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Saturday, 22 March 2008

Who's afraid of the big bad cyber-wolf?

The Washington Post reported yesterday that China-based hackers may have broken into web accounts belonging to the Save Darfur Coalition. Save Darfur are an American lobby group advocating Western intervention to end the genocide in the Sudan, with members including Amnesty, the American Islamic Congress, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. According to the Post, "The allegation fits a near decade-old pattern of cyber-espionage and cyber-intimidation by the Chinese government against critics of its human rights practices".

The idea that the Chinese government would go so far as to hack into a human rights group's web server suggests a level of conscious evil that is almost ridiculous. It's like something you'd see Kim Jong-il plotting while humming happily to himself in Team America.

The world first became truly aware of the massacres in Darfur in 2004: a full four years ago. It was the same year Britney Spears reached no.1 with Toxic, the third Lord of the Rings film won just about all the Oscars, abuse in Abu Ghraib was exposed and Athens hosted the Olympics. Just think how much has changed since then. Now let's think about what we've managed to achieve in Darfur.

Look back to this 2004 BBC report, which quoted the International Crisis Group: "Urgent international action is required on several fronts if 'Darfur 2004' is not to join 'Rwanda 1994' as shorthand for international shame". In the intervening years, urgent international action has continued to be talked about, but no major power has sent in forces as we did in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. In December last year, the UN finally deployed some troops, but the promised force of 26,000 peacekeepers is yet to arrive; currently there are only 9,000 on the ground.

Our failure to do anything more than witness is not for want of trying. As the picture here testifies - it's Mia Farrow and an 8-year-old Darfurian refugee, walking into a sandstorm near the Sudan-Chad border to mark the start of a Dream for Darfur torch relay - the cause is a big deal, with celebrities, marketing campaigns, numerous charitable trusts, books, films and rallies all attempting to get someone, somewhere to make it stop.

Why to such little avail? Did we learn nothing from Rwanda? In an interview with The Observer late last year, Britain's minister for Africa, Mark Malloch Brown, made a comment that seems to pass the buck rather: "Bush and Blair both had a great deal of personal passion about Darfur. But there's a limit to what leaders can do if there isn't a heavy level of concern from the public".

Really? Isn't it more pertinent to note the regrettable limit that any level of public concern can achieve when political resolve is missing? We only have to consider the failure of the anti-Iraq war demonstrations to know that however many petitions we sign, the workings of international politicians bear precious little comparison to true democratic process.

In 2007, a UN report found that the Sudanese government had "manifestly failed to protect the population of Darfur... and has itself orchestrated and participated in these crimes". But U.S. and UK sanctions of Sudanese products can have little impact while China continues to buy 70% of the country's exports, and supply it with weapons. Nicholas D. Krystof in The New York Times makes a good case for renaming this year's sports celebrations in China "The Genocide Olympics".
Which brings us back to the China-based hackers who've cyber-attacked the Save Darfur Coalition. Such dirty tricks do nothing to help China's laughable attempts at positive PR, and certainly undermine the stated motto of this year's Olympics in Beijing:

"One World, One Dream" is simple in expressions, but profound in meaning. It is of China, and also of the world. It conveys the lofty ideal of the people in Beijing as well as in China to share the global community and civilization and to create a bright future hand in hand with the people from the rest of the world. It expresses the firm belief of a great nation, with a long history of 5,000 years and on its way towards modernization, that is committed to peaceful development, harmonious society and people's happiness. It voices the aspirations of 1.3 billion Chinese people to contribute to the establishment of a peaceful and bright world."

If only this were true. The crackdown on pro-Tibet protestors last week and China's general policy of cyber-bullying seems to point more seriously than ever to a boycott of the Olympics outright.

1 comment:

Matt Bolton said...

Good post. Not sure about the outright boycott of the Olympics though, at least not yet - the threat of boycott is one of the few bargaining chips we (whoever that is) have against the Chinese at the moment.