June 28, 2004

THE NEW STATESMAN ON France and human rights:

When it comes to foreign policy, opinion polls as well as a sampling of Hollywood blockbusters show that Americans see themselves as the good sheriff, selflessly sorting out a strange and unpredictable world. But as they chew over the congressional report on 9/11, they are clearly struggling to come to terms with the reality of their latest foreign adventure.

In contrast, the French foreign ministry is unambiguous about its role: France is the birthplace of human rights and the cradle of the Enlightenment. Thanks to giants such as Voltaire, France inspired others – for example, in the United States – to liberate themselves from oppressive, corrupt aristocratic elites.

So much for self-image: in practice, the French are running the cash registers in a Wild West whorehouse. Not only do the French, like Edith Piaf, regret nothing: their determination to keep their arms exports booming pushes them to sidestep their own laws, not to mention the international conventions they have signed. While all countries tend to pursue a foreign policy based on self-interest, the French have a network of arms salesmen and military advisers working in concert within their perceived spheres of influence to supply mass murderers. . . .

She has a leaked memo confirming that the French supplied members of the interim government responsible for the massacres with satellite phones to direct operations across the country. “They hand-delivered them by courier,” she says. “In the run-up to the massacres, the French had 47 senior officers living with and training the genocidaires. French policy is about influence and money and Francophonie,” says Melvern. “They are very professional at manipulating the UN system. By controlling Boutros Boutros-Ghali, their candidate for UN secretary general, they determined what information about the Rwandan genocide reached the outside world.”

Perhaps it is unfair to suggest that business interests might be tipping the balance against France’s taking a stand on human rights in Sudan. Jemera Rone of Human Rights Watch explains that TotalFinaElf has oil concessions in southern Sudan that it cannot touch until the peace deal between Khartoum and the south sticks. The French are wary of giving the regime in Khartoum a hard time about its ongoing ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in Darfur, in case it walks away from the southern peace deal, thus imperilling Total’s prospects.

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