Off Camera, Darfur Deteriorates
Off Camera, Darfur Deteriorates
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Off Camera, Darfur Deteriorates

The death of Sudan's rebel leader-turned-vice-president John Garang has pushed the crisis in Darfur even further off the international radar screen. While the peace agreement that Garang crafted between his southern-based rebels and the Khartoum government has paved the way for a new government of national unity, Darfur is now suffering stage two of the ruling party's brutal counterinsurgency strategy. Stage one was well documented: the wholesale annihilation of the way of life and livelihoods of the civilian supporters of the rebellion. The Bush administration called this genocide.

Stage two, however, occurs largely off camera. The engineers of Darfur's agony are gradually exterminating the survivors of stage one -- the 2.5 million frightened civilians living in hastily erected camps. The rape of women is systematic and relentless, access to humanitarian aid is denied, and vulnerable Darfurians are losing their will to survive.

Despite pronouncements of some US and UN officials to the contrary, the security outlook across large swaths of Darfur remains dismal. Khartoum continues to provide materiel to the Janjaweed militias, who inflame ethnic divisions in Darfur aimed at stoking intercommunal conflict and fomenting anarchy. Government officials can then say that these are historic 'tribal" feuds, while those who are eager to improve relations with Sudan (read: eager to invest in the oil sector) will accept this falsehood, conveniently forgetting who set the destruction in motion.

The war in Darfur illustrates the two fundamental elements of the ruling party's strategy for maintaining power. First, its backers kill and displace as many people as they can until the international spotlight shines too brightly. Then, they turn the ethnic diversity of Sudan into an instrument of war and political control. It is a pattern of destruction that defines 16 years of misrule: in the oil fields, throughout other parts of the south, in the central Nuba Mountains, and now in Darfur.

Government officials responsible for atrocity crimes in Darfur have outsourced direct control and orchestration of Janjaweed activity and its divide-and-conquer policy to local government officials, who conjure up ways to stoke conflict between neighbors as if we were playing the board game Risk. Until the Janjaweed are dealt with decisively, the situation will remain bleak. Darfur's tormenters will not reverse their policy of support for the Janjaweed because they have too much to lose politically and militarily, and the pressure from the international community remains too muted and weak to alter their calculations.

The crisis in Sudan would abate rapidly if the international community, led by the United States, pursued three simultaneous policy tracks: civilian protection, peace promotion, and war crimes accountability.

First, civilian protection is the international community's signature failure in Darfur. Two and a half years after the government and Janjaweed began their assault, the world has managed to deploy just 5,000 troops in Darfur to observe an unimplemented ceasefire. That's it.

If this African Union-led force is to succeed, it needs a stronger mandate focused on protecting civilians and an accelerated deployment of forces to reach at least 12,000 troops. If the union cannot do this, NATO should provide the necessary forces until it reaches full strength.

Second, the new US special representative to Sudan, Roger Winter, must work with African and European counterparts to support the African Union-led peace negotiations for Darfur. The Bush administration should ensure that Winter has adequate funding and staff. Winter should also support implementation of Garang's agreement, key to overall peace in the country, and support conflict resolution in neighboring northern Uganda, which is linked directly to the Sudan conflict through Khartoum's support of the Ugandan rebels.

Third, the cycle of impunity must be broken. Accountability can be introduced if the United States and others support the work of the International Criminal Court in Darfur, and put into action the targeted sanctions that were passed by the UN Security Council well over four months ago with little sign of implementation.

The good news is that these initiatives are manageable but will happen only if the political heat on American officials is turned up a few more degrees. The battle is joined: Significant Jewish, Christian, student, and human rights constituencies across the United States are fighting indifference and an administration whose action does not match its rhetoric. Who wins the battle will determine the fate of 2.5 million homeless Darfurians.


Former Program Co-Director, Africa
Former Research and Advocacy Manager

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.