Nations Must Enforce Darfur Peace Agreements
Nations Must Enforce Darfur Peace Agreements
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Nations Must Enforce Darfur Peace Agreements

Sitting around a pot of sweet tea in a small residential compound in eastern Chad, the Sudanese rebel leaders merely grinned and shook their heads when we mentioned the ceasefire.

"Ceasefire?" one of them remarked incredulously. "We don't need a new ceasefire. We signed a ceasefire in April 2004 but no one has bothered to enforce it."

He had a point. The date was Jan. 13, just three days after Sudanese President Omar al Bashir had met with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in Khartoum, Sudan and agreed to a 60-day ceasefire. Then again, as the rebels pointed out, the government had also agreed to a ceasefire in April 2004, a second in November 2004, and another one in May 2006 as part of the over-hyped Darfur Peace Agreement . Moreover, the most important rebel commanders did not actually meet with Richardson or agree to the conditions of the ceasefire. So what, then, was the purpose of all this?

Despite his good intentions, Richardson's trip to Khartoum is symptomatic of everything wrong with the international diplomacy on Darfur. For the past four years, Sudan's ruling National Congress Party has run laps around diplomats trying to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. As the regime pursues a divide and destroy strategy with rebel groups in Darfur, it also preys upon the disunity in international diplomatic circles over how best to respond.

The main tactic of the United States and other nations has been to send the occasional mid-level diplomat on hopeless missions to Khartoum, as if this might gently persuade the government that it is time to end its campaign of state-sponsored mass murder and negotiate peace with the rebels. And while the United States, European Union, African Union, and countries in the region flounder for a more effective approach, non governmental agencies such as the Save Darfur Coalition, which funded Richardson's initiative, are attempting to fill the void.

From Khartoum's perspective, however, Richardson's trip was a godsend. Al Bashir appeared as a peacemaker on CNN, knowing full well that his government would face no punitive action if it violated the agreement.

In the face of the regime's obstinate refusal to abide by its commitments to an array of international diplomats, including six separate pledges to disarm the Janjaweed militias, not a single senior government official has been held accountable . In the absence of coordinated multilateral punitive action, the calculations of the government of Sudan will not change, and the death toll will continue to climb. Sure enough, just one week after Richardson left Sudan, the government suffered no consequences when it admitted to a new round of bombings in North Darfur.

Accountability for crimes against humanity will build much needed leverage, but punitive actions such as targeted sanctions must be accompanied by a more vigorous international effort to rebuild a peace process that can produce a durable agreement.

While the government in Khartoum was smugly agreeing to yet another unenforceable ceasefire, we were in eastern Chad speaking to Darfurian rebel leaders. They expressed bewilderment with international peace building efforts.

Having refused to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement in Abuja, Nigeria, in May, numerous rebel factions regrouped and continued fighting under the loose umbrella of the National Redemption Front . Leaders of that group told us the mediation that led to the Darfur Peace Agreement was deeply flawed. They see the government's continued violence against civilians in Darfur as vindication of their decision not to sign and argue for new negotiations. But a couple of things need to happen first.

Until the rebel groups achieve a greater degree of political cohesion, there simply will not be a workable peace process. Poor rebel leadership is part of the problem, but the international community's efforts to forge rebel unity have been uncoordinated, sporadic, and are unlikely to work until it aggressively pursues a common approach. Toward that end, the the United States, African Union, and EU should assemble a team of diplomats based in Chad and Darfur and dedicated to the task.

Second, the international community needs to begin putting the pieces together for a new mediation that avoids the mistakes made in negotiating the Darfur agreement . At those talks, no fewer than 16 governments and organizations were international observers, and most of them failed to exert any leverage over the parties. The UN secretary general's envoy for Sudan, Jan Eliasson , and the African Union's chief mediator, Salim Ahmed Salim , should emulate the successful partnership between African mediators and a quartet of countries (United States, United Kingdom , Norway, and Italy) that helped realize peace in southern Sudan. The United States and EU have the necessary leverage and must use it in a new round of negotiations.

The rebel leaders we spoke to in Chad are serious about peace, but until the international community gets serious about peacemaking, this conflict will drag on and consolidate the government of Sudan's ethnic cleansing of Darfur.


Former Research and Advocacy Manager
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Omar Ismail
Advisor Enough Project

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