Canada Should Lead In Darfur ‘Responsibility To Protect’ More Than A Slogan
Canada Should Lead In Darfur ‘Responsibility To Protect’ More Than A Slogan
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Canada Should Lead In Darfur ‘Responsibility To Protect’ More Than A Slogan

Last week, Canada's Parliament addressed the continuing tragedy in Darfur. The debate occurred at a critical moment for the millions whose lives hang in the balance, as the nations of the world decide whether to mount a collective effort to protect them, or to watch, once again, as mute bystanders to mass atrocities.

Canada is the principal architect and advocate of the "responsibility to protect" doctrine. It should, therefore, play a key role in galvanizing international action. Canada's efforts, and the world's response, will determine whether responsibility to protect is a living instrument or a dead letter.

The situation on the ground in Darfur could hardly be more desperate. Despite the signing of the Darfur peace agreement on May 5, the security and humanitarian situations have worsened. The government of Sudan has launched a new military offensive against the rebel holdouts. Meanwhile, government-sponsored Janjaweed militia continue to target civilians, 2 million of whom have been forced off their land into makeshift camps with increasingly limited humanitarian aid.

Dissident rebels who rejected the peace deal are fighting the rebel faction that embraced it, with civilians caught in the crossfire. An African Union force, while well-intentioned, is too small and ill-equipped to protect the population.

Although the Security Council has adopted a resolution calling for a 20,600-strong UN protection force in Darfur, Sudan's ruling National Congress Party has refused it entry, and has warned that Darfur would become "a graveyard for foreign (UN) troops."

The same regime, however, has already allowed a UN mission into the south of the country to monitor the separate North-South peace agreement. The regime is clearly worried that a strong international force in Darfur would both loosen Khartoum's grip in that restive region and lead to the arrest by the International Criminal Court of regime officials in its investigation of crimes against humanity in Darfur.

As Canada's Parliament considers its options, here are five practical steps that the Canadian government can take immediately to signal its commitment and to spark international action.

  1. Canada must continue to support the African Union force until a UN mission is deployed. Canada's significant contributions in money and equipment to date have made a real difference. Additional help will be critical, so that the troops now on the ground can provide more effective protection for civilians in the short term.
  2. Canada must continue to contribute to the humanitarian effort. Financial contributions from donor nations lag far behind what the UN has requested, and the World Food Program has had to cut rations on several occasions due to a lack of resources. Canada should increase the levels of support it has provided to date.
  3. Canada should encourage and support the International Criminal Court in its efforts to investigate crimes against humanity in the region. There can be no impunity for those responsible for the atrocities that have taken so many lives in Darfur. Canada should build on the financial support it has already given to the ICC investigation.
  4. Canada must call on key allies to put sustained pressure on those countries with influence in Khartoum. The Americans and the EU must get the Chinese and the Russians to use their influence in Sudan. Khartoum must be told that the world is united in insisting that the UN force be granted entry immediately. The Arab League and key African leaders must also be enlisted in this effort. This will require the investment of both time and political capital by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and their counterparts among our allies. Given what is at stake, the effort is surely justified.
  5. Finally, Canada should marshal support for strong and credible consequences should Khartoum continue to defy world opinion. The list should start with targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes (including a freeze on the substantial offshore assets of the ruling party), and should reflect a solid international consensus that Sudan will be denied the presidency of the African Union which it was to have assumed next year.

In the long run, the only sustainable solution in Darfur lies in a political agreement resolving the root causes of the conflict. The Darfur peace agreement provides a foundation for that solution, but it has done little to end the conflict.

Political efforts to revive the negotiations must be actively pursued, because without a political option the parties will surely continue to fight.

Yet the most urgent need is to provide protection for civilians. Canada should lead the way in showing that "responsibility to protect" is not just a slogan, but a solemn commitment on which the world intends to deliver.


Former Program Director, Horn of Africa
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Allan Rock
President, University of Ottawa

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