Gjesteskribent

Sudan utviste onsdag den canadiske diplomaten, den australske og EUs spesialutsending, like etter at Louise Arbour hadde offentliggjort en rapport om voldtekt i Dafur.

Mye tyder på at regjeringen i Khartoum ikke har endret innstilling. Den nye hybridstyrken til FN/AU på 20.000 mann får en tøff oppgave. De skal ikke være offensive, men defensive. Hvordan de da skal kunne beskytte sivilebefolkningen er det flere som lurer på.

Brian Steidle var observatør for den første AU-styrken som fortsatt er i virksomhet. Han kom fra Kosovo. Han fikk sjokk da han møtte Darfur.

«I was blown away by what I saw [in Darfur], because nobody knew about it. Not even us, in the same country, 300km away.» What he saw is detailed in The Devil Came on Horseback, the book he went on to co-write with his sister Gretchen.

It opens with the heartbreaking account of Steidle’s moment of awakening, when he comes upon a baby girl who has been shot in the back but is still alive, being dispassionately offered up to him by her aunt. Steidle does his job: he asks questions about the incident, takes photographs, goes on his way. As soon as his African Union helicopter takes off he begins to berate himself. Why did he not break the rules of his mission and take the girl with him? What would become of her? It is, he writes, the greatest regret of his life, and his recent book is an attempt to make amends.

Which raises the question of whether there is any point in using unarmed observers to monitor ceasefires. Undermanned and underfunded, the African Union’s Darfur mission is a case in point, as the Security Council’s belated establishment of a fully fledged mission seems to recognise.

Det Steidle forteller om AU-styrken minner i mangt og mye om UNPROFOR i Bosnia, og man får en følelse av at hybridstyrken ikke kommer til å være nevneverdig bedre.

Steidle writes that even when the African Union monitors knew the location and timing of impending attacks, no action was taken. Instead, bureaucratic processes prevailed: incidents were logged, reports filed, suppers eaten. He tells the story of how his warnings of an imminent attack by the government-sponsored Janjaweed militia on the village of Hamada were dismissed by one of his commanding officers with the words: «How is it you think you can predict what the Janjaweed will do?» A few days later 107 of the 450 villagers, he writes, were «tortured and murdered. Bodies were strewn along blood-soaked village paths. Infants had been crushed. »

Three years later, Steidle still sounds angry. «We could publish no reports, or lots of reports, and it would still go on,» he says. The self-serving dynamic of the monitoring mission even extended to what, in Steidle’s eyes, were significant discoveries. He once found himself at an al-Qaida training camp, a legacy of the days when Osama bin Laden was based in Sudan, surrounded by jumpy men bearing Kalashnikovs. «I got the guys’ names, took pictures of them, had the GPS coordinates,» he says, clicking his fingers with each point. «I thought, wow, this is going to be big news. Nothing.» With hindsight, Steidle understands why nobody moved against the camp: «They would just pop up somewhere else . . . So it’s better for us to watch, until we get the head guys. «

Whatever the justifications, the impotence of watching the situation worsen – the helicopters taking off loaded with weapons for the government-sponsored killing squads and returning empty a few hours later, the discovery of rockets adapted to carry tear gas, the catalogue of bodies and villages burned – eventually led Steidle to leave Sudan. Marginalised by a new commander, he decided to take the more than 1,000 photographs he had gathered, along with witness statements, and go home.

«I wanted to forget about it, go hide out in the woods. I thought I’d be watching this on CNN or the BBC, but it wasn’t there. So that’s when I thought, OK, let’s share it.» He took his material – including stark aerial pictures of burning villages, the likes of which the US had never seen from Darfur – to the New York Times and then to just about any media outlet that would look and listen, as well as members of congress and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

Konflikter som verdenssamfunnet har bestemt seg for ikke å gjøre noe med, avføder kynisme. Det var i rikelig monn til stede overfor Bosnia, og samme holdning finner vi i regjeringskontorer og institusjoner overfor Darfur. Steidles erfaring er State Department, men europeiske regjeringskontorer er neppe bedre.

While Steidle’s campaigning ignited US public awareness of the Darfur genocide, it also alienated aid agencies and some elements in the State Department, which feel his outspokenness has harmed their mission.

«I was told by a state department official that the agencies can’t get their [Sudan] visas in a timely manner because of me,» he says. «I was like, too bad. You have to wait two weeks instead of 48 hours? Too bad. The world should have known about a genocide.» He cites the recent resignation of the director of the Save Darfur Coalition, the broad-based advocacy group that has spearheaded the high-profile campaign in the US, as evidence of the Sudanese government’s success in intimidating the aid agencies into silence. «We can provide food and tents forever, it’s not going to stop the situation. It has to go hand in hand with advocacy.»

Steidle plans to keep on going. A documentary based on his experiences and using some of his pictures, is showing in the US, and has been bought by the BBC to air later this year in its Storyville documentary series.

Steidle har en fortid som US Marine. Han tilhører gruppen av individer som konfrontert med ondskap ikke greier å snu ryggen til. Under Bosnia-krigen var det mange, både blant hjelpearbeidere og journalister. Hadde det ikke vært for dem hadde vi ikke visst så mye om Rwanda feks. Leder av FN-styrken i Rwanda, UNAMIR, er selv et eksempel.

The unlikely activist