Posted by: sean | August 1, 2007

Darfur: Peacekeepers and mortality figures

The UN Security Council has finally approved a Chapter 7 resolution for Darfur. I’m curious to see how long it actually takes to gather enough troops and get them out there. Apparently most of them are supposed to be African, so I’d like to know who all has agreed to send troops.

The resolution now calls for a peacekeeping mission to begin no later than October, and cites Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, under which the Security Council is permitted to authorize the use of force to carry out the mandate.

Most of the peacekeepers are supposed to be drawn from African nations, and would include a beleaguered force of some 7,000 soldiers already in Darfur from the African Union, placing it under a unified command and control with the United Nations force.

The resolution authorizes a maximum of 19,555 military personnel and 6,432 civilian police officers. It does not spell out what role would be played by major powers, including the United States.

 On a related note, I find it really curious that the number that keeps being brandied around (and has been cited for the last year or two) is 200,000 dead in Darfur. The numbers went, all of a sudden, from “tens of thousands” to 200,000, which I think is a lot closer to the reality, but which is still a conservative, and strangely static, estimation.

Eric Reeves, for example, argued back in the Spring of 2006 that the death count (included in this are those who have died of disease and malnutrition in addition to violence) was around 450,000. And the US State Department put out an estimate in early 2005 that the excess death toll was 98,000 and 181,000. Regardless of the estimate, though, it seems strange for the media to continue citing the same number over the course of a couple of years.

A Lexis Nexis search of Darfur coverage in the Times, for example, shows that the 200,000 figure was used as far back as November 7, 2005 (“Surge in Violence in Sudan Erodes Hope”). In that report, we are informed of “the deaths of at least 200,000 people in Darfur,” whereas in today’s report, we are told that “some 200,000 people have been killed in four years of conflict.” Are we really to believe that the numbers have remained unchanged for nearly two years?

While death counts in remote conflict zones are by their nature difficult to discern and in cases like this one usually controversial, there is no excuse for major media outlets, once having made the decision to use a figure, to continue using it unchanged for nearly two years. The readership of the Times could be forgiven for thinking that there had been no new deaths in Darfur since November, 2005. This is obviously untrue, and they should either update their figures or if they insist on continuing to use 200,000, they should stress that this number is two years old.

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