Do They Know It’s Slaughter?

Sometimes I get an overwhelming feeling I’m living in a strange and totally alien world where almost everyone is quite mad. Or maybe I am? How could anyone not question reality itself when a fat ugly chick who shouts wins Australian Idol, and the world’s worst batsman scores a test match half century? Then again, it was only against New Zealand.

Then there’s that sad, self-promoting old wanker Bob Geldof spruiking a re-recorded pseudo-celebrity version of that appalling song Do They Know It’s Christmas? to raise funds for food aid in the Darfur region of Sudan, when:

(a) the Janjaweed militia who are persecuting the people of Darfur are Muslim, and so almost certainly don’t know (or care) that it’s Christmas (well, it isn’t actually but you know what I mean); and

(b) food aid isn’t going to do these people a scrap of good, because the Janjaweed or their Sudanese government co-conspirators will no doubt steal or destroy much of it anyway. Moreover, the main problem in Darfur is not so much hunger as the ever-present fear of persecution or murder. They don’t need food aid, they need governments of other nations who are prepared to ignore the dazzlingly ineffectual UN and its ridiculous General Secretary Kofi Annan and intervene pre-emptively to stop the slaughter and intimidation.

But pre-emption seems to have a dirty name since the ‘evil’ Bush used it to justify his actions in Iraq. Far better to make meaningless gestures and just pretend to be deeply concerned about genocide. It must be time for my morning latte, leisurely consumed while perusing the penetrating analyses of Green Left Weekly (which strangely doesn’t mention Darfur or even Sudan – I wonder why?).

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Do They Know It’s Christmas was an appalling song. The answer is probably not as they’re Muslims living outside the reach of cable tv…

But I doubt, Ken, that the inaction over Sudan has anything to do with pre-emption. There wasn’t much action over Rwanda either. Despite all Bush and Clinton’s rhetoric over humanitarian intervention in Kosovo, the reason why the war happened in 99 was much more to do with power politics (making Nato relevant) and the strategic position of the Balkans. Nor did the war do much for the humanitarian situation.

Good to see Green Left Weekly getting a kick, though.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Mark

You’re no doubt correct about the strategic value of Kosovo and Iraq, and the lack of same for Sudan and Rwanda. But a co-operative interventionist ethos could develop in relation to humanitarian catastrophes. The US was prepared to intervene in Somalia (albeit ill-fatedly), and France still intervenes in African ex-colonies e.g. Ivory Coast, as Sophie discussed the other day. It may be in part out of a fading sense of arrogant imperial ambition, but it nevertheless has the potential to mitigate tribal, ethnic and religious slaughter.

Apart from the lack of strategic importance you highlight, the UN’s hesitation over Darfur also conceivably emanates from a reluctance to compromise notions of national sovereign inviolability on which many other third world countries see their own security as also resting. However, there’s no reason why the West should not informally agree protocols for humanitarian military intervention that would recognise that it doesn’t provide a precedent or prtext for intervening in a country where chaos doesn’t reign and which possesses something roughly approximating rule of law. I think it’s Bush’s handling of Iraq, and the unfortunate approaches of France, Germany, China and Russia that have in part caused any thought of a humanitarian military intervention ethos to be still-born. And in the case of Darfur, it’s compounded by the fact that it’s a Muslim versus Christian/animist conflict, so there are no doubt fears that Western intervention would feed Clash of Civilisations paranoia on the part of many Muslims, and perhaps play further into the hands of Osama Bin Laden. But surely adverse reaction by moderate Muslims could be avoided if the intervention was multilateral and presented and sold as precisely what it would be: humanitarian. Surely we shouldn’t be just shrugging our shoulders and allowing the slaughter to continue when we (the West) have the capacity to stop it, or worse still, making empty gestures like Geldof’s xmas recording.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ken, the dissonance between the Westphalian principles of state sovereignty (which are also incorporated into the UN Charter) and the need for humanitarian intervention is certainly a huge stumbling block. It would be far better for some serious rethinking of the UN Charter based on emerging issues in international law and a full debate on those to occur, rather than for ad hoc interventions of coalitions of the willing or non-intervention to become the rule.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Mark

I would agree, except that the numbers in the UN General Assembly very much favour dodgy, often corrupt third world regimes who would rightly see themselves as potential targets of a revamped UN Charter that defined sovereignty in a more nuanced manner and allowed more readily for multilateral humanitarian interventions. I suspect that any such agreement is more likely to emerge from a grouping of advanced nations e.g. NATO or the EU or the OECD. Even APEC might eventually be a possibility. Sadly, I think the UN is a terminal case as far as effectively guaranteeing international security or achieving agreement over humanitarian interventions are concerned. The lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Hi Ken, you’re probably right about the UN, but I do think it’s important that any such principles be incorporated in international law rather than just as protocols within a multilateral grouping.

blank
blank
2022 years ago

As I understand it, China has very large interests in oil from the Sudan.

China is also a veto-member of the UN Security Council.

So we are back to oil for blood again.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Mark

The idea that there is some coherent, authoritative body of doctrine called “international law” is disputable at the very least. International law comes about through treaties by two or more nations, or as customary international law if a practice or understanding becomes sufficiently widespread. Thus a group of advanced nations could enter into a treaty designed to regulate between themselves humanitarian interventions in other countries. In one sense that would be “international law”. It would be international law in a much more real sense than the current UN-sponsored regime if it provided effective enforcement mechanisms making this “law” something more than empty words. Law isn’t law in any meaningful sense if there is a complete lack of any will or ability to enforce its norms, and that’s cetainly the situation with most aspects of the current UN-sponsored regime.

However, in another sense a new multilateral, non-UN regime would be “unlawful” if it allowed for intervention without UN imprimatur in circumstances not encompassed by traditional notions of national self-defence, because it would contravene the existing UN Charter. But if it didn’t allow for such interventions, it would be no better than the utterly ineffectual sick joke we’ve got now.

If you’re simply using “international law” in the first sense, I agree that it would be desirable if not essential to have a formal mulilateral treaty setting out both definitions and processes for humanitarian interventions (as well as concrete forward commitments of troops as well as reconstruction and other resources, and a standing rapid deployment force). However, if by using the label “international law” you’re simply meaning that no proposal could ever be regarded as legitimate unless it somehow negotiateed the impenetrable, corrupt barrier of the UN (which on one hand you appear to concede), then I couldn’t disagree more strongly. I think it’s time to abandon the UN on international security questions and move towards a new, pricipled, effective, multilateral security and humanitarian intervention regime. Anything less is just a Bob Geldof-style empty gesture.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ken, in the wake of the debate after the Kosovo War when many commentators identified an emerging doctrine in customary international law about the justification for humanitarian intervention, I’d like to see that debate deepen and also I think there would be value in updating the UN Charter to reflect it. If only so as to clarify the current confused position about the legitimacy of intervention in civil conflicts within states. I take your point, and I don’t necessarily see it as a corollary of the postion I’m advocating that the UN would have to be involved in practice in legitimating intervention.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

In practice, UN intervention in civil conflicts does not require a change of the UN charter, simply agreement of the Security Council. However, even this is difficult to achieve in most cases. Part of the problem is the failure of the European powers on the Security Council to “step up to the plate” and recognize their responsibilities in the post cold war world. Part of the problem is the reluctance of Russia and China to allow UN intervention in areas where they have traditionally had some influence in recent decades (specifically among the African states with corrupt, western-educated but Marxist-leaning elites). I suspect, BTW, that Kofi Annan’s background is not dissimilar to those elites, although I’ve not specifically researched it. I suspect the UN is full of western-educated Africans who enjoy their comfortable positions of power but don’t give a damn about the fate of the ordinary people of their home country.

BTW, readers might be interested in this very perceptive analysis of US/Europe relations in the post cold war era and how a better world order might be structured.
http://www.cis.org.au/Events/JBL/JBL04.htm

James Russell
2022 years ago

“We Are The World” is vastly worse than “Do They Know It’s Christmas” ever was.

Red Peter
Red Peter
2022 years ago

Even if there were some kind of agreement on military humanitarian intervention, would countries actually heed it if it weren’t somehow in their own immediate interests?

And if they did, how would you make them work in unison towards humanitarian outcomes rather than simply going after the strategic/economic dividends?

It seems to me that the problems in the UN are symptomatic of precicely such a vaccum of altruism and that a new charter, or whatever, wouldn’t do much to change that.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

There’s a good article on a UN Committee including our very own Gareth Evans in this week’s Economist.
Access is pay for view at http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=3400809

Evans argues that it would be helpful to embody norms for humanitarian intervention in the UN Charter.

Evans’ full argument is online at:

http://survival.oupjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/46/3/59

Martin Pike
2022 years ago

Ken, Casey is great, don’t be such a pop-bitch!

I think it’s fantastic that she got there on her singing ability, which is at a very high level, despite being a rather hefnormous lass.

Geldof ruined the NTU student union and so I will not be happy until I read that he has fallen under a train one day, the pretentious piece of shit. Do they know it’s christmas my arse- hey Bob, do you know its time for you to stop trading off the back of one half-way catchy song and retrain as an actuary?? I’m glad our Michael shagged the brains out of his woman…

kyan gadac
kyan gadac
2022 years ago

No mention of Darfur in the Green Left Weekly but the on-line edition of the National Indigenous Times http://www.nit.com.au/ had a triumphant Casey on the front page by 10pm WST on Sunday night. At least one newspaper in the country’s on the ball.

murph
2022 years ago

Good on you Ken! Great post.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

I think ‘meaningless gestures’ in regards to Sudan is a little unkind considering the complexity of the situation. I think the UN, the US and Britain are all prevaricating on this issue, attempting to discern what is the “least worst alternative.”

While the more performative opinion writers like Mark Steyn might like to pedal simplistic solutions to complicated issues, I think what Britain’s Minister for Africa Chris Mullin suggests is that if you ignore the complexity of the Sudan situation you could actually end up exacerbating the problem as the bloodshed spreads further across the nation. One has to remember that Sudan has had a troubled history of civil infighting – the Nile has flowed red on more than one occasion.

This is a very difficult decision and one has to consider if you were to deploy troops there is an enormous risk that this would be perceived by much of Sudan as a form of occupation. This is again one of the big unknowns, how the population of the nation would respond to an intervention. Would this lead to another wave of bloody jihadists taking pot-shots at Western troops, more destablisation and greater widespread carnage as more troops are mobilised by the despots in power determined to wreak greater carnage against the unfortunates in Darfur. And then there are also concerns from people like Mullin that Sudan would devolve into a “failed state the size of Western Europe” whose implications in the War on Terror are disastrous.

Does this leave us in the unfortunate situation that we in the West are impotent in preventing widespread rape, murder and abuse as various despots are willing to exploit perceptions of European imperialism to keep themselves in power. I wouldn’t be this pessimistic but interventions are a lot more limited by pragmatic and geopolitic contingencies than are often considered.

While there may be deluded Green Left types who would rule out intervention on any grounds and are still suggesting what a nice chap Saddam Hussein really is, the “Charge of the Light Brigade” advocates are similarly lost in another form of unreality. This is a complex problem and with the incomplete information I have I just hope the decision-makers are able to find the best means of alleviating this cruelty in this disastrous situation. I’m definitely not ruling out a form of military intervention, I just hope if it comes to this, it is prosecuted successfully.

Also it has to be noted that the UN has had some success in attempt to rectify the situation in Liberia and Sierra Leone but this is just the groundwork towards new states and no-one knows what will eventuate in these power-sharing arrangements. Mind you in Liberia I was encouraged by news that the UN is actually overwhelmed with people willing to hand-over their caches of weapons, which is a promising sign of a possible national unwillingness to return to the horrors of the last ten years. However, I know that there are still more problems in this country, like how you rehabiliatate child-soliders and how you deal with the mass unemployment that many of these people now face.

The world is still an unjust and unfair place in which in many instances atrocity still dominates the lives of many people. I wish I could see this changing, but I think we will always have to confront the horrors in its various guises, but now I’m getting way too Conradian.