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Opinion: An Impotent International Community

The UN Security Council on Friday gave Sudan 30 days to stop the genocide in Darfur without threatening the government with sanctions for non-compliance. The international community could have acted earlier.

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Gunmen have been slaughtering people in Darfur for 16 months

The UN Security Council finally agreed on a resolution on Sudan. In view of the members' closely intertwined interests, only politicians' dreams could have anticipated sharper or even military actions. The resolution's key passage gives the Sudanese government 30 days' time to guarantee the safety of the people in Darfur. After this time limit, the Security Council will decide what further measures are necessary.

Thus, the Security Council reckons with uncertain activities in the future, where actions are already overdue. The region's future remains in question, and what hope can the oppressed refugees gain from the practically cynical wrestling over the word "sanctions," which was finally watered down to "measures?"

The case of Darfur again raises the question of how the international community -- whether individual countries or international organizations -- can promote peace to resolve conflicts. The example of Sudan doesn't provide an answer -- at least not an encouraging one.

Instead, Darfur has tragically revealed the international community's impotence. Consistently turning a blind eye, underestimating, playing down and ignoring the actual situation, combined with pursuing individual interests provided the catastrophe in Darfur with a devastating backdrop.

Strategic maneuvering prevails

Where decisiveness and quick action were overdue, strategic maneuvers and divergences prevailed. Beyond desperately needed humanitarian aid, the international community, sharply contrasted by an immense media campaign, lacks a concept for long-term solutions that could make a sustainable peace in the region possible.

The escalating situation in Darfur in past months and the killing it caused as well as the streams of refugees suggest that strategic maneuvering and demagogy prevail over African and international diplomatic mediation attempts.

Another lesson shows that the international community can only intervene energetically in crises such as in Darfur when it isn't weighed down by internal rivalries. The tragedy in Darfur was also substantially influenced not by international ignorance, but by opposing political, economic and cultural interests.

A neglected continent

Furthermore, like other African regions, Sudan was for too long a neglected urgent case -- with devastating consequences. Certainly, the African Union has so far failed to prove that it can resolve African conflicts itself. However, action rarely reflects African concepts. The inception, execution and completion of international missions are usually determined by interests outside of Africa.

What remains again is a United Nations whose credibility has been shaken, a rather reserved international willingness to take action and the continuing discussion not only about early recognition of crisis situations but also about rapid reaction.

The hesitancy, the tactical preconditions, the political ulterior motives in the case of Darfur result in the question of whether the international community gages conflicts with a double standard.

In a self-critical condemnation of the Rwandan genocide, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said: "We didn't act quickly enough after the killing began. We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name." And UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said upon presentation of an action plan for conflict prevention in April: "Only so can we honor the victims whom we remember today. Only so can we save those who might be victims tomorrow."In view of the suffering in Darfur, the pressing question remains: Have the dreadful lessons such as in Rwanda and Congo achieved nothing at all internationally?

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