Thursday 5 March 2009

Darfur + Stalin

The International Criminal Court has indeed issued a warrant for the arrest of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan (see yesterday’s blog). He is accused of two counts of war crimes and five of crimes against humanity.

The people of Darfur - a region in the west of Sudan that is about the size of France – have suffered six years of murder, rape and destruction, and up to 300,000 have died, while more than two and a half million have fled. The ICC already has a warrant out for Sudan's humanitarian affairs minister (!). President al-Bashir has responded predictably – expelling foreign aid organisations who do what little they can to keep the remaining Darfuris alive, while China and Ethiopia have protested against the arrest warrant.

On this day....56 years ago, Josef Stalin died. The Soviet dictator was one of history’s worst mass murderers – responsible for the deaths of up to 30 million people. The ways in which they died were many and varied. The forced collectivisation of agriculture in the 1930’s killed millions, though as Stalin’s then henchman Khrushchev said later, we do not know how many, because “no one was counting.”

As Stalin grew more and more paranoid, he began an orgy of show trials, with loyal Soviet citizens executed wholesale after admitting imaginary crimes. Then there were the gulags – the labour camps in the bleakest parts of the country – where people were sent to die for the most trivial offences, or for none at all. Many believe that Stalin was on the point of launching another purge when death claimed him.

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