Whistleblowers can play an essential role in detecting fraud, mismanagement and corruption. Their actions help to save lives, protect human rights and safeguard the rule of law. To protect the public good, whistleblowers frequently take on high personal risks. They may face victimisation or dismissal from the workplace, their employer may sue (or threaten to sue) them for breach of confidentiality or libel, and they may be subject to criminal sanctions. In extreme cases, they face physical danger. (Transparency International)
In March 2004 the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, went ‘…direct to the world’s peoples… above and beyond the heads of those who should have acted’ and gave a live interview with the Radio 4 Today programme. In his own mind, the culpability for the horrors being unleashed on the people of Darfur lay with both the ‘Khartoum genocidaires and those ‘good men’ who had chosen to do nothing.’ (Kapila, 2013, 222&223). His concerns about what was being unleashed in the Darfur region of Sudan escalated soon after his arrival in 2003 and his conclusion was that it was ‘…more than just a conflict…an organised attempt to do away with a group of people… ethnic cleansing.’ (Kapila, BBC News online, 19th March 2004).
The day I finished reading Against a tide of Evil, Mukesh Kapila’s account of the Darfurian genocide in 2003-2004, Human Rights Watch published their latest report titled: Mass rape in Darfur, Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabi, cataloguing evidence of continued government- backed attacks against civilians in Tabit, North Darfur. Mass rape of women and girls, arbitrary detention, beating and ill-treatment of scores of people continues to blight the peoples of a region ten years on from similar and worse events described in this book.
‘How one man became the whistleblower to the first mass murder of the twenty-first century’ is the official subtitle of Mukesh Kapila’s revelatory and disarmingly personal account of the role he played in exposing the horrors of what has come to be known by many as the ‘Darfur genocide’. His conviction, which drives his own engagement in Sudan, springs from the words of British philosopher and politician Edmund Burke, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ Biographical detail of his childhood in India during the conflict of the Partition and the impact of racial bullying at a private UK College helps the reader to understand the motivation and passion which stirs him to action. His refreshingly honest self-appraisal is very human and moving:
As I contemplated all of this, I was consumed by an unbearable sense of failure. I had failed in my duty. All the rhetoric about acting early and the responsibility to protect had proven empty ….It had happened on my watch.’(Kapila, 2013, 200).
Against this reflective and personal backdrop, the book unfolds, drilled through with detailed accounts of the horrors which were being perpetrated against Darfurian villagers and a catalogue of his attempts to strategically outmanoeuvre intransigent blocks to humanitarian assistance and intervention. His mounting frustration is palpable; the restrictions of his official remit and the reluctance of the UN to call for Security Council action further compound the challenges and disappointments he faced on the ground in a protracted and complex gridlock of political and ethnic violence.
Convinced as he was, that government- backed violence in Darfur was ethnically targeted, it comes as a surprise to learn that the UN’s own Commission of Inquiry at the end of 2004 concluded that the Government of Sudan had not pursued a policy of genocide. It did, however, conclude that both crimes against humanity and war crimes had been committed which were just as serious as genocide. It was not to be until 2010 that the International Security Council would issue a second warrant for arrest against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for criminal responsibility on three counts of genocide committed against the people of Darfur (ICC, 2010).
Against a tide of Evil is a book which traces the enormous complexity which hampers humanitarian intervention and assistance. In Darfur, the ongoing political, economic and cultural marginalization, exacerbated by the regions’ colonial history, has been compounded by drought and competition for water resources and the escalation of ‘Arab’ and ‘African’ identities being invoked and used to incite violence (Hottinger, 2006). Mukesh Kapila and those like him, who seek to ensure humanitarian assistance to those who are caught up in the cross-fire of historically-seeded conflict truly find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
This is not a book which resolves for the reader every question which inevitably arises but its strength lies in raising awareness and deepening understanding. It invites us to consider whether, in prioritising our own security and success, we ourselves might come to compromise truth and justice and compassion and become ‘good men and women who do nothing’? With power and position comes responsibility; Mukesh Kapila’s book is testimony to both the considerable challenge and opportunity that that brings. It is well worth reading.
BBC News report 19th March, 2004, Mass rape atrocity in west Sudan, accessed 13/2/15 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3549325.stm
Human Rights Watch Report (2015) Mass rape in Darfur, 11th February, accessed 12/2/15 http://www.hrw.org/reports/2015/02/11/mass-rape-north-darfur
Human Rights Watch Sudan (2010) ICC issue warrant for al-Bashir on genocide, 13th July, accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/07/13/sudan-icc-warrant-al-bashir-genocide
International Criminal Court (2010) Arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir, accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/situations%20and%20cases/situations/situation%20icc%200205/Pages/situation%20icc-0205.aspx
Julian Thomas Hottinger (2006) The Darfur Peace Agreement Expectations unfulfilled, accessed 3/2/15 at http://www.c-r.org/sites/default/files/Accord18_14TheDarfurpeaceagreement_2006_ENG_0.pdf
The United Nations and Darfur Fact Sheet accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/sudan/fact_sheet.pdf
UN Inquiry (2004) Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.un.org/news/dh/sudan/com_inq_darfur.pdf