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Invasion of Iraq ‘has hit help for Darfur’

September 21, 2004

Tuesday September 21, 2004

By Guy Dinmore and Mark Turner
Arguments at the United Nations in favour of a robust international response to halt the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region have been undermined by the US invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, according to Gareth Evans, a key member of a high-level UN reform commission.

The case of Iraq had made it more difficult for the UN to establish the principles for outside intervention on humanitarian grounds, Mr Evans told a symposium organised by Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center yesterday.

Mr Evans is a member of the UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, established a year ago by Kofi Annan, the secretary-general. Its report is due in December.

Having failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the US has sought to buttress its justification for the invasion, which Mr Annan described last week as illegal, on humanitarian grounds.

Mr Evans, a former Australian foreign minister, said US “exceptionalism” had made some countries “angst-ridden”, but he also criticised those governments opposed to taking a strong line against Sudan as “spoilers doing their stuff”.

His remarks highlight a growing debate over the issue of when and how nations should intervene to forestall humanitarian crises in sovereign countries.

The US has been in the forefront of those calling the violence in Darfur “genocide” and pressing for a strong international response.

As the panel seeks to generate ideas for overhauling the way in which international institutions address emerging threats, humanitarian intervention is likely to become a central issue at the United Nations.

In the wake of the Rwanda genocide in 1994, many countries vowed they would never let a similar atrocity happen again.

But disagreement over how to tackle the crisis in Darfur has highlighted how difficult the principle is to apply.

Yesterday, in proposals to be delivered to the panel, the UK government said: “The international community has a particular responsibility to act in response to massive violations of humanitarian law and crimes against humanity.”

It called for serious thought on how to fulfil those responsibilities.

But other countries, such as China and Arab nations, fear these arguments are open to abuse by powerful nations seeking to justify actions in their national interest.

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