Inside the glass house: by Thalif Deen

17th October 1999

Africa has refugees, Kosovo gets cash

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NEW YORK-- A former UN Secretary-General, in one of his candid moments, confessed that the world body is more preoccupied with the white man's wars-- being fought mainly in Europe-- than the black man's wars in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rightly or wrongly, the United Nations, and particularly the Security Council, has long been accused of advocating double standards: one yardstick for Western nations and another for the Third World-- irrespective of whether they were wars or human lives.

As I sit in an Internet Cafe in Berlin pounding on a desktop computer, I catch a glimpse of a front-page story in the European edition of the International Herald Tribune: "Africa has Refugees, Kosovo Gets Cash."

Soren Jessen-Petersen, the second in command at the Geneva-based UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is quoted as saying that "mobilising resources for any crisis in Africa is like climbing a mountain."

During and after the Kosovo conflict, European nations were quick to respond-- both with fire-power, and later with humanitarian aid, to resolve the crisis. But their intervention in the conflict was prompted primarily by self-interest: the fear of a major refugee outflow into Western Europe.

In contrast, European nations have been slow in reacting to the ongoing conflicts and humanitarian crises in Africa mainly because there is no danger of a fallout. "It's a hell of a long way from Europe to Africa," says Jessen-Petersen.

At the UN General Assembly sessions last month, African political leaders complained that the UN is too quick to send peacekeeping troops to Bosnia and Kosovo but too slow to respond to the conflicts sweeping across Africa-- specifically in the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) and Sierra Leone .

In almost a single voice, they lashed out at the international Amara Essy, Foreign Minister of Cote d'Ivoire and a former president of the UN General Assembly, admitted that conflicts besetting Africa had received special attention at the Organisation lately.

However, peace would be achieved only if the Organisation mobilised its efforts and provided assistance to the efforts of Africa.

Noting UN initiatives in Sierra Leone, DRC, Guinea- Bissau, and Western Sahara, among others, he said that the United Nations had acted at various stages of the crises, joining regional and subregional peace efforts.

Still, he said, there was "discriminatory treatment'' of the crises in Africa as compared with other regions of the world.

"What had been possible in Kosovo should have also been implemented in Angola, DRC, and Sierra Leone,'' he said.

At onetime, the UN's double standard was clearly evident when the UN tried to put a dollar value on human lives lost in the pursuit of peace.

The death and disability payment for the family of a UN soldier from a Third World nation was much lower than that of a UN peacekeeper from a Western nation.

When the debate raged in the UN a few years ago, most Western nations-- particularly France and Belgium-- argued that compensations on death and disability should reflect the earnings and living standards of the peacekeeper's home country. The implication of the Western argument was that the life of a soldier from India or Fiji was cheaper than the life of a soldier from France or Norway. France insisted that "the compensations should reflect differences in the earnings and standards of living between, for instance, Paris and Dhaka." But eventually it lost the argument as the UN decided to scrap the two tiered compensation-- and now all peacekeepers are equal in the eyes of the world body

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