Editorial: Unfinished business

IssueSeptember - November 2004
Comment by Ippy D

It is hard to believe that, just ten years after the genocide in Rwanda, new reports of massacres against Tutsis by Hutus have started coming in.

As PN went to press more than 150 Tutsi refugees were reported to have been macheted and shot by a Hutu during a raid on a nearby Burundian military base.

Red cards all round

As Peace News went to press the 2004 Olympics had just kicked off.

Like music, sport is often said to be a great bridger of divides. It can bring people closer, create feelings of togetherness, a sense of purpose and so on. A pity it is also wrapped up in nationalistic nonsense, is negative in its representation of masculinity /manhood, and suggests a seemingly uncontainable desire for dominance.

War minus the shooting

While presented as a positive force in some circles, sport is also frequently presented as an analogy to war: physical, competitive, sometimes brutal, and involving a lot of money. As George Orwell commented “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play... it is war minus the shooting” Apparently the first sponsor of the modern Olympics, in the 1928 Amsterdam games, was

Coca-Cola - a trend that has continued ever since. Athens 2004 has half the sponsors of the previous games, but includes several unsavoury mega corporations including oil giants, arms manufacturers and junk food dealers.

Sign of the times

The iconic images of the modern Olympics are a mirror of their political times: from the tens of thousands of Nazi salutes at Berlin in 1936 to the raised fists of Tommie Smith and John Carols in 1968. Meanwhile, the day to day friendly, informal football and basketball games, the anti-fa teams such as St Pauli in Germany, and all the good anti-racism and anti-violence work that is being done in many areas of professional sport, is basically ignored. The historic matches - for example the1914 football match that took place between German and British troops during in the First World War, and the 2004 “peace tests” which brought the Pakistani cricket team to India for the first time since 1989 - are quickly forgotten.

Perhaps non-commercial sporting activity can be a positive force, but while it remains intrinsically bound up with politics, money and war, and until we are prepared to examine our own desire for power in an honest way, we will never be able to divorce sport from the negative analogy.

There are also concerns that the experience of genocide is being used by the current Rwandan government to justify their military's four-year involvement in the conflict in DR Congo and, at home, to excuse the hounding of local human rights organisations. As Juliane Kippenberg from Human Rights Watch's Africa Division comments “crimes in the past do not justify repression in the present”


In Kosov@ the story is similar. Five years after the NATO intervention against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's military campaign in Kosov@, houses are being burnt again. Only this time it is the homes of minority groups such as Ashkali and now Serbs: the people doing the burning are Kosovar Albanians.

Since March this year Amnesty International report that more than 4,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, commenting that “The NATO-led international military force and the civilian police failed to provide security and public safety for the minority communities. Their units acted with no apparent coordination and with different interpretations of their mandates.”


In Afghanistan, the forthcoming US-sponsored elections are provoking renewed violence. With unsettled scores, and the Taliban attempting to recover their strength, attacks on civilians, police, aid and election workers are on the increase. The security situation has deteriorated to the point that, after 20 years in the field, the “first in, last out” NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres have withdrawn altogether. Since early 2004 at least 30 humanitarian, aid and reconstruction workers (including five from MSF) have been killed.

In all these cases, for a variety of reasons, a just settlement combined with addressing the material and social needs of the populaces has not been arrived at. And this is why the violence continues.


And now in Darfur. Some Sudanese activists are suggesting that energies should not be wasted on opposing the likely military intervention in the region, but in trying to find a political and practical response to the disaster and to the problems that have generated the underlying violence in the first place.

As with the Rwandan massacres, the apartheid system imposed by the Serbs and the oppression by the Taliban, the situation in Darfur presents big questions for those with a solid anti-intervention viewpoint.

Yes, confronting and negating the roots of violence and oppression are the key to avoiding such conflicts, but dealing with the immediate and ensuring that, in ten years time, places like Darfur do not represent yet more unresolved conflicts ripe for renewal, remain huge challenges.

Topics: Afghanistan, Kosov@
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