Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the toothless nature of the United Nations (UN) than its ineffectual posturing over the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Western Sudan.
Class unity is the only answer
Stung by comparisons with the genocide in Rwanda 12 years ago, the Western powers are desperate to bring about a peace settlement, or even just a ceasefire.
The US government is also hypocritically using the protests from the Christian right at home as justification for their actions. In fact the US, like all the major foreign powers involved, are attempting to further their own interests. But they can take no effective action for fear of coming into conflict with Russia and, more crucially China, an ally of the Sudanese regime.
A 7,000-strong African Union (AU) "peace-keeping" force was due to be withdrawn at the end of September and the UN Security Council had agreed to replace it with its own forces of up to 17,300 troops and 3,000 police.
However the Sudanese government in Khartoum said it would regard the imposition of this force as an invasion. Consequently Russia and China abstained on the vote and threatened to veto sanctions to enforce the decision.
At the last minute Khartoum agreed to allow the AU troops to remain, but these forces are so powerless they are unlikely to cause the government forces or their militias any headaches. In fact there has been an increase in fighting since the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed in May – the truth is there is no peace to keep.
The rebel forces who launched a military campaign for autonomy in 2003 were encouraged by the apparent success of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army in southern Sudan in wresting concessions from the central government.
The big difference is that southern Sudan is rich in oil and gas deposits which Khartoum, again backed by China, was eager to exploit. The rebellion in Darfur was answered by a vicious counter-offensive by the Sudanese Air Force, augmented by pro-government militias known as the Janjaweed. As many as 200,000 civilians have been killed and two million displaced, making it the biggest humanitarian disaster currently ravaging Africa.
The agreement signed in May was the minimum acceptable to Khartoum, allowing for a ceasefire by government and rebel forces, an undertaking to disarm the Janjaweed and the deployment of AU troops to observe the situation. These troops were to open fire only in self-defence and could not intervene directly to protect villagers under attack. Little wonder that the government found these terms palatable.
In any case, three of the four rebel armies refused to sign the deal and have now formed an umbrella group, the National Redemption Force, to continue the struggle; the fourth, a breakaway faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army is now fighting alongside the Janjaweed against its former allies.
The reluctant agreement by the Sudanese government to allow the AU to remain is only of symbolic value. Under-funded, ill-equipped and poorly trained, it’s been suggested the AU only agreed to continue its presence because they couldn’t afford the cost of airlifting troops out.
The commanding officer of the Nigerian contingent, asked if the operation had been a failure said: "If someone hasn’t got wings and you say he has failed to fly – I don’t think you can call that failure".
No solution is to be found under the auspices of either the AU or UN. To resolve the crisis, the people of the region need to take their fate into their own hands. In the post-war period, the once powerful Sudanese Communist Party was able to appeal to all the various peoples on the basis of class unity, but the CP squandered its opportunity by acquiescing to Arab nationalism.
A determined struggle by the people of Darfur and throughout Sudan, behind a programme for utilising the wealth of the region for the benefit of all its people, could appeal to the workers and poor peasants, the urban and rural poor, including those currently serving in the army, to launch a genuine liberation campaign for the overthrow of the corrupt and repressive regime.
However, none of the existing organisations are capable of playing this role – new forces of class-based non sectarian struggle have to be constructed to take the fight forward. The solidarity of the working class internationally will be crucial to the success of such a fight.