Darfur Will Not Be Saved By Words Alone
Darfur Will Not Be Saved By Words Alone
Special Episode: Sudan at War
Special Episode: Sudan at War
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Darfur Will Not Be Saved By Words Alone

Sudan's slow-motion ethnic cleansing campaign in Darfur has elicited an equally slow-motion international reaction, which has almost no impact at all. A U.N. Security Council deadline demanding Sudanese action has been reached without an adequate response from Khartoum. The international response to the horrors in the western region of Sudan remains appallingly ineffectual.

Donors have woefully under-resourced the humanitarian campaign. Their aid is frequently held up by Khartoum, which capriciously cites security problems it itself created by turning loose the Arab Janjaweed militias against the African Muslim population of Darfur. Khartoum now does little if anything to bring the Janjaweed under control. Occasional rebel ambushes of aid convoys are a further, but very secondary problem.

Meanwhile, as high level officials across the globe continue to talk loudly but act tentatively, the ongoing rainy season makes it increasingly difficult to access vast areas of the region. Well over half the some two million Darfurians in need of emergency aid are not receiving it. They will continue to perish, and at an accelerating rate, if killer water-borne diseases proliferate.

Efforts to confront mass atrocities and protect civilians from murder and systematic rape have been minimal. Negotiations have not gotten beyond rhetoric and Khartoum is being given no reason to believe it will be held responsible.

The U.N. Security Council finally passed its first resolution on Darfur on July 30 -- 16 months into the crisis. Although it set a 30-day deadline for the regime to act, it didn't threaten Khartoum with any concrete sanctions in case of non-compliance. Without such actionable clauses the resolution unsurprisingly failed to bring about a policy change in Khartoum.

Instead, the U.N. placed an arms embargo not only on the Janjaweed but inexplicably also on the rebels who are trying to protect civilians in Darfur. While probably effective on the rebels, the Janjaweed will have little to fear from the embargo because they are supported and protected by Khartoum.

But it got even worse. A subsequent "Plan of Action" that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's special representative signed with the Sudanese regime appeared to signal that the Security Council would be flexible about its own 30-day deadline. Subsequently, U.N. diplomats even indicated that the deadline was not realistic, thus giving Khartoum cover for further delays. Because international rhetoric has not been followed by significant action, the Sudanese regime has only superficially begun implementing some of its numerous international commitments.

The one bright spot is the increasingly energetic response of the African Union, the continent's new regional organization. It has deployed some 100 observers to Darfur, who have reported candidly that the cease-fire they were sent to monitor is a sham, mainly because of Khartoum-sponsored violence. These observers are being joined by 300 Rwandan and Nigerian troops, who are primarily sent to protect them but also intend to help the civilians.

Most importantly, the African Union wants to send a much larger peacekeeping force -- perhaps 3,000 soldiers -- who could do a great deal to save civilian lives, and it is trying to facilitate political talks between the two rebel movements and Khartoum to address the root causes of the Darfur crisis.

The Sudanese regime has so far rejected this larger force. The Security Council has an opportunity today to change that by passing a resolution that endorses the African Union's plans, authorizes it to send the civilian protection force, and calls upon member states to provide the logistics and financing so this can happen without delay.

In order to persuade Khartoum to accept this force and cooperate with it, the council should include in the resolution specific measures that would demonstrate its determination. These must include an international commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity, targeted sanctions against regime officials and their businesses, and a general arms embargo against the regime.

If U.N. Security Council action proves impossible because of the Chinese veto -- Beijing has huge business interests in Sudan -- unilateral action should be pursued by states willing to fulfill their international responsibility to protect civilians.

The history of the Sudanese regime proves that it has no qualms about slaughtering its own people -- but also that it is quite responsive to international pressure when that pressure is strong, consistent and credible. To produce that kind of pressure is the challenge of the next few days.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

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