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U.N. Whistleblower: International Community Has Failed Darfur


The International Criminal Court is scaling back its work in Darfur, Sudan, a conflict that the U.S. once labeled a genocide. The chief prosecutor for the ICC says she is shifting resources elsewhere because of what she calls the UN Security Council's lack of action. We hear now from a UN whistleblower, who says this is just the latest sign that the international community is abandoning the people of Darfur, despite a $1.4 billion a-year peacekeeping mission. NPR's Michele Kelemen has her story.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When Aicha El Basri was thinking about working for the UN in Darfur back in 2012, she read the official reports that seemed optimistic and decided it would be great to be a spokesperson for peace. But she found the reality was far different. The war never stopped, and even this year there have been reports of mass rape.

AICHA EL BASRI: It's an all-out war. It's basically Arabs against each other, non-Arabs against each other. The government is beating everyone. It has militarized entire tribes. It has turned Darfur into hell.

KELEMEN: She quit after eight months on the job, frustrated that the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission wasn't reporting all this back to headquarters. Earlier this year, she left the UN altogether after leaking documents to foreign-policy and accusing UN officials of downplaying Sudanese government attacks. El Basri points her finger at one man, a Russian diplomat and chief of staff at the UN missions in Darfur, who she says put Russia's interests above all else.

EL BASRI: So he's been not only the gatekeeper, but also the chief of the cover-up and the manipulation. I have the proof. I have documents that showed a huge difference between frontline reports and what goes to the headquarters or the public.

KELEMEN: Since El Basri blew the whistle, little has changed. That official is still on the job. A Russian Embassy spokesman, speaking on Karen Tchalian's behalf, says Russia isn't aware of any complaints about him, but is working with the UN to move him to another job after eight years of hardship posts in Sudan.

An internal UN review found only five instances in which the mission did not provide headquarters of a full accounting of attacks. And El Basri says she's disappointed by the muted reaction in the U.S., which once labeled the conflict in Darfur a genocide.

EL BASRI: We've promised these people help. We haven't helped them. We've been, basically, watching their massacre at the hands of an ICC-indicted government. Shame on all of us.

KELEMEN: The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's president in 2009, but the lead prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, recently announced that she's, quote, "hibernating investigations because the Security Council isn't helping." She said the council should have been shocked into action after recent allegations of the rape of 200 women and girls in Darfur.


FATOU BENSOUDA: Women and girls continue to bear the brunt of sustained attacks on innocent civilians, but this council is yet to be spurred into action. Victims of rapes are asking themselves - how many more women should be brutally attacked for this counsel to appreciate the magnitude of their plight?

KELEMEN: The UN whistleblower, El Basri, says the prosecutor is just trying to shift the blame.

EL BASRI: Instead of making those statements - tough statements - to the council and pointing to the inaction of the council, she should actually do something about the inaction of her own office. She's done nothing beyond nice, powerful speeches. I think we've had enough of speeches. We need action.

KELEMEN: As El Basri points out, Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, welcomed the ICC's decision to back off from its investigations in Darfur. She says Bashir saw it as a victory over international justice. A top U.S. diplomat at the UN, David Pressman, told the Security Council it needs to send a different message.


DAVID PRESSMAN: If these cases are in danger of going into hibernation, we must collectively and urgently wake up from our slumber.

KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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