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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 July, 2005, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Why 'never again' keeps happening
BBC's Fergal Keane
By Fergal Keane
BBC News

Debt relief and the alleviation of suffering will be high priorities at the G8 summit, but it seems another crucial issue has been left off the agenda. Fergal Keane reflects on how the international community fails to learn lessons when it comes to reacting to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Map of Darfur
To be honest it was a crisis to which I came late.

I had been preoccupied with Rwanda. Ten years had passed since the genocide and I had travelled back to report on the anniversary.

And perhaps, after the experience of Rwanda, I was also wary of becoming entangled in the horrors and complexities of another epic tragedy.

Because, be assured, Darfur is an epic story.

More than two million people have been uprooted. Hundreds of thousands, nobody really knows how many, have been killed. Thousands of women have been raped.

And yet for all the epic quality of this tragedy, it feels like a very old script.

Government denial

We have been here before.

A government threatened by rebellion turns on a segment of its own people. It uses militia, as well as its own military, to do the killing.

I gave up having any faith in the phrase 'never again' after Rwanda
There are mass graves and there is mass rape. Men and boys are taken away to be killed.

Then the government denies the scale of the violence. It keeps journalists out, blocks aid workers.

Many more die from hunger and disease. The world expresses concern but does too little, invariably too late.

A handful of foreign troops are allowed to deploy, but they are too few and their mandate is too restrictive to allow them to intervene and fight the killers.

Yes, we have been here before.

Bosnia, Rwanda and those are only the ones that have happened in our own time.

I gave up having any faith in the phrase "never again" after Rwanda.

I now add another verbal formulation to the list of redundant phrases.

It is the sentence "We must learn the lessons."

It is of course invariably the precursor to the words "never again."

"We must learn the lessons of the Holocaust, or of Cambodia, or of Bosnia, or of Rwanda... and make sure that things like this..." and you know how this sentence ends, ..."things like this never happen again."

Refugees attacked

Women and children displaced by the violence in Darfur (Photo: Salah Omar/AFP/Getty Images)
As plastic bullets were being fired, the UN security advisers told their staff to leave. The situation was no longer safe
Last November I was in a refugee camp in Darfur when it was attacked by the Sudanese police.

They wanted to shift the displaced people to another camp where they would be easier to control.

Many of these people had been driven from their villages by Sudanese soldiers and tribal militia. They had seen their fathers, brothers, sons murdered, their mothers, wives and sisters raped.

The police beat and tear gassed them.

The clubs and staves smashing into bodies already made weak by hunger. Stinging, choking gas sending infants into convulsions of coughing.

The world knew about this. There were observers present from the United Nations and international aid agencies.

At one point, as plastic bullets were being fired, the UN security advisers told their staff to leave. The situation was no longer safe.

To their credit the UN staff stayed. But the Sudanese police regarded us all - unarmed Westerners with our notebooks and expressions of outrage - with contempt.

They looked like men who knew that whatever I might report back on television, and whatever the UN workers would say to their bosses, none of it would be enough to bring the international cavalry charging over the hill to save the beaten down, terrorised people of the camp.

Failure to act

Since that visit, the UN Security Council has voted to forward the names of 51 Sudanese to the International Criminal Court. Many are thought to be senior figures in the military regime.

United Nations voting to pass a resolution that war-crimes suspects from the Darfur region be tried in the International Criminal Court in The Hague (Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)
The national interests of member states will usually take precedence over the suffering of people in Africa
But that move came nearly two years after the violence erupted. The five permanent members of the Security Council - the US, Britain, France, China and Russia - collectively failed to act in time.

Each had different reasons.

The US and Britain did not want arguments over Darfur to get in the way of securing a peace deal for Sudan's other tragedy, the civil war in the south which had run for 30 years and claimed two million lives.

And they were preoccupied with Iraq and in no mood for military adventures elsewhere, let alone an Arab state like Sudan.

Sudan also had allies on the council, like the Chinese who resisted putting Darfur on the agenda.

These are the diplomatic details but they speak to a fundamental crisis that has dogged the United Nations from its birth 60 years ago.

The national interests of member states will usually take precedence over the suffering of people in Africa.

I have no doubt that in a few years time there will be investigations by the United Nations and the EU and several others into why the world failed the people of Darfur.

We already know why, just as we did in Rwanda.

We cared, but we did not care enough.

Fergal Keane is reporting on Darfur for the BBC's Panorama and From Our Own Correspondent.

Panorama: Never Again was broadcast on Sunday 3 July, 2005 at 2215 BST on BBC One.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 2 July 2005 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

'Never Again'
30 Jun 05 |  Panorama


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