A Catalyst for Action on Darfur Crisis
A Catalyst for Action on Darfur Crisis
No More Rules? Discussing the Crisis in Regional Diplomacy
No More Rules? Discussing the Crisis in Regional Diplomacy
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

A Catalyst for Action on Darfur Crisis

For a country like Sudan, where nearly 2.5 million people have perished as a result of war during the last two decades, it is hard to imagine that one more death could have such enormous consequences. But last week's death of rebel leader-turned-peacemaker John Garang in a helicopter crash will send shock waves through Sudan for decades.

Garang had just been installed as vice president of a new national unity government, which was the cornerstone of a peace deal between the Islamist ruling party in Khartoum and Garang's rebel group, based in southern Sudan. The international community had high hopes that Garang would turn his considerable diplomatic skills to the longtime conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. His death now should not divert attention from Darfur, but rather should be a catalyst for more robust international action to confront that crisis.

The United States is foremost among those who need to make their actions more robust. President Bush has used the term genocide to describe the atrocity crimes in Darfur. Invoking the Genocide Convention obliges a signatory state to do all it can to prevent and punish the crime. Instead, the United States is shirking its responsibility to protect civilian life.

The Bush administration, facing major commitments globally, has indeed fostered an international consensus around a rescue plan for Darfur, but that plan is deeply flawed. In spite of this evident inadequacy, Washington argues that its response is sufficient to ameliorate what it claims is an already improving situation.

Nothing could be further from the reality on the ground in Darfur:

The crisis in Darfur is deepening, not abating. New numbers from the United Nations reveal that 3.5 million Darfurians are in need of emergency aid, a sharp increase over what the misguided optimists expected. Mass rapes continue; lifesaving humanitarian aid is frequently blocked; and impunity for those responsible remains intact. Strike One.

The United States is cooperating with the Sudanese regime, when that regime is a major obstacle to success. Khartoum has opposed a stronger mandate for the African Union troops already deployed in Darfur, opposed the deployment of non-African troops, and demanded that the government retain primary responsibility for protecting the very people it had burned out of their homes. In deference to Sudanese sovereignty, the African Union acquiesced to these stunning conditions, as did the United States. Strike Two.

There are simply not enough troops, either now or promised.The African Union has said it will increase its troop levels to 7,700 by the fall. The United States enthusiastically endorsed this plan. Estimates by the International Crisis Group indicate that 12,000 to 15,000 troops are needed. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the U.N. force commander during the Rwanda genocide, puts the figure at at least 40,000. Either way, the current plan is inadequate. Strike Three.

Khartoum officials realize, for now, that despite the tough talk from U.S. officials, including Bush's reaffirmation that genocide is taking place, international actions will not make a real difference. Meanwhile, the situation is slowly leading to violent anarchy, which is precisely the regime's intent.

Washington cannot blame its tepid response on the lack of public will. A recent Zogby poll commissioned by the International Crisis Group (an independent nongovernmental organization working to resolve deadly conflict) found that when asked what course the U.S. government should take in Darfur, more than 80 percent of those surveyed said the Bush administration "should not tolerate an extremist government" in Sudan and should use all military measures short of dispatching ground troops to protect civilians at risk. Ninety percent say the United States should cooperate with the International Criminal Court and bring those responsible to justice. I've been to Darfur three times in the last year, and wherever I go afterward in the United States, I've found an extraordinary enthusiasm for a bolder response to the crisis.

Despite tough talk, the United States has repeatedly deferred to the decisions and demands of the Khartoum regime and the African Union. The latter organization has struggled valiantly but is limited in its infancy by severe capacity constraints, manpower shortages, interoperability disconnects, and planning limitations. Our government is unwilling to point out how threadbare the whole thing is, because acting on it would require more leadership and more resources than we are willing to expend. Clearly, beyond the rhetoric, Washington is treating Darfur as a second-tier issue.

The ultimate objective of the use of force in Darfur must be to protect civilians, who remain at grave risk. The current plan won't achieve this. True, political sensitivities are at stake, both of the Sudanese regime and of the African Union. Still, consultations should commence urgently for a more robust multinational response, including a more direct role for NATO.

Ultimately, a lasting political settlement is needed for Darfur. John Garang's death should become a catalyst for a more direct U.S. role in support of African Union efforts to mediate a deal. Without increased commitment to civilian protection and peacemaking, security in Darfur will continue to deteriorate. The dream that 2.5 million displaced Darfurians will ever return home will become even more distant, and the already devastating death tolls will mount inexorably.

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