Darfur: Attention and Deterrence
Several posts over recent days have pointed to the discrepancy between media attention and levels of mortality. The analysis of media coverage of Darfur during and after the height of hostilities in 2003-04 finds that there is a striking inverse correlation between violence and media coverage — as killings decline, coverage increased. The contrast between Congo and Darfur also points to this inverse relationship.
One response to this is to cry foul. Surely media coverage should track the level of the crisis? And especially when that media coverage is concentrating on the horror stories, surely it should faithfully describe the level and pattern of violence?
But another perspective on this is to focus on what media coverage does. There is good circumstantial evidence that it is responsible (in part) for driving down the violence and helping reduce famine mortality. So, even if the media are somehow distorting our picture of the crises, are they not performing an even more useful function in saving lives?
A similar argument could be made for human rights investigations and the ICC. If we see the goal of the ICC as bringing suspects to court, it has not succeeded (at least not yet). But if the goal of the ICC were bringing scrutiny to Darfur and helping bring down the level of killing, then there is evidence to suggest that it (along with the Cassese investigation and other human rights monitoring) has been quite successful. The level of killing in Darfur dropped off when the first African Union military observers arrived, and again when the Cassese report was published and the ICC referral followed. During July last year–when the Prosecutor announced his request for an arrest warrant against Pres. Bashir–and early March this year–when the Pre-Trial Chamber issued the arrest warrant–the government was at pains to urge calm and to keep its forces restrained. For the last two months, killings in Darfur have been low.
We also see this in the Sudan government’s response to the threat of a humanitarian crisis following the expulsion of the aid agencies in March. Government departments surprised many with their capacity to fill the relief supply gap. It is one of the reasons why there has been no generalized humanitarian crisis.
Perhaps the most effective international measure to keep down lethal violence is the simplest: paying attention. And maybe everything else is secondary, including exactly what that attention is, and what is threatened in consequence.
But if the intent is to solve the political problem generating the violence, then a different strategy is surely needed–one that is based on political analysis and diplomacy. For Darfur and Sudan, what is needed now is to treat the service delivery challenge as a technical issue and shift the focus of international attention to Sudan’s political process.