Special Episode: Sudan at War
Special Episode: Sudan at War
Briefing / Africa 5 minutes

Getting the UN into Darfur

The impasse over deploying a major UN peacekeeping force to Darfur results directly from the international community’s three-year failure to apply effective diplomatic and economic pressure on Sudan’s government and its senior officials.

I. Overview

The impasse over deploying a major UN peacekeeping force to Darfur results directly from the international community’s three-year failure to apply effective diplomatic and economic pressure on Sudan’s government and its senior officials. Unless concerted action is taken against the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), Khartoum will continue its military campaign, with deadly consequences for civilians, while paying only lip service to its many promises to disarm its Janjaweed militias and otherwise cooperate. No one can guarantee what will work with a regime as tough-minded and inscrutable as Sudan’s, but patient diplomacy and trust in Khartoum’s good faith has been a patent failure. The international community has accepted the responsibility to protect civilians from atrocity crimes when their own government is unable or unwilling to do so. This now requires tough new measures to concentrate minds and change policies in Khartoum.

UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (31 August 2006) extended to Darfur the mandate of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which presently has 10,000 personnel in-country monitoring the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement: it “invited” the consent of the Sudanese government to the deployment of 20,600 UN peacekeepers. This expanded UN force was in effect to take over the African Union’s overstretched African Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which – although threatened with expulsion in September – has now been extended to the end of December, with its numbers on the ground expected to grow to 11,000.

The NCP continues to strongly reject the proposed UN deployment. Its primary motive appears to be a fear that improved security would loosen its grip on the region. Officials responsible for orchestrating the conflict since 2003 also appear to fear that a major body of UN troops in Darfur itself might eventually enforce International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments, although it is not obvious why that risk should be decisively greater for them with an extended UNMIS deployment than it is with the present one.

In responding to this rejection, full-scale non-consensual military intervention by the international community is not at this stage a defensible or realistic option. But it may be possible to persuade the NCP to alter its policies and consent to the UN mission in Darfur by moving now to targeted sanctions against regime leaders and their business interests – and immediately planning for the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur that builds on the ineffective ban on offensive military flights the Security Council imposed in 2005. International support for the role of the ICC should be again clearly expressed, with the Court in turn declaring its intention to focus immediately on any war crimes or crimes against humanity committed during the current government offensive.

The alternatives to such action – radical by contrast with the limp offerings from the Security Council so far – would be additional months of trying to entice the NCP into a more forthcoming position, as some leaders are still trying to do, or total concentration on trying to extend and reinforce the existing African Union AMIS mission, as has increasingly been urged by various policymakers. Crisis Group’s concern is that either of these approaches will be too little too late, given the way the security, human rights and humanitarian situation has steadily deteriorated since the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed on 5 May 2006 in Abuja:

  • The NCP launched a major offensive in August and offered the UN its own “security plan”, involving sending more than 22,000 government troops to Darfur to secure a military victory.
  • With support from Chad and Eritrea, elements of the rebel groups that did not sign the DPA have regrouped as the National Redemption Front (NRF) and since late June have launched a series of attacks.
  • Violence against women surged, with more than 200 instances of sexual assault in five weeks around Kalma camp in South Darfur alone.
  • The lone rebel signatory – the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Minni Minawi (SLA/MM) – increasingly acts as a paramilitary wing of the Sudanese army.

It has become clearly apparent that, while a political solution ultimately is the only way to end the war and create the conditions allowing millions of displaced persons to go home, the DPA is all but dead: there is a desperate need for the African Union (AU) and its partners to reconstitute a viable, inclusive peace process that builds on its foundations while addressing its flaws, but there is no sign of that happening.

Divisions have now emerged within the international community over whether to drop the UN mission proposal in favour of a strengthened AU-led mission. Unless these divisions are quickly reconciled, the NCP will exploit them to neutralise international pressure. It is an immediate priority to make AMIS as effective as it can be, but that mission, whose credibility in Darfur is decreasing, is not a substitute for the more robust UN force, which would be able to call upon greater physical and financial resources. The situation in Darfur demands the most effective response possible. That can only come through the full UN deployment, and efforts need to be concentrated to bring it about as rapidly as possible.

The NCP has skillfully used the confrontation with the international community to silence an increasingly defiant opposition and independent media and a rising chorus of critics from within its own ranks who are upset with the regime’s corruption and moral decay. Changing policies in Darfur and allowing the transition to a UN mission would clearly be traumatic, with serious domestic political and security repercussions. The NCP will only do so if it calculates that the international repercussions for non-compliance outweigh the domestic costs of cooperation. History does offer grounds for belief, however, that it will respond if confronted with genuine pressure. But that requires a change of strategy for the international community, which, in contrast to its generally strong rhetoric, has only rarely brought meaningful pressure to bear on the Sudanese government. This has given Sudan’s ruling elite the belief it can act with virtual impunity in Darfur.

The recent appointment of Andrew Natsios as U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and tougher talk out of Washington is welcome, but it is likely that even more could be achieved by implementing and expanding the reach of some of the measures that have already been agreed in the Security Council and elsewhere. Accordingly, the U.S., UN, African Union and European Union, acting together to the greatest extent possible but as necessary in smaller constellations and even unilaterally, should now:

  • apply targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans, to key NCP leaders who have already been identified by UN-sponsored investigations as responsible for atrocities in Darfur and encourage divestment campaigns;
  • authorise through the Security Council a forensic accounting firm or a panel of experts to investigate the offshore accounts of the NCP and NCP-affiliated businesses so as to pave the way for economic sanctions against the regime’s commercial entities, the main conduit for financing NCP-allied militias in Darfur;
  • explore sanctions on aspects of Sudan’s petroleum sector, the NCP’s main source of revenue for waging war in Darfur, to include at least bars on investment and provision of technical equipment and expertise; and
  • begin immediate planning for enforcing a no-fly zone over Darfur by French and U.S. assets in the region, with additional NATO support; obtaining consent of the Chad government to deploy a rapid-reaction force to that country’s border with Sudan; and planning on a contingency basis for a non-consensual deployment to Darfur if political and diplomatic efforts fail to change government policies, and the situation on the ground worsens.

Nairobi/Brussels, 12 October 2006

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