Mr. Nice Guy

France has chosen François Hollande, but can she fall in love with a man who lacks the passion of leaders past?

PARIS – How is it that France -- the world's fifth-largest economy -- faced with intense credit-rating pressures, chose a Socialist to replace President Nicolas Sarkozy?

Yes, President-elect François Hollande, who bashed Sarkozy's relationship to money far more than he bashed the rich themselves, is essentially a social democrat who has promised to be nearly as fiscally responsible as was Sarkozy. But that hardly gets at the core of France's presidential passions. Of course, economic storms have now washed away 10 incumbent European leaders (make it 11, with Hollande's victory), and after 17 years of presidents from the right, France was ready to balance the scales. Yet such explanations are, well, a bit wonkish, and a tumultuous, impassioned nation like France deserves a somewhat sexier take.

France, after all, is a woman -- a strong, compassionate, alluring, complicated woman. She is La France. She is Marianne, a risqué mythical figure who embodies the country's revolutionary struggles for liberty, equality, and brotherhood. It is no coincidence that on the old 100-franc bill, Marianne was famously represented by Eugène Delacroix holding a flag in one hand, a gun in the other, and heading into battle with her blouse coming off, leaving her breasts exposed. For the French, Freedom is also a woman, which is why it's no surprise that New Yorkers see one when they look to Lady Liberty.

To many Americans, France is fine perfume, stylish fashion, refined cuisine, unapologetic feminine sexuality, and the victimized nation that required saving from the violating Nazi Germany of World War II. And yes, in many Americans' vision -- which carries at least a hint of old-school misogyny -- France is also duplicitous, confusing, and particularly confounding in her taste in men.

Witness, then, the arrival of Hollande -- a man who has spent his career as something of a character actor in French politics, present largely for comic relief. Yet, from among its many suitors, France has chosen Hollande, a man long caricatured as either a marshmallow or a brand of supermarket dessert flan. He's a somewhat doughy, bespectacled Socialist with a sense of good humor and a history of seeking consensus. Even Hollande's most loyal advocates would never argue that he was a passion candidate. (His 3-point victory came largely thanks to voters who simply wanted Sarkozy out.) Yet, on May 15 he will become France's president for at least five long years -- not a lifetime, but in France that's quite a commitment.

To understand how it came to this, it is useful to look at France's presidential relationship history. There was the great wartime love for the black-and-white era: Charles de Gaulle, the sturdy mustachioed embodiment of upright (and uptight) husband-like fortitude. France could count on him; he showed his mettle, and the love endured for a while. But one day, France realized that she enjoyed her memories of de Gaulle more than the present. Like many partners, de Gaulle had stopped growing, and the world passed him by. France wanted more.

She had other men -- there was something of a looking-for-daddy phase -- but she didn't fall in love again for a while, and when she did, it felt like a sort of rebellion against her relationship with de Gaulle. France was excited and intrigued by François Mitterrand, but she only succumbed to his decades-long efforts at seducing her when she chose him in 1981. Mitterrand was the polar opposite of de Gaulle: a culturally refined and versatile-minded Socialist who spent time with intellectuals and frequented radical leftists. She had long resisted him -- Mitterrand won the presidency only on his third attempt -- but the love proved to be deep and complicated. Mitterrand ultimately toyed with his conquest, alternately pleasing, teasing, confusing, and fascinating her with the many labyrinthine corridors of his soul. Although France eventually became resentful of Mitterrand, she could never fully express it. He was profoundly ill, with cancer, when she found out about his many deceptions and betrayals, and he died soon after his 14-year run as head of state ended. The result was a confused mourning that made it hard for France to learn from the relationship's dysfunctions.

But France learned something: She would never fall so passionately for anyone again. Her broad idealism would never recover. She would have fun, but she wouldn't ever love again. In 1995, she hooked up with a good-time guy, Jacques Chirac. He was a likable enough guy, but with readily apparent flaws, and he said anything to get her into bed. Chirac was a bit like the good-natured but persistent guy at the end of the bar at closing time who just keeps talking. After putting up plenty of resistance, she went for it. Early on, she told herself, Chirac still exuded an air of the matinee idol, if not quite holding onto the looks of his youth.

But over time, Chirac proved to be the political equivalent of Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men. (Chirac, whose numerous quick trysts spurred his former driver to nickname him "10 Minutes, Shower Included," was similarly promiscuous in politics, making promises to all even when he had no intention whatsoever of keeping his word.) Still, he was a lot more fun than his sardonic, professorial Socialist competitor in 2002, Lionel Jospin, and thus France made the improbable decision to stay with Chirac a little longer.

By the end of Chirac's time at the helm of France, his charms (like Sheen's) had long ago worn away. The movie-star handsomeness had evolved into something, well, a bit sad. So France did what so many people do after a bad relationship: She went for something totally different. It wasn't just that Chirac was tall and contemplative while Sarkozy was short and frenetic. Chirac was a stay-at-home guy who wouldn't even repair the door handle; Sarkozy wanted to move France to another home, perhaps even to America.

Like the feisty, domineering, and controlling lawyer that he was in his soul, Sarkozy didn't seduce France as much as he negotiated her to the altar. He would shake her, he argued, back to reality -- get her life in order again. She never really liked him, but his storm of ideas was intriguing -- at least at first. And who could resist such energy, such confidence?

Only later did France realize that Sarkozy's obsession with himself was almost limitless. At times, she wondered whether Sarkozy even knew she was there. Worse, he seemed to lack boundaries, and he thrived on destabilizing her, which undermined her already fading confidence. Sarkozy had a million projects for them to take on, together, but he often got distracted, and she quickly began to wonder whether their relationship added up to anything meaningful. Spending time with him was akin to drinking too much coffee; it energized, but was rarely productive, and the buzz gave her a headache and made her crash. The result: France was left feeling older and more vulnerable, wondering whether her best days were behind her.

As her interest wandered, Sarkozy's energy didn't. To the end, he argued, often desperately, about why France should stick with him, how she would be nothing without him. No one would work harder than he would to make the relationship work. He even said that he risked his health trying to help her. She had to stay with him for her own sake, and for his.

Then, late in their relationship, there was a flirtation with another man. He seemed to have it all: intellect, gravitas, all of the money in the world (he oversaw the IMF). This jet-setting man, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, spoke of his compassion for the needy and his capacity to solve so many of her problems. Yes, there were rumors about him, but France wanted to believe that the perfect suitor existed. And just as France was ready to leave Sarkozy, Mr. Perfect turned out to be Mr. Perp Walk. His convictions, it turned out, were more courtroom than conscience.

Which brings us to France's next president. How could a nation of lovers pick a schlumpy Socialist like François Hollande? There may be nothing sexy about Hollande, but that is entirely the point. France has for too long been betrayed, manipulated, lied to, and used.

In a sense, Hollande has long been supportive of France, often to his own detriment. He is the kind of guy whom everyone takes for granted -- by Ségolène Royal, the politician and mother of his four children; by most of the Socialist Party leadership; and certainly by Sarkozy and his friends. Yet Hollande has, stunningly, defeated them all. He is the best friend, the one France never thought of in that way. But now he has, improbably, gotten the girl.

Monday morning, France is still asking herself what it will be like to actually live with President Hollande. There isn't much natural passion there. But he seems to be a decent, thoughtful, supportive guy, which is important for a maturing lady like France. And maybe if she squints her eyes just so, he looks and sounds a bit like Mitterrand.

Hollande surely won't torture or tease France in the same ways, but at the very least, he might be good company.



The Silence in Sudan

Why did the United Nations stop reporting atrocities in Darfur?

Darfur once captured the world's attention as a contemporary symbol of the international failure to confront mass atrocities. In recent years, however, it has fallen off the radar screen, as the level of government-sponsored violence has subsided and as other pressing Sudanese crises, including the threat of war between Sudan and South Sudan, have captured the headlines.

But there is another reason you don't hear much about the troubles in Darfur these days: The United Nations human rights agencies essentially stopped issuing public reports on abuses there three and a half years ago, according to U.N. officials, human rights advocates, and a leaked U.N. report. The sunnier accounts of events in Darfur in some ways reflects the tendency of the U.N. and African Union leadership to trumpet the successes of a peace process that they have helped brokered, and downplay its failures. But the long silence owes much to the Sudanese government practice of intimidating U.N. officials and independent aid workers into remaining quiet or minimizing government violations -- by threatening possible expulsion or harassment on the ground.

Indeed, the U.N.'s reticence to report publicly on rights abuses intensified after the Sudanese government expelled 13 relief organizations in March 2009, heightening fears that open criticism of the regime could trigger a swift crackdown on outsiders. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has not issued a single report on abuses in Darfur, Sudan, since January 2009, when it documented government killings of displaced Darfurians back in the Kalma camp for internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in August 2008.

The U.N.-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which includes staff from the high commissioner's office, has also been largely silent. A group of three former U.N. experts, meanwhile, recently wrote a confidential report claiming that the U.N. mission in Darfur has minimized critical reporting of government abuses, downplaying a series of attacks against the Zaghawa tribe last year that displaced 70,000 people, and which amounted to ethnic cleansing."There has indeed been a drop-off in the number of public human rights reports produced by UNAMID over the past couple of years, and it is something we have been concerned about and have been raising with the team on the ground," Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner, told me. Colville declined to elaborate on why the U.N. had stopped issuing the human rights reports it had periodically published on Darfur until the beginning of 2009.

U.S. officials and human rights advocates acknowledge that the nature of violence in Darfur has changed since the bloodiest phase from 2003 to 2005 of a government counterinsurgency campaign that has never entirely ended and that has led to the death of more than 300,000 people and the displacement of nearly three million. A peace treaty between Chad and Sudan has undercut the military position of one of Darfur's main rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement. There is at least a peace agreement in place now, that while not exactly delivering peace, has created a political process to channel some of the region's more violent impulses. But that doesn't meant that the problems have gone away: The region continues to be plagued by intertribal warfare, banditry, and crime.

Meanwhile, Khartoum continues to kill civilians through a campaign of aerial bombardment, as it has recently attacked the central Darfurian region of Jebel Marra. It also imports weapons in violation of U.N. sanctions, and it provides military support to favored militias in an effort to root out possible bases of support for rebel forces now bent on toppling the government. Indeed, the three former U.N. experts documented evidence that Khartoum -- which traditionally supported Arab militia in Darfur -- trained, armed, and organized local non-Arab tribes for the first time to fight anti-government Zaghawa rebels.

Early last month, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, privately raised concerns about the lack of reporting on rights abuses in Darfur in a private meeting with Ibrahim Gambari, UNAMID's representative. More recently, the United States, Britain, and other European powers also pressed the U.N. chief peacekeeper, Hervé Ladsous, in a closed-door Security Council session to step up reporting on rights abuses, arguing that developments on the ground still require public reporting on abuses by government or rebel forces in Darfur.

"From a U.S. point of view, we're hardly sanguine about the security situation" in Darfur, Rice told reporters on April 26. "We see that the violence is escalating in four or five regions of Darfur, and we're particularly concerned about North Darfur and Jebel Marra."

The partial reporting moratorium comes at a time when media interest in Sudan has waned, or at least shifted from Darfur to other parts of Sudan, including South Sudan, which declared its independence last July 2011, culminating a landmark agreement that ended a 28-year civil war between Khartoum and the southerners. The nascent country has since been plagued by violent flare-ups in places like Abyei, South Kordofan, and elsewhere along the border, raising fears that Khartoum and South Sudan might again be on the brink of war, this time a battle between two well-armed independent nations.

The U.N. has recently sought to portray Darfur as a relative success story, highlighting a dip in violence from the worst stages of the civil war. The U.N. estimates that 109,000 internally displaced Darfuris have recently returned to their homes, and 31,000 refugees have returned from Chad. "What we have witnessed is a decline in direct confrontations between Sudanese forces and armed movements in 2011 compared with 2010," Gambari recently told reporters. The overall numbers of internally displaced, he said, has fallen from 2.8 million to as low as 1.5 million.

In a lengthy telephone interview, Gambari defended the U.N. mission's reporting on human rights, saying that its human rights section provides daily, weekly, and monthly reports to peacekeeping officials at U.N. headquarters in New York and to rights experts at the U.N. high commissioner's office in Geneva. He also denied suggestions by rights groups that the U.N. had bowed to Sudanese government pressure in withholding reporting on human rights.

"We report everything that happens in Darfur in daily situation reports," including human rights violations, he said. "We send reports to headquarters every day, every week, every month. Headquarters does not seem to have developed a mechanism for sharing these with member states."

But he said in an effort to address Rice's concern the U.N. will begin sharing monthly reports on human rights abuses with member states. "We can put that together," he said. "There is no real inhibition on the part of ourselves [to provide additional reporting on rights abuses] and no pressure on the part of the [Sudanese] government."

Gambari said the human rights situation in Darfur should be viewed from the perspective of a trouble spot where "the war is winding down" and life is "beginning to emerge from conflict." The United Nations, he said, is shifting its focus to capacity building, helping to create institutions that promote the rule of law. "We feel UNAMID can be more effective in addressing human rights through capacity building. But that doesn't mean we're not amenable to more reporting."

U.S. officials, human rights advocates, European diplomats, and independent U.N. researchers say the effort to assess conditions in Darfur has been complicated by the U.N.'s failure to provide a more authoritative, or reliable, account of the human rights situation in Darfur. But they say that they regularly pick up reports from the field that government-sponsored violence continues.

"Still we do receive reports from sources inside Darfur indicating the war architecture and tools of repression are very much intact," said Jehanne Henry, the Darfur researcher for Human Rights Watch. "This week, for example, people from Jebel Marra reported to us that the government bombing in Jebel Marra killed civilians and caused many to flee their homes."

Henry said the Sudanese government has applied pressure on the United Nations and others to limit rights reporting on rights abuses, and that its efforts "have effectively muzzled the AU/UN mission into silence." She added, "Humanitarian aid agencies, traditionally a reliable source of informally reporting on rights abuses, also do not speak out [for] fear of being kicked out of Darfur altogether."

Three former members of a U.N. expert panel investigating sanctions violations in Darfur claimed a report, first divulged by Africa Confidential, that the U.N. mission has downplayed or ignored evidence of abuses by government-backed militia. The team, which resigned late last year over a dispute with the panel's chairman, produced an unofficial report that claims UNAMID officials failed to adequately detail a large massacre by Sudanese forces and government backed militia in eastern Darfur, even though the Sudanese government itself cited the killings in one of its own reports, according to the experts' report.

The researchers, Jerome Tubiana of France, Michael Kelly of Britain, and Claudio Gramizzi of Italy, examined events in the area of Shangal Tobay, where Sudanese forces and government-backed militias drove tens of thousands of Zaghawa tribespeople from their homes, killing large number of civilians, during 2010 and 2011.

The plight of the Zaghawa, who have played the role of victim and victimizer, underscores the complexity of violence in Darfur. The Zaghawa first began settling in the Shangal Tobay area during the late 1940s, arriving in far greater numbers in the 1970s following a severe drought in their northern homeland, according to a history of the region presented in the U.N. experts' report.

Many of the group's men filled the ranks of a key faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) -- headed by Zaghawa rebel leader Minni Minawi -- which took up arms against the government in 2003. Soon, they emerged as the dominant power in Shangal Tobay, a community with as many as 30 ethnic groups. A 2006 peace accord with the government solidified their control over the area. Under their rule, the Zaghwawa thrived while other tribes "suffered abuses (including taxations, arrests, and murders) at the hands of the rebels," according to the report.

But the peace accord collapsed in 2010, driving the SLA fighters into hiding, abandoning Shangal Tobay, and exposing the region's Zaghawa community to reprisals. Sudanese government forces, meanwhile, recruited a group of non-Arab militias that had bridled under the Zaghawa's rule and used them to carry out a series of systematic attacks against the Zaghawa between December 2010 and June 2011. The U.N. mission, which was stationed in Shangal Tobay, was unable to provide protection for thousands of Zaghawa civilians that had sought protection, forcing them to flee the town.

"This cycle of violence provoked one of the most significant displacements that Darfur has experienced since the height of the conflict between 2003 and 2005, with the reported registration of around 70,000 IDPs," according to the report. "Members of the panel believe that the cycle of violence in eastern Darfur in the first half of 2011 was characterized by ethnic cleansing targeting one particular group."

"Members of the panel also found that violent incidents against Zaghawa civilians were on occasion not passed up the UNAMID reporting chain in the same way as violence committed by Zaghawa rebels and militia," the report said. "Members of the panel also found that events they themselves witnessed alongside UNAMID personnel were not fully reported in UNAMID Patrol Reports or Situation reports."

The panel accompanied a UNAMID patrol on May 22, 2011, as they came upon the small Zaghawa village of Nyortik in flames. The panel members believed the village was burnt to the ground by a pro-government militia in retaliation for the killing of a truck driver that was linked to the militia. But they said the UNAMID officials simply took the militia leaders' word that the Zaghawa had burnt their own town to the ground -- and then failed to even report the incident in a "team site patrol report" shared with a wider circle of mission staff.

The panel's experts argue that UNAMID's handling of the event was consistent with a pattern of bias in its reporting, which tended to ignore government abuses while highlighting those carried out by the rebels. It also undercut the ability of U.N. and African Union policymakers to gain a clear picture of what was happening on the ground. In the end, the truck driver's killing ultimately sparked one of the worst outbreaks of violence in Darfur in years.

In a possible reprisal attack, pro-government militias attacked the Zaghawa stronghold of Abu Zerega on May 31, 2011, looting the tribe's livestock, before calling in Sudanese government reinforcements. By the end, the government and pro-government militia had executed some 18 Zaghawa civilians. On June 17, Zaghawa rebels carried out a reprisal raid on Shangal Tobay, advancing by car and camel, killing 19 people, including 6 Sudanese soldiers and militia members.

But the United Nations responded slowly, waiting 12 days to conducting an investigation into the massacre at Abu Zerega, which was only a few kilometers from a U.N. outpost. The delay allowed the perpetrators an opportunity to hide or bury the bodies. In the end, UNAMID concluded simply that the 18 victims had been "allegedly killed/disappeared" while the government's own investigation concluded that a "total of 18 Zaghawa cviliians had been summarily executed."

"Members of the panel believe that in under-reporting or deliberately omitting to report some incidents in the area of Shangal Tobay, UNAMID prevents itself [from having a] clear understanding of the chain of violence."

Whatever the reason, the ramifications are severe. The U.N. mission gave the Security Council little reason to suspect a government role in the massacre of the Zaghawa last May. Indeed, in July 2011, the U.N. secretary general's report to the Security Council -- the main vehicle for reporting on developments in Darfur -- said nothing about the role of Sudanese soldiers or pro-government militias in the massacre of the Zaghawa in Abu Zerega.

But it did link the Zaghawa rebels to the reprisal attack.

The U.N. stance, according to the panel members, "risks exacerbating existing perceptions of UNAMID as insufficiently neutral: perceptions which may post a threat both to UNAMID's own security and to the eastern Darfur area's peace and security." Even worse, it has served to erase Darfur from the map of global trouble spots competing for the world's attention.