and resisting his orders, he managed to save about 20,000 Tutsis in spite of the UN. Dallaire, a dedicated professional soldier, was crushed by this tragedy and never fully recovered.

So what if this particular UN failure may have been in part caused by lack of support from the U.S. and other major countries? This kind of failure, along with so many others, illustrates the essential lack of efficacy of the UN.

6:50 PM, January 05, 2005  

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